Friday, March 23, 2012

Michoacan Pineapples

My very favorite form of folk art ceramic is the pineapples of Michoacan, Mexico. Traditionally, the pineapple is a symbol of hospitality. And, usually the artists who craft these pieces use green, yellow, brown, and sometimes blue glazes. The clay is found near San Jose de Gracia and Patamban. First, it is ground to a powder in a hand mill. Then it is modeled and molded. The first firing is an open pit fire. The pit is covered near the end of the firing. After the pineapples have cooled, they are glazed with the distinctive glazes. During the second firing, the pieces must be stilted and kept apart, as all parts are glazed.

I am the happy owner of two Michoacan pineapples. They welcome me into my living room after a hard day at work, and take me back to memories of a fun trip to Mexico with Jana and Darryl a few years back. The glaze glows in lamplight, or in candlelight. I know that this sounds crazy, but if there was a disaster at my house, I might be seen running out into the street in my pajamas… with a Michoacan pineapple under my arm. Maybe.


Friday, March 16, 2012

New Color in Town

After buying some new underglaze colors last month, they are finally starting to make their way into my work. More experiments with letting the clay show through, for a cement-like, antiqued finish are in the works.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Ceramics is a Many Splendored Thing

The ceramic process is indeed a lengthy process. There are so many options, and there is so much to consider. And, the steps each require a variety of different skills. The first step involves working with wet clay. It is an area for much problem solving and creativity. The second step is an occasion for a lot of patience and waiting! Before the first firing, the project needs to be bone dry. It must not be cold to the touch. Absolutely no water inside the clay body allowed!

Once the piece is bone dry, it gets bisque fired in the kiln. The next step is glazing, which takes me the greatest amount of time and effort. Once glazed, the piece goes into the kiln for a second firing. Afterwards, I apply several underglaze washes. Then, we're ready for the third, and final trip to the kiln.

With all of these steps, it's important to organize the order of my work. I have to evaluate where each piece is on the "spectrum of doneness".  Some pieces channel through the whole process together. It's a wonderful network of connection. Sometimes it's easy to procrastinate and for work to stall out in one part of the process.

Right now, I'm working on some giant bead poles that will be supporting a corrugated tin awning on my clay shed. All of the beads are in various stages of the process. We'll see how the whole project comes together! After my temporary shade structure blew down in a recent storm, there is renewed interest in this project. I am keeping this quote by Thomas Jefferson in my head: "Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time, who never loses any."

Monday, March 5, 2012

Like Christmas Morning

How is opening a kiln like Christmas morning?  Well, strangely, it is.  When I fire up the kiln, I usually candle it slowly, with a three to five hour warm up period.  This means that each firing can take up to 16 hours.  Most kiln loads are mixed loads of bisque ware, and glaze ware.  Sometimes, I put student work (3rd graders) into the kiln.  Sometimes, I'm even forcing the student work to dry quickly.  Because each load contains finished work, it's always difficult to wait for the results.

Our family celebrated Christmas with some annual traditions.  On Christmas Eve, we were allowed to open only one present.  I believe that this is actually a Danish custom.  On Christmas morning, we had to get dressed before heading in to the Christmas tree (and to our presents).  There was a sense of anticipation that built from that one unwrapped gift on Christmas Eve.

Each time I fire up the kiln, I feel the same sense of anticipation.  I can't wait to see how the glazing and the decoration turns out.  The kiln becomes a giant present, just waiting to be ripped open.  It's hard to be patient, and to wait until it cools from 2,000 degrees down to 100 degrees.  In fact, it's physically impossible NOT to open the lid and look inside.  Peek holes are helpful in that respect!  Sometimes, I find myself standing in the garage, in my pajamas.  Then, it looks a lot like Christmas morning to me!

You might notice that the temperature in the first photo is 297 degrees.  It has got to cool a bit more.  In the second picture, even Betty the dog is waiting.