Pottery Archives 2-4-12

Should you be interested in a set of coffee mugs, ice tea glasses or some other type of ceramic creation, please do not hesitate to contact Rogier, or, better yet, arrange for a visit to the studio. Silicosis or no silicosis, as long as he has his trusted oxygen tank close by things are happening in the studio again! Currently Rogier is working on a series of large gnomes that will be perfectly suited for garden ornaments. Being over two feet tall some gnomes will find a home somewhere on the Donker’s property for the enjoyment and inspiration of all.

Creating these gnomes is like revisiting “the Family of Man.” While none of these characters are representative of any particular person, collectively they do remind their creator of individuals who have crossed his path. Cipriano Picolpasso, the 16th Century potter who wrote one of the first treatises on pottery, started off his book chapters with some nice philosophical sayings. Rogier’s favorite and definitely applicable to this collection of creatures:

“Earth we are, it is quite true. Disdain us not for so are you!”

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These small gnomes have been a staple of Rogier’s workshop repertoire; elementary school students created the ones pictured above.

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Making the larger version of the gnome starts out with a large slab of clay. Rolled out on a piece of #4 duck canvas the slab will have a uniform thickness of three quarters of an inch thanks to the “rails” on which the rolling pin rides. That rolling pin, of the home-made variety, consist of a piece of schedule forty sewer pipe, some plywood ends, a piece of black pipe and a couple of rubber handles. Nifty these homemade tools!

The slab will finish out at approximately twelve inches wide and about twenty-seven inches long. Once the slab is properly rolled out it can be imprinted with various stamps or letters and once that is done the slab is covered with another piece of canvas and flipped over. What used to be the bottom canvas is now peeled off and the slab will just lay there for a little while. While the slab is stiffening up somewhat, the head is molded.

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The expression, the character, the impression of the little being is only limited to one’s imagination and after making a few of these it is un-adulterated fun to see the characters evolve. Once the head is done it is placed on the slab and with the use of more clay is firmly attached to it. At this point the head can only be attached on the “top” side as the creature is not yet ready to stand up and the backside of the head can therefore not be reached or properly attached.

When the slab has reached a certain stiffness it is carefully lifted up on the sides. Should things work out as expected (dryness/wetness of the slab is sort of critical here) the canvas is brought up around the sides and clamped in place to help the now semi-circular column retain its shape. Twenty-four hours later the canvas-covered “tube” can be set on end and if conditions are just right and the creature stands on its own, the canvas can be peeled off.

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Now the real fun begins, as each gnome will have to be equipped with some semblance of external extremities and other decorative additions or deductions. First order of business though is to firmly attach the backside of the head to the body and then it is off to the operating room, as each creature must undergo a radical “brainectomy”. This as a prevention of the possibility of blowing their minds when they are exposed to the extreme temperature of the kiln…

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Now that the head is hollowed out, various other creative actions can be performed. Head hair, ears and hands can now be molded on and when the gnome is pronounced “finished” it is covered with a plastic bag so the moisture in the various parts can equalize and the very slow drying process can begin.

To assure that the creatures will survive the firing without cracking, spalling or blowing their minds it will take three to four weeks to slowly dry them. Patience is a virtue! Each finished gnome stands over twenty-four inches tall, makes a great and fun outdoor garden sculpture and “yes” they are available for purchase!

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Are we having fun yet?

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Things are happening in the studio! The place is crawling with “weird-but-oh-so-neat-looking” clay creatures. Visitors to the studio delight in seeing the different expressions and characteristics of the over two feet tall “beings”. It has been decided that calling these larger versions of the small classroom “gnomes” is not really the correct or applicable description, so hereby the launch of a name-calling contest. Come visit the studio, marvel at the creatures or, if you can’t come in person, E-mail your suggestion and the name will be added to the list.

In about a month the list will be posted to be voted on. Come Christmas the person whose name for the creatures was selected (by popular vote) will be the recipient of one of the “whatever-they-will-be-called”! Meanwhile more are being born every couple of days and Rogier was recently commissioned to create another “People Pot” – see Batch 3 pictures for some examples.

It is amazing how the near-completion of the house freed the creative juices and got them flowing in the ceramic department once again! Between creating the “whatever-they-are-called”, coffee mugs, ice tea glasses, place settings and general decorative items are once again filling the shelves waiting for clients. Come see us!

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Making these “dudes” (as my granddaughter, pouting her lips, calls them) is one thing, drying and successfully firing them quite another. All agree that at 27 inches tall and an average thickness of ¾” to 1” there is quite a lot of clay mass. We all know that things need to dry slowly. Surely three weeks would be enough to dry ‘em thoroughly? They passed the old “cheek” test, felt dry, looked dry… OK, let’s place them in the kiln, program a few hours of “pre-heat” then let the kiln slowly do its thing while we send up a prayer that all will survive the “fiery furnace”…

The initial “crop” consisted of six “weirdoes”; Anneke’s other description of the “dudes”. Her favorite was the one pictured below, loosely based on Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. This particular one was one of the first made to this larger scale and the head, by necessity was quite large. Even though it too received a total craniotomy, the resulting head thicknesses were still quite thick. I guess in keeping with the subject at hand the heat was just too much for the scream and during the firing it blew its stack or phrased better: blew its top! When the firing was done and the kiln was cool enough to raise the lid, things looked awful!  Anyone who’s ever operated a kiln knows the feeling!

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OK – take a deep breath, re-group, wait till the kiln is REALLY cool and see what’s left of the first trial run of “dudes”. So the Scream’s head exploded into a thousand smithereens. One of the heavier pieces knocked the one pictured below left in the head, broke it’s jaw and broke part of the skull. The Scream’s body toppled over, hit the one pictured below right and broke a few fingers. The one in the center below had some firing cracks in places where one would not want firing cracks and the one to left of him had a shoulder fracture as well as a broken hand. The fourth one from the left below had nothing wrong with it.

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Regarded as a trial run all survivors were patched up with auto body putty (Heresy in the ceramic circles!) The second one from the left above looks different because it received a brown shoe polish finish, just to see if that would look good. You be the judge. All five survivors were planted up in the woods for Anneke and Pops’ enjoyment. Nature will take its course and between rain, wind and snow some have already developed a greenish tint as moss is beginning to grow on the absorbent surface. New name! “Chia Dudes”! Nah… 🙂

Preparing the kiln to receive the next batch took some time and effort! All the element grooves were full of smithereens and there were pieces of the “Scream” all over. The old shop vac got quite a workout! Meanwhile we learned a lot and have adjusted the drying and firing times to ensure that there will be no further casualties and seven more “dudes” are destined for the kiln. The new batch includes a replacement for the Scream who lost his mind in the first firing. Some of the creatures are almost 27” tall and barely fit in the kiln, which is 27” deep… careful placement is of the essence!  During the very first stage of the firing the clay will begin to shrink quite a bit and when the firing is complete the average height will have been reduced to between 23 and 25 inches. Let us proceed…

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A few days later and it was “Happy Days are here again” all over.  Everyone survived! Taking advantage of the residual heat of the kiln the first seven were unloaded, the next five went in and the second firing cycle began. Lessons learned before and after the first firing resulted in two successful firings.

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While the original intent was for the “dudes” to find a home in an outdoor setting it occurred to me that some people might want to enjoy the beings inside. To that end walnut, cherry or poplar wood bases will be available at a slight additional cost.

There are now twelve disciples standing around in the studio waiting for a home! Come and take your pick! Next I’m going to replace the auger in the pug mill and when that piece of machinery is operational again, it is on to some serious pottery work: the order book calls for a “People Pot” or two, some coffee mugs and a set of dinnerware.

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Here are the latest ones to survive the “fiery furnace”:

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“We two form a multitude.”

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Mounted on a slab of sassafras wood, these two stand over two feet tall!

Yes, please! They are available for purchase!

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Three of the original twelve Disciples found a home on a revolving base that reads: “Earth we are it is quite true, disdain us not for so are you!” on the circumference. Each of the three is imprinted with part of the same quote. Quite impressive, the whole unit stands about thirty inches tall and the rotation (by hand) is very smooth and very solid to the touch. The base is 16 inches in diameter.

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