Friday, August 24, 2012

Deluxe Sunflower: Blossom

The Blossom Deluxe Sunflower was also one of the first designs I came up with when I revisited these concepts after a long hiatus. I have to admit to a certain "technological" approach to my work, which feeds into the way I approach other activities in my life: if there is a way I can do it more quickly and uniformly using some kind of simple tool, I will. In this case, I dipped into my stash of Kemper Klay Kutters, tools which had been developed primarily for use with polymer clays but work just fine with traditional clay.

This design, like the Cake, Pasta and Bubbles designs, is derived from the fact that sunflowers are members of the Asteraceae family, formerly known as the Compositae. The flowers of these plants are thought to be the most highly evolved flowers, composed as they are of ray flowers around the edge of the flower head and characterized by relatively elaborate petals, and disk flowers, which fill in the center field and whose petals are relatively inconspicuous. The disk flowers open sequentially over a period of days, from the center working their way outward, making these highly-desirable plants for native pollinators (leading to high seed production) and, later, attracting birds and other animals who eat those seeds. The Blossom design is another interpretation of this structure, with the typical sunflower petals indicating the ray flowers and cut-out florets for the disk flowers.

Kemper Klay Kutters - Florets
As with the other sunflowers, I start with a slab of clay draped over a plaster hump mold. In this case, as with Cake, Blossom and Pasta, the petals are applied before the center is finished, so the florets will be flush to the edge of the petals. After applying the petals, I roll out a thin slab of clay and cut out several dozen florets (I use a larger cutter for larger flowers, a smaller one for ones). These tools consist of a brass tube that has been shaped, in cross section, into the desired motif (circle, heart, teardrop, floret, etc.) with a spring-assisted plunger assembly to push the clay out. The key here is that the plunger makes a round mark in the middle of the design, which initially frustrated me until I realized that could be the center of the individual disk flower.

Having cut out a bunch of florets, I score and slip the sunflower's center and, applying slip to the back of each floret, apply them to the flower's center, working from the outside to the center, positioning them to get maximum coverage without overlapping. It's a good idea to use a fair but of slip, as that will allow you to move them around a bit as you work toward the center, when things can get a bit cramped.

The sunflower is dried to leather hard, pulled off the mold. Holes for wire are punched in the sides between petals. (I usually get about 15 petals on a Ginormous Sunflower and I position the holes so they are three petals to the left and right of the gap between base petals with a centered middle petal so that will be at the top when the Sunflower is displayed.) I also apply an angle-cut section of a one-inch-diameter clay cylinder I fabricate by forming a clay slab around a length of one-inch copper tubing to take a 3/4" copper fitting so the sunflower can be put on a stake by its final owner. Once the flower is bone dry, I bisque fire.

For glazing, I, once again, use Amaco's Potter's Choice glazes. The Temmoku is the workhorse of my glaze palette, employed for the centers of all Fancy and Deluxe Sunflowers, as well as for some of my Cat-tails, Toad Houses and Bird Houses. What makes this glaze so good in the context of my work is how its appearance varies depending on the quality of the surface to which it is applied. For the petals I used Oil Spot from the same glaze series, which is actually a fairly good reproduction of the Oil Spot glaze I used when I first took classes with Gene Pluhar through Grosse Pointe Community Education. This glaze has a rich, satin finish that refracts the light rather than reflecting it, making for a more subtle composition.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wetland in a Box

My friend Trish Hacker-Henig and I have agreed that my one true addiction is native plants. Like cats, I want them all. Unfortunately, I don't have sufficient property to indulge my addiction beyond certain specific physical limits (which may be a good thing) and I don't have the range of habitats to do so either.

Finishing up filling with soil, getting ready to plant.
Not being one to passively accept externally-imposed limitations, I've been working on ways to alter my habitat with minimal impact. By sinking a three-foot square plastic fountain basin I purchased from my friend Chris Hopp and back-filling it, I've managed to create an environment where Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) can thrive with minimal input on my part, to the extent that the Cardinal Flower has reached, in one instance, over six feet in height. I've also been able to include other marginal wetland plants in my garden, including Spotted Joe Pye (Eupatorium maculatum), Fringed Loosestrife (Lysimachia ciliata) and Swamp-rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) by either creating small swales or sinking them in pots which I can closely monitor and water specifically for the greatest help to those relatively thirsty plants. I had lost both the Spotted Joe Pye and Swamp-rose Mallow to drought in past attempts. All are thriving at present.

Planted, mulched and watered.
Most of these are rather marginal plants - they can do all right with some relatively minor alterations to the environment. But I really wanted to grow Eastern Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), partly because I wanted to have it as a member of my "Zoo Garden" but, honestly, mostly because I really couldn't grow it.

Skunk Cabbage is, not surprisingly, not a plant one usually sees in the average garden. Aside from its cultural needs, it's not perhaps the prettiest thing plus it smells like, well, like a skunk. Blooming very early in the Spring - so early that there is often still snow on the ground, which somehow the plant is able to melt through energy it is generating, it is pollinated by flies; hence the stench. It is a member of the Aroid family, along with Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllym) and Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium). An endangered plant in Tennessee, it is kept under lock and key in European botanical gardens, as they have nothing at all like it.

(L-R) Sweet Flat (Acorus calamus); Buck Bean
(Menyanthes trifoliata), Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus
 - just emerging from summer dormancy), Wool

Grass (Scirpus cyperinus) and Marsh Marigold
(Caltha palustris)
So I wanted Skunk Cabbage. But not only is it a wetland obligate (a plant which requires wetland conditions, as opposed to a "facultative emergent", which can tolerate a wider range of conditions, especially in terms of moisture); it also has a tap root, sulking and finally dying if it doesn't have enough room to grow as it requires. I started talking with Chris Hopp about making a big hypertufa tank, having consulted with Trish about how much room Skunk Cabbage would really need to be (hopefully) happy. We settled on a piece four feet long, a foot wide and 18 inches deep, which he delivered just before our tour June 2, 2012. (It was truly amazing to see Chris, assisted by his girlfriend Chelsea Martin, maneuver the 300-pound piece into position.)

We couldn't plant right away because the Tank (as we decided to call it, because it was so huge) needed to cure, plus it needed to be rinsed numerous times to minimize the alkalinity of the matrix. I stopped up at Trish's nursery (American Roots Native Plants, Ortonville, Michigan) and selected a group of four plants - Skunk Cabbage, Sweet Flat (Acorus calamus), Buck Bean (Menyanthes trifoliata - a bonus for the "Zoo Garden") and Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) for the Tank. I wanted to have it planted by the second garden tour of the year, on August 18.

The finishing touch: a set of
Black Cat Pottery Cat-tails.
Well, the weather didn't really cooperate, did it? Ghastly hot and droughty June and July. Finally, August 15, I went back up to Ortonville to pick up the plants (as well as a few for some other parts of the garden) and selected Wool Grass (Scirpus cyperinus - which isn't a grass at all but a rush) to complement the other plants I had chosen for the Wetland Tank.

I finally planted the Tank the next day. I started on Wednesday but realized I didn't have enough planting mix - it took the better part of four two-cubic-foot bags of Schultz planting mix to fill the Tank. I planted everything in, top-dressed with mulch, and started watering it.

Chris and I had concurred that we needed an outlet for excess water come the end of the season so any freezing action would not crack the Tank. He had drilled a one-inch hole close to the bottom, which I had fitted with a typical stopper. After I finished planting and mulching, I started to water with rain water from my rain barrel. Using two 14-quart galvanized buckets, I made four trips, for about 28 gallons of water. I topped off the composition with a set of three Black Cat Pottery Cat-tails.

So far, the plants seem to have settled in. It is truly amazing.

One Heck of a Slide....

Wildflowers to the west of Grand Marais
The main reason we had driven into Grand Marais was because my friend Janine Bauchat, who works at Dancing Eye Gallery in Northville, Michigan, had told me about a shop a friend of hers owned, Campbell Street Gallery, there in town. Janine had told me the owner, Jo, split her time between Grand Marais and downstate, so we weren't sure if she was around. We had stopped at the gallery we first arrived in town but it was after regular business hours so we couldn't be sure if she was in or out.

Looking east over the Log Slide
When we got up Saturday morning, we decided to check out the Log Slide about which the gentleman whose garden we had visited had told us. We took a long, winding drive on County Road 58, which now connects Grand Marais with Munising. Finding the turnoff for the Log Slide, we parked and walked into the woods, a mixture of American Beech (Fagus grandifolia, now being hit by Beech Bark Disease), Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) and Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum). There were all kinds of wildflowers in the understory, including False Solomon' Seal (Smilacina racemosa), beautiful native sedges (Carex spp.) and Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). 

Looking west toward Pictured
Rocks National Lakeshore
We finally made our way to the promontory and the lookout over Lake Superior. To our right, we could see the remnant scar of the great log slide used by the timber industry, where the huge trees were flung down to the lake to be rafted east to Grand Marais, thence to be shipped south for the rampant building industry. To our left, we could see the sweeping coastal bluff, heading toward Picture Rocks National Monument.

On our way back to the car, I was once again struck by the floral diversity and the immense leaves on the Beech and Maple saplings. (Oftentimes, the leaves on juvenile trees are larger than on mature trees of the same species, in order to maximize the plant's ability to generate food on a limited amount of wood.)

We drove on back to Grand Marais, checking in at Campbell Street Gallery, which was still and silent. A peek in the windows let me see that my friend Melanie Boyle's (Clever Lotus Design) work is available there, which was good to see. Leaving a CD in the door, Theresa and I began our uneventful trip back south, feasting on pasties along the way....

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Best Whitefish. Ever.

Audrey Chamberlin, Gallery Manager, Vertin Gallery,
Calumet, Michigan
 Friday morning, July 20, 2012, dawned in Houghton, Michigan with little fanfare. I had not been able to get anything done on the blog for technical reasons for the past couple of days and only managed to get one post done between getting breakfast (that waffle set-up at the Travelodge isn't half bad!) and heading out of town. The indefatigable Theresa had scouted out Suomi Bakery and ascertained the pasties would be ready to pick up around 10:30 - she had put in our order in of four fresh and two frozen (for Theresa to take home).

Having finished the one blog post for which I had time, we stopped at the bakery and then headed over the bridge toward Calumet and Vertin Gallery. We needed gas and stopped at the BP in Hancock. Where they pump the gas for you. That's right. It was a full-service gas station. I literally cannot remember the last time I experienced such a thing. (And yes, I did give a tip to the very friendly and professional young man who assisted us.) The entire experience was very disorienting for Theresa and I, as we have a "system" when we drive together, in which she gets out and pumps the gas while I take care of recording the transaction and filing the documentation. This new innovation was very confusing!

Peterson's Fish Market - for excellent whitefish
Driving on to Calumet, we arrived in town and parked in our (now) familiar spot at the Vertin Gallery. Bin after bin of pottery made their way into the gallery, as well as work for Chris Hopp of Farmbrook Designs. We dropped off all kinds of tiles, including Sheep Tiles (for you "Woolies" out there), Farm Animal Tiles (Cow, Chicken, Rooster), Michigan Tiles, Sunflower Tiles and Hot Pepper Tiles; Birds; a bunch of Leaves (small and tiny); and an assortment of buttons. As Audrey and I were going over the inventory, I recounted to her how I had not been able, on our last to get a good whitefish dinner. She strongly recommended stopping at Peterson's Fish Market on our way back down the Keweenaw, mentioning that it was right across the road from the Quincy Mine, an old mine that had been converted to something of a tourist attraction. I remembered seeing the mine on our way out and even glimpsing the fish market. We were on our way. Audrey advised us that one order could be enough for both of us, as the servings were quite generous.

Well, we found it. Right across from the Quincy Mine. And it isn't really particularly prepossessing. There's this big warehouse-type building with what looks like a food truck with an outdoor cafeteria attached to it. The menu is simple - baked or fried whitefish with coleslaw and either French fries or baked potato ($10) or scalloped sweet potatoes ($12). Both Theresa and I went for the baked whitefish with the scalloped sweet potatoes, forgetting, until after we had both ordered and paid, that Audrey had said one order might be enough for both of us.

Well, it's a good thing we forgot. There are a few things in this life I don't share. The Maple Shortbread Bars from Greengos for one. Tiramisu, for another. When I could still eat them, my friend Debbie's Chocolate Chip Pecan Espresso Biscotti (too much caffeine now). And I think we can now add Peterson's Baked Whitefish. I was willing to say it was as good as Boone's in Glen Arbor but Theresa (and she has more experience with this stuff, I will admit) declared it the best whitefish she has had. Ever. Period. And until we have the opportunity to get out to Wilcox Fisheries on Whitefish Bay near Brimley, the other place Audrey told us about (after calling a friend to get the correct name - apparently she's owed some good whitefish, too), the title will have to go to Peterson's Fish Market in Hancock, Michigan.

After lunch, we headed back east, passing through Marquette (neato pottery gallery there with really nice, helpful folks), Michigamme, Munising and on to Grand Marais. It was a long day and a long drive, but getting to the bay was a treat, especially as the water was so warm. We dined on pasties and visited with a local gardener who was watering the plantings around the pavilion in which we were dining, and even invited us to visit his garden, an invitation we accepted with alacrity. Theresa and I were both interested in ice cream for some reason, and our kind host advised us we could get some at the North Shore Lodge. We were, strictly speaking, after hours but the young man obliged with some ice cream and, upon inquiry, a motel room. A walk along the beach outside the point (the water was a lot rougher and cooler, which was nice for Theresa's aching feet and ankles) to watch the sunset and collect some beautiful stones (and some fairly expert stone skipping by Theresa) ended our day.

Across the Strait to Points Beyond....

After a pretty decent night's sleep, Theresa and I got ourselves together (trying not to disturb our hosts) and headed out into a drizzly, mizzly day. Our first priority was picking up the pieces from ArtCenter Traverse City's "Art and the Garden" exhibit. Luckily, the ArtCenter wasn't far from Renate's home; unfortunately, Kathryn wasn't there as we hoped. Good thing the Bayview Inn was about a block back up Highway 31, well within walking distance. We got a good breakfast, discussing the next phase of our trip. By the time we finished eating, cashed out and made our way back to the ArtCenter, Kathryn had arrived and we were able to load in the artwork and drive on to Elk Rapids.

Blue Heron Gallery on a sunnier day
Our next stop was the Blue Heron Gallery (131 Ames Street, Elk Rapids, MI 49629), where we rendezvoused with Pat Curran, dropping off all kinds of stuff - Hot Pepper Tiles, Sunflower Tiles and Wildflower Tiles, Embossed Leaf Bowls and Applied Leaf Bowls, a Large Bird Bowl, Green Man/Woman Masks, Heart-shaped Lace Bowls, various Leaves and a small selection of Deluxe Sunflowers. Even though we were a bit early, Pat was ready for us so we were able to quickly load in the bins of work, get the paperwork signed and head back out into the rain. We took a quick stop in town at Nature Connection and talked with the clerk there before heading on to Petoskey.

On our way into town, we stopped at Sturgeon River Pottery (3031 Charlevoix Ave., Petoskey, MI 49770) to take a quick look around, inside and out (the weather was still less than pristine). They've got a pretty varied inventory, including both functional and decorative pottery, other handcrafted items such as furniture, bird houses and weathervanes, as well as a comprehensive selection of wild bird supplies. They also have a very cool, highly-socialized pooch with whom I spent a fair bit of down-time before we headed onto town proper.

It was clearly time for lunch and we had hoped to stop in at the Twisted Olive (319 Bay Street), which Lucy at the Crooked Tree Art Center had recommended to us the last time we were on our way through Petoskey. We thought we might have a good chance of getting in, seeing as it was only Thursday, but the place had a line out the door - it was, after all, prime lunch hour. So, we opted, once again, for the Roast & Toast, where we got the soup/half sandwich. We had to park well out of the downtown area - no problem we could use the walk! - and decided to drop in at Crooked Tree to see Lucy before heading across the bridge and on up to Houghton for the night.

Luckily, we got an earlier start than last time and managed to make it to the motel before dark. We were even able to get into the Ambassador Restaurant before sundown after walking around town and checking out Suomi Home Bakery and Restaurant: peeking in the window, we could see folks making pasties for the next day's sales. After a great dinner of salad, pizza and beer at the Ambassador (this is fast becoming one of "our places"), it was back to the Travelodge for a good night's sleep.

Second Day Out....

It's taken me a while to get back to this - our last trip up North. Haven't had the time or, alternatively, been in the right mind set to write (have to sit still, you know)!

Sue Ann Hanson (l) and Theresa Dearhamer (r)
hanging at The Red Door
We left pretty early on Wednesday, July 18, for parts west and north. I had messaged a couple of "old" (as in, "I've known them for a while", old) friends that I was going to be stopping in Ludington, in hopes that I might be able to connect with at least one of them. My friend Sabrina Borashko (nee Mollitor) had been one of my best friends during my undergrad sojourn at Michigan State and had married and relocated to Ludington years ago. Sue Ann Hanson, also President Emeritus of Master Gardeners of Greater Detroit (she succeeded my "administration") had retired from Wayne County and relocated there with her husband, Charlie Bristol, more recently. Sue Ann had suggested I investigate the Red Door Gallery as a possible venue for my work.

North Breakwater Lighthouse, Ludington, MI
Unfortunately, as I don't have a "smart" phone (I used to have a stupid phone; now I have a "smarter" phone but not a "smart" phone), folks were not able to message me. Luckily, I did have a phone number for Sue Ann and we did connect as Theresa and I were getting close to our destination. We met up in front of the gallery, which, unfortunately, was unexpectedly closed. I slid a CD with product information through the mail slot and we decided to walk around a bit. We ended up stopping at a couple of antiquey places and found a bunch of old power line insulators, which my friend Chris Hopp of Farmbrook Designs uses in some of his products. After some harried phone calls (I'm sure he thought I had decided to stalk him), I managed to get quite a few for him, including some beautiful ones in turquoise. (I even managed to get 10% off at Coles Antiques Villa because I was so helpful and patient!)

The Secret Garden, Empire, MI
As we were getting ready to head back out, Sue Ann admonished us that we really ought to take a brief detour to see the North Breakwater Lighthouse in Stearns Park. So, Theresa and I drove out that way and did stop to see it before continuing on North to Empire.

We made it to Empire, home of The Secret Garden (10206 W. Front St., Empire, MI 49630), just short of lunch time. We met with Cindy Taggart and dropped off the work she had requested, including Applied Leaf Bowls, Sunflower Tiles and Hand-painted Wildflower Tiles. By this time, despite having availed ourselves of the healthy snacks we had packed for the trip, both of us were definitely hungry. Cindy recommended Joe's Friendly Tavern (11015 W. Front Street, Empire, MI 49630), just down the street. We got a couple of take-out chicken sandwiches (which, by the way, were really good, and they were friendly, too!) and got back on the road with miles still to go before we reached our resting place for the night.

Ruth Conklin Gallery, Glen Arbor, MI
Next stop was Ruth Conklin Gallery in Glen Arbor (6632 Western Avenue, Glen Arbor, MI 49636) to drop off work for Black Cat Pottery as well as Farmbrook Designs. One thing I really appreciate is Ruth's no-nonsense approach to things - I can count on getting in and out within about 20 minutes, even with a lot of stuff! We dropped some more sunflowers and daisies, mostly in the warmer colors that seem to move so well for Ruth, as well as some of Chris Hopp's Michigan (LP and UP) Stepping Stones.

Ruth encouraged us to look around the gallery to see how she had hung the pieces; Theresa was good enough to take both an exterior shot of the gallery as well as an interior shot of some of the flowers. I really like how the rich colors she has chosen for her walls complement the colors of the glazes and stains I like most for my creations - a truly great combination!

Having completed our work in Glen Arbor, we drove on to Suttons Bay to hook up with Sue Ann Round of Michigan Artists Gallery (309 N. St. Joseph, Suttons Bay, MI 49682). This was our last delivery stop; the car was beginning to look a little... lighter by now. Sue Ann had requested Hot Pepper Tiles, Wildflower Tiles (including Hand-painted) and Michigan Tiles, as well as some Indigo Float Lace Bowls and a set of Embossed Leaf Bowls. We dropped all of these off and visited briefly before heading up the Leelanau Peninsula to check out Tamarack Gallery in Omena, then swung down to Gallery 22 in Suttons Bay, where I found a beautiful hand-turned Black Walnut bowl to hold the stones I had collected near Poorrock Abbey during our last trip north.

Finally, we headed on to Acme to spend the night with our friend Renate Favour of Etc. Designs, who had just moved into her new home. There, we were handsomely fed while visiting with her daughter Olivia and her good friend Amy and enjoying the sunset over Lake Michigan, finally falling asleep to the sound of traffic on Highway 31.