Sunday, March 31, 2013

Black Cat Pottery Southwest Michigan Tour

Two garden-themed shows for April were the impetus for a circle tour of Midland, Saugatuck, Glenn, Kalamazoo, Chelsea, Ann Arbor and Northville March 28-29, 2013. What started out as a trip to cover both galleries turned into a trip covering over a half dozen accounts in the southwest Lower Peninsula, all in an attempt to make the most of the gas and my time. The most challenging hurdle proved getting inventories ready for seven accounts (not to mention the daisies I pulled together to drop off to Urban Attic in St. Clair Shores earlier in the week) - a challenge I'm not sure I'm willing to repeat any time soon.

As you can see to the right, that's what the car looked like before loading in the cats to go for boarding, let alone my personal effects. I guess it could have been a bit more full, but not much more! (Good thing my friend Chris Hopp decided to do his own delivery to Midland - I really don't think his work would have fit!)

I headed out shortly before 8:00 am on Thursday to drop the kitties off for their overnight at Harper Woods Veterinarians - getting the cats ready to go is a military maneuver in itself! Then, it was off to Midland. I had four stops to make. I arrived around 10:00am and rendezvoused with Jeanne Calkins, who had messaged me the day before, lamenting her failure to acquire one of my pieces while I was in the area over a month ago and inquiring when I would next be in town - perfect timing, as I was able to personally deliver the piece she wanted. Then, it was on to Serendipity 181 to drop off work for the upcoming garden show and spend a few minutes with Mary Moore - you're going to see a lot of different work there, including Toadstools, Cat Tails, Clytie Masks and Deluxe Sunflowers. Then, on to Monique Scott's to pick up the quilt I had dropped off some weeks before - Monique was good enough to put the binding on a quilt I had pieced (another person did the quilting) in exchange for some pottery.

I had hoped to meet with my friend Debbie Groat for lunch and had brought some empty canning jars with me in anticipation of doing so - but she was in Standish at her grandson's school for a special reading day. (The principal was up on the school's roof in a super-hero outfit, reading a book for the students - something not to be missed.) Luckily, my Master Gardener friend Susan Gaul was available, so we met at the North End Deli for some gyros and homemade ships before I headed off to Saugatuck.

Partial View of the Quilt
About two-and-a-half hours later, I rolled up to Timmel Collection, where I dropped off 21 Baby Daisies, 21 Gerbera Daisies, 21 Deluxe Gerbera Daisies and 24 stakes to go out the garden once Joel has it in shape. (I also dropped off three sets of Embossed Leaf Bowls while there.) I had a great visit with Joel and the dogs and then it was off to At Last in Glenn.

Chuck was ready for me and we exchanged some pieces from last year's stock and loaded him up with Deluxe Sunflowers and some fun Wild Sheep and Farm Animal Tiles before heading on for Kalamazoo.

I had two stops to make once I arrived. Midtown Gallery is having a Garden Show (see my previous post) opening April 5, running through April 27. I unloaded all the work so Terry (Nikil) can set it up one the previous show comes down. Leaving my car in his parking area, I headed across the street to Nature Connection Kalamazoo to meet with Laurie Russell and to stock her up with some leaves (including some very special Sunflower Leaves), Toad Houses, Fairy Houses and Michigan Tiles. In discussing current projects with her, she suggested I talk to Terry about my concept for The Seven Deadly Sins (I'm working on "Gluttony" for the upcoming "Food for Thought" show at Grosse Pointe Art Center). On my way back to my car, I did just that - and it looks like I'll have a place to show that piece once I get it done - so now I have more work to do!

Finally, the end of my day took me to my friends' Julie and Bob Peterson, where I was fed like a queen (dinner was planked salmon with mango avocado salsa, homemade risotto, salad with a delicious baked apple for dessert; breakfast a delicious egg scramble with leftover salsa for breakfast) and slept like a stone. It was here that I was finally able to open up the quilt and get a look at it. (Monique did a beautiful job finishing what I had started four years ago....)

Come morning, it was off to The Garden Mill in Chelsea - a new account, with Hanging Bird Bowls, Toad Houses, Toadstools and one lone Fairy House (more are in the works). Then on to Rovin Ceramics in Ann Arbor to pick up more clay, some glazes and an oddment or two before heading on to Dancing Eye Gallery in Northville, my last delivery (including lunch at Edward's). Before picking up the cats and heading home, I stopped in Plymouth to pick up some bins from the delivery that had been taken down to North Carolina the week before.

When all was said and done, this is how much was left after the trip (deducting the clay and bins that were returned from previous deliveries). Needless to say, it was pretty cool how the car got lighter, and lighter, and lighter as the trip went on...!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Brake Disk Charger Part IV: Small(er) Leaf Form Bowl with....

Small(er) Leaf Form Bowl with Brake Disk Charger
When I finally opened up the kiln and unloaded it, to my delight, I discovered that all four pieces had survived the process in perfect condition. (The Leaf Form Bowls are especially tricky, as I fire them upside down on clean posts so there are no stilt marks on them at all, a technique I can't employ on the other pieces because they are glazed both inside and out.) So, I actually had a choice as to which pieces I would submit to the Grosse Pointe Art Center's "Urban Edge" show.

I tried all four pieces out on the brake disks I had. The two largest pieces - the Applied Leaf Bowl and the Large Leaf Form Bowl - really worked with the size of the disks best; the other two pieces were still a bit diminished by them and I wanted a good balance between the two elements. The tension between the delicacy of the bowls and the massive form of the brake disk turned into a brute domination of nature with the smaller pieces.

Having made my decision, I took the disks back outside and cleaned their undersides with a wire brush, being careful to preserve all the rust and accumulated detritus on the upper surfaces. I took them to the gallery for in-take using gloves (to keep my hands relative clean), bringing along a square of rubber drawer liner to protect whatever surfaces they might sit on during the jurying process. I figured, with two relatively similar pieces, one of them might get in.

Brake Disks Quietly Rusting in the Back Yard
Much to my surprise (and delight), both pieces got into the show! In fact, there was no other pottery in the show at all and my pieces were actually featured in an article in the Grosse Pointe Times and the Advertiser Times shortly after the show opened.

With the success of these two pieces, I've scavenged another 18 brake disks, at least 2 of which are perfect for the 2 smaller pieces, that are now rusting to perfection in the back yard. The Large Applied Cottonwood Leaf Bowl with Brake Disk Charger will be part of an upcoming Garden Show at Kalamazoo's Midtown+Metropolis Gallery. This is a design that may have "legs"!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Brake Disk Charger Part III: Embossed Cottonwood Leaf Bowl with....

Embossed Cottonwood Leaf Bowl with Brake Disk Charger
Having decided to use Eastern Cottonwood leaves and Vert Lustre glaze with Sea Green Mason Stain, I just had to figure out which particular bowl designs to develop. I knew I wanted to do four pieces - I  figured that if I did four, at least two should survive the process.

I decided to focus on three basic designs, with two variations on one of those: Large Applied Leaf Bowl, which is based on my Hanging Bird Bowl design; Embossed Leaf Bowl, a design I generally produce nested sets of four; and two Leaf Form bowls, in which the leaves themselves determine the bowl's shape - one larger and more irregular than the other.

I had to make a new mold for the Large Applied Leaf Bowl design - I had been intending to add that to my repertoire, having already added Tiny and Medium sizes to the original Small Applied Leaf Bowl. Otherwise, I used the large Sasaki Colorstone Stoneware Salad Bowls I had previously acquired as my molds for the other three pieces. (The Large Applied Leaf Bowl mold is made by humping a clay slab over a plaster mold of the center of the Sasaki Colorstone Stoneware Salad Bowl, so all four pieces had approximately the same contour.) The larger Leaf Form Bowl extended beyond the edge of the form and had a more irregular shape, much like a piece I had made in 2011; the smaller Leaf Form Bowl conformed to the mold fairly strictly, resulting in a more formal piece.

All the pieces fabricated, dried and sanded (I sand all the edges  using synthetic steel wool before bisque firing to make the pieces more pleasant to handle) and bisque fired, I prepared them for their final firing using the Sea Green Mason Stain (and, in the case of the Applied Leaf Bowl, Burnt Umber for the branch) and Vert Lustre glaze, popped them into a small kiln all by themselves and crossed my fingers that at least two would be acceptable.

Because, of course, I was out of time to do anything else....

Monday, March 11, 2013

Brake Disk Charger Part II: Large Cottonwood Leaf-Form Bowl with....

Large Cottonwood Leaf-Form Bowl with Brake Disk Charger
Once I had finally realized that the rusted brake disks could make an interesting contrast with some of my pottery designs, I set to work.

It would have been nice if i had been able to take an existing piece and use it and I did try to do that. But these were pretty big disks - my handyman, Keith, informed me they had probably come off a pick up or mid-sized SUV, something along the lines of a Ford 150. My medium Applied Leaf Bowls (the largest I was making at the time) all but swam in them - the relative proportions were just not right. So I made a mold for a large Applied Leaf Bowl to see how that would work.

I also knew that it was going to be a good idea to have a back-up plan. For past shows, having an alternative concept or project going often helped - just in case Plan A was unworkable or something fatal happened in the kiln. So, although I only had two brake disks, I decided to make four pieces. I figured I had at least a 50% chance of half of the work surviving and, if all four made it to completion, I could cherry-pick the two I preferred.

Then I had to figure out the particular designs I wanted to use. For sanity's sake, I've developed a comprehensive matrix for my leaf pieces, including the stain used for the leaves as well as the texture of the branches and the glaze. Years ago I developed a (almost literally) mind-bending matrix for my Hanging Bird Bowls, in which each piece (of over 100 pieces) was a unique combination of leaf stain and bowl glaze - but not only did it hurt my brain to figure the thing out, I often was unhappy with the results. So I have embraced my synchronistic associations of stain and glaze with given leaves and, coincidentally, vastly simplified my life. (I, of course, am more than happy to fulfill a client's differing requirements in the event of a commission.)

One of our favorite glazes is Vert Lustre, from the Amaco Potter's Choice series. This glaze is a rich, lustrous green that breaks a medium reddish brown - a perfect contrast and complement to the rust on the disks. I use this glaze, along with Sea Green Mason Stain, for all of my Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) pieces, from Hanging Bird Bowls and Leaf Pockets to Pillow Vases and Large Basins. Plus I had a slew of Eastern Cottonwood leaves I had collected from a friend's shop up in Dewitt, Michigan.

All the stars seemed aligned.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Brake Disk Charger Part I: Large Applied Cottonwood Leaf Bowl with....

Large Applied Cottonwood Leaf Bowl with Brake Disk Charger
About two years ago, I found two old, rusted brake disks on the side of the road on one of my winter morning walks.

Much of my work revolves around found objects - usually organic found objects, but everything is of interest, if not for my own benefit, perhaps for that of someone I know. One of my artist friends uses repurposed metal in his creations and I wondered if perhaps he might be able to use them.

The brake disks were very heavy and I was only 1-1/2 blocks into my 40-block walk, so I decided I would pick them up, if they were still on the roadside, when I drove out of my neighborhood to run some errands. Which they were, so I loaded them into the car and took them home.

I was unable to connect with my friend, despite repeated attempts to contact him. The brake disks languished in my garage for two years, one of them briefly granted a reprieve when it was utilized as a soil compaction device when another friend installed an in-ground fountain he had made for me. Then it was back into the garage, to rust and languish in peace, surrounded by accumulating garden detritus.

The art center with which I am most active - the Grosse Pointe Art Center - has as one of its occasional themes a show entitled "Urban Edge". This topic had always eluded me, due to my work's heavily organic aesthetic. When this show was launched in 2012, I could come up with nothing to fit the description; conversely, when the "Green Show" occurred in both 2010 and 2011, I had a relatively easy time coming up with ideas.

It wasn't until August or September of 2012, while my massage therapist/fellow artist/designer was working me over during our standing bi-weekly appointment that it hit me: What if I somehow combined my organic pieces with those by-now very rusted brake disks? The holes in the center of the metal pieces could easily accommodate a pottery bowl and the tension between the organic pottery and the decaying machined metal.