Pottery

The # 6 Soap Box Story

I’ve enjoyed a long career in the ceramics and teaching fields and fondly think back at some of the things I accomplished. From developing the Kemper Classique hand tools for the potter to the designing of the #11 Donker-Amaco pug mill, and a few other things….

Starting in 1965, I was closely associated with Amaco as both an aspiring potter and freelance demonstrator. In 1971, the job I always cherished became mine as Amaco approached me to take the place of  their traveling workshop consultant. I viewed the job as the one that was supposed to last a life time but because of changing corporate directions, I resigned in 1974.

Since then I have been an independent consultant, potter, kiln repair person, and teacher of teachers. Having enjoyed a business relationship that has lasted over fifty years I am still associated with Amaco. At the almost respectable age of 75, I can probably get away with he following: my soap box tale of the demise of the nation’s best learning potter’s wheel ever.

Those who know me know that I can be rather opinionated on certain subjects. One of those subjects is the art of learning to throw a pot on a potter’s wheel. The wheel and knowledge of how clay reacts to pressure all should work together to produce a well-thrown pot.

Enjoy! 🙂

In the late summer of 1963 I had just emigrated from the Netherlands to this land of milk and honey. I was attending Indian River Junior College in Ft.Pierce, Florida as one of that institution’s first foreign students. Other than being in English, my classes were a repeat of my Dutch High School courses, and I found myself rather bored.

So, I wandered, between classes, around the school, and found myself in the art room. The teacher there was a painter, admitted he did not know much about pottery, but let me “play” on a “stand-up” old  Klopfenstein  threadle wheel. Since there was no teacher to offer any guidance, I was basically on my own.

When I first learned how to throw a pot there was no one I could turn to for help. I will never forget that it took me sixty hours to “center” a piece of clay. Thirty of those sixty hours were spent trying to center a square cube of clay, right out of the Amaco box. It finally dawned upon me that it would be easier to start with a round ball of clay. Between classes and three part time jobs (I had bills to pay!) I spent every free minute in the art room and was finally able to throw a few semi-decent pots.

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In the spring of 1964 the aforementioned painter art teacher arranged for me to attend a workshop directed by one Justin Brady, an employee of the American Art Clay Company of Indianapolis, Indiana. Attended by teachers from the Ft.Pierce schools and surrounding areas, the workshop was a marketing tool of that company. During the workshop Mr.Brady showed me some finer points of throwing.

Amaco, I learned was, at that time, the largest manufacturer of clay, wheels, and kilns in the nation and enjoyed some ninety percent of the country’s schools’ ceramic business. Justin Brady travelled all over the states teaching teachers how to work with clay in the classroom. Mr. Brady’s main purpose was, in his words:  “Educate, educate, educate and business will take care of itself.”

Weeks after his workshop the Amaco sales staff would approach the school system where the workshop had been held and clinch the sale of ceramic equipment. The workshop program as run by Justin Brady was largely responsible for the growth that Amaco enjoyed during the fifties, sixties and seventies. Generations of teachers learned and were influenced by the workshop program. The equipment that Amaco manufactured in their factory in Indianapolis was designed to help and educate the nation’s teachers, thereby furthering the company’s growth.

In 1965, I transferred from Indian River Junior College to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana where I was supposed to major in languages, primarily Russian. According to my guidance counselor I was supposed to become an interpreter for the U.N. as, at that time, I was fluent in English, French, Dutch, German and Russian.

All along the potter’s wheel beckoned me, and in my Senior year I switched from Languages to Fine Arts. Since Bloomington is close to Indianapolis, I was close to the Amaco factory and visited there many times to purchase supplies for my budding home studio. Some of the people in charge at Amaco, Mr. Windhorst, Mr. Smith, Mr. Mohrman, and Mr. Gormley all took a liking to this young upstart and it was not long before I was asked to give wheel throwing demonstrations and conduct workshops on behalf of the company.

Justin Brady had retired a few years earlier and a suitable replacement had not yet been found.  Sporting a fiery red beard my appearance and persona  seemed to be well suited to a possible career in public relations. The friendly folks at Amaco seemed to agree as I started to represent the company on more and more occasions.

At that time the best potter’s wheel in the nation was the #1 all aluminum potter’s wheel. Usually sold with a sit-down stand the wheel was found in virtually every school in the country.  The “Number One” was a work horse indeed as it was indestructible, and because it only had two speeds actually helped the aspiring potter produce a decent pot.

Prior to the advent of variable speed wheels I was asked by Amaco to define the limits, if any, of the Number One. While the factory photographer took pictures I proceeded to throw, on “low” speed,  a cylinder that was about six inches in diameter and as tall as possible.  When I approached a height of eighteen inches the low speed’s centrifugal force proved to be too much and the cylinder collapsed. Similarly, a chunk of clay was centered and drawn up into a large bowl. Eighteen inches wide proved to be the limit as again centrifugal force caused the collapse of the bowl.

The foregoing exercise did illustrate the limits of the #1 wheel, but, as the argument went: “How many beginners can throw eighteen inches up and eighteen inches out?”  The general consensus was that while the Number One had limitations, its high and low speed were perfect for the aspiring potter to learn throwing on. Center on “High”, do everything else on “Low”. The #1 actually helped the beginner attain his or her’s goal!

The #1 wheel was so popular in school circles that, in the middle sixties, Amaco produced the #6 wheel. Consisting of a steel bench  that housed three #1 wheels. The #6 quickly became very popular also as it enabled three students to work in close proximity and thus learn from one another.

In the late seventies and early eighties both the #1 and the # 6  were discontinued in favor of the newer and more sought after electronic variable speed potter’s wheels. While wonderful wheels to throw on, variable speed wheels are a bear to learn on as the student all too often does not realize that the speed of the wheel head is directly related to the way the clay responds to pressures. Frustration usually reigns and where the good old #1 features helped students, the variable speed wheels usually hinder the development of the aspiring potter.

My attitude towards learning to throw on a variable speed wheel is well-known so it should come as no surprise that I recently welcomed laying my hands on a relic: a well-used-but-still-working-strong # 6 potter’s wheel!

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Even though some of the super-structure is gone I will delight in restoring this beauty to it’s former glory. Should you or your teaching situation be interested in procuring this  “best-teaching-tool-ever” please contact me!

End of soap box. 🙂

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Beloveds! 🙂

It’s been ages, but I thought I’d share some good news with all of you. One might recall that after the massive coronary of two years ago (this month) the effectiveness of my heart muscle was down to 38%… not exactly encouraging. Two years of cardiac rehab,  a couple of tests last week and last Thursday’s visit to the cardiologist resulted in some joyful news: My heart muscle is operating at 97% capacity! Cardiologist was pleasantly surprised – I was tickled pink! Now if we could just do something about that silicosis and the need for that oxygen!

Meanwhile – you knew there’d be one – I have some ceramic equipment that is cluttering up Ellen’s garage. The following items are for sale at a price that can’t be beat:

Donker Studio 11-2-15

2/  (two)  #15 Amaco cone drive wheels with attached seat Last in the catalogue ten some years ago at $ 1500.00, these two have been refurbished to factory specs and are priced to sell $ 600.00 each Come and get one!

1/ AS 2427 Hobby kiln 208 Volts Single phase with kiln sitter without limit timer. As is, it’s priced at $ 200.00 The elements are still good, but only the kiln gods know for how long, it’s basically a DIY fixer-upper.

1/ EX365.00 Hobby kiln with kiln sitter and limit timer. In pretty darn good shape for it’s age. Retails new for almost $3000.00 Come and get it for $750.00.

I’ll throw in FREE shelves on both the above kilns.

1/ 67E,110 Volts  enameling kiln. This baby has been completely rebuilt to factory specs and while I was at it I souped it up a bit so it makes a great test kiln. Last in the catalogue for $ 1495.00 this rebuilt one is priced to sell at $750.00.

And then I have an assortment of kiln sitters, pyrometers and even a couple of computer controls for the DIY person.

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Four of the original 2012 “Disciples” are still looking for a home. If you always wanted one but found them too expensive, now is your chance! Come get yours! They’re priced to sell! 🙂

Disciples 1 July 2015  Disciples 2 July 2015

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Many of my fellow teachers, and those that have followed my pottery career, are familiar with the little gnomes that have been a staple of my repertoire “forever”.

Faces

 

Last fall I spent some time with sixth graders at Shelburn Middle School making a mural that consisted of just small “faces”. The kids had a lot of fun creating their different faces and the end result was admired by parents, faculty and other students alike.

Click the link below to download a Powerpoint presentation of the process so you can do the project at  your school. Enjoy!

The Face Project (Powerpoint)

You can also view this presentation as a PDF for viewing on the web or printing by clicking the link below.

The Face Project (PDF)

If you enjoyed this tutorial please send me a message by clicking here. I would love to hear from you!

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Silicosis notwithstanding, as long as he has his trusted oxygen tank close by, things are happening in the studio again. Rogier recently finished a series of large gnomes, “Disciples” if you will, that will be perfectly suited for garden ornaments or indoor decoration and enjoyment.

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Creating these beings was like revisiting “the Family of Man.” While none of the characters are representative of any particular person, collectively they do remind their creator of individuals who have crossed his path. The expression, the character, the impression of the  “Disciples” is only limited to one’s imagination and after making a few of these it was un-adulteratedfun to see the characters evolve.

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Each finished Disciple stands over twenty-four inches tall and would make a fun outdoors garden sculpture or it can be mounted on a base for indoor use. 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. The following is Rogier’s favorite and is definitely applicable to this collection.

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

Priced to sell the very limited edition of these Disciples is selling fast. Should you covet one of these, please call or visit the studio! 812-394-2289

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“Chartres Revisited”

Since last fall’s creation of the large “Disciples” I’ve been thinking about creating a mural of sorts that would consist of three large tiles that would be covered with “peoples”. Making large tiles is just a matter of rolling some large slabs. Since the tiles will have to dry very slowly the backside will be scored with a loop tool to retard drying and therefore help prevent warping. Once scored the tile is covered with a few layers of newspaper then flipped over and transferred to a 15’x17” piece of half inch thick plywood.

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The topside of the slab is now ready for the imprint roller that will imprint a fossil motif onto most of the slab save for a “ribbon” area  which will later receive the letter imprinting.

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The slabs were rolled out “free-hand” on purpose so as to render the surface somewhat undulating and decidedly NOT perfectly flat. Technically this will make the execution of the whole project a bit harder as the different thicknesses will add to the drying difficulty. Once the three slabs were surface imprinted, the ribbon area was cleaned up a bit and the rather difficult letter spacing was figured out.

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When the imprinting was done the slabs were covered up with plastic to retard drying. “Tomorrow” will be another day!  “Tomorrow” will be fun as that’s when the creating of the populace will take place…

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 For the first time in forty some years of creating these characters lower extremities, i.e. legs & feet, will be added to the figures. At Amaco’s Brickyard I found some small “foot” molds and since “hand” molds were no longer available, I made some. Long “bony fingers” were made out of plasticene and then a mold was made.

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The simple “sprig” or “press” molds are filled with clay before construction of the body slab or the head is done and by the time the extremities are ready to be attached to the body they will be just right – moisture content-wise.

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Filling molds, rolling out the slab and forming the head takes about an hour per figure.

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Once the figure is made it is attached to the base tile with lots of slip and re-enforcing coils on either side of the body. Kept under plastic as work progresses the secret to success is SLOW drying, so every once in a while the whole thing is sprayed with a fine mist of water and covered with plastic while the next figure is being made. Using a texture roller the body slab is imprinted. The slab is then turned over and the head and other extremities are attached. When the body is attached to the base tile all sorts of other things, like sleeves, buttons, beards, hair or ears can be added to the figure. While work progresses things are kept “under wraps” and when all the figures (eighteen of ‘em!) are attached the whole project will be left covered for a day so the moisture content can equalize.

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The project was covered with several layers of plastic so what little drying could take place would be very slow. The first stage of the project was completed on Thursday evening – it is now Sunday morning and time to “fine-tune” the creation.

Fine-tuning involves careful cleaning up of joints, smoothing out irregular surfaces and doing some additional sculpting on the feet and legs. It is all a very time consuming and meticulous detail oriented activity, not exactly my forte…

The final result, however, is definitely worth it! When the all detailing was done the creation was covered up with plastic to allow for slow drying. Twenty-two hours and almost sixty pounds of clay have been invested in this latest project so far… Gotta be nuts!

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It’s June 26th and  “Chartres Revisited.” has dried for over seven weeks.  All three tiles appear to be ready to fire. The slabs have shrunk to 16” wide by 14” tall and it is easy to carefully slide them from the plywood onto the heavily kiln-washed  16”x16” kiln shelf. Getting the shelf and the heavy tile into the kiln is another matter…

The firing chamber of the kiln is 18”x18”… very careful handling is called for! When the first tile/shelf combination was placed in the kiln, the thermocouple protruded just at the “wrong” place (always happens when it’s important!) so I removed it and stuck it into one of the peepholes.

Next a stick and a couple of stacks of shelf supports determined how much clearance there would be between the first shelf an the second. We would not want to break off a nose or ear, now would we?

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Number two tile made it into the kiln safely, followed by number three. The rest is up to the kiln and patience!

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It is never a good idea to fire a kiln un-attended so while the kiln was going through a very slow firing cycle other work in the studio/shop was accomplished.  Remember Ellen’s desk I started before the flood? It is still not finished, but now that the house is practically done…  I’m working on it boss! The day after the firing I had scheduled a kiln repair so there would be no temptation to peek into the kiln as it was cooling…

Time passed.

The above picture of the last tile in the kiln, just prior to firing, would be the last picture taken of the tile in one piece… Stoneware, with it’s high shrinkage rate, is fickle. The original wet clay tiles started out as fifteen by seventeen inches. Drying very slowly they shrank to fourteen by sixteen by the time they went into the kiln. The kiln was fired very slowly to cone 5 (2185 degrees Fahrenheit), shelves were heavily kiln-washed to allow the tiles to move during firing.

Unfortunately each of the three tiles separated into two pieces during the firing notwithstanding all the precautions … Fortunately the breaks were rather even and when compared to the planned “fit” between the tiles it almost seemed like the breaks were intentional…

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All the figures came out beautiful – no cracks in bodies, hands, feet or other appendages. Do we thrash the piece because of the cracked tiles? Part of me says “yes”, part of me says “no”. We are disappointed, but knowing how much time is invested and also knowing that the breaks can be camouflaged if necessary we shall go onward through the fog and build the shadow box that will contain it all. Each tile, after the firing, measures thirteen and a quarter inch high by fifteen and an eight-inch wide.

Altogether the tiles “lost” an inch and three quarters both in height and width. The shadow box will be made out of Brazilian Tiger wood (readily available as flooring) and given the weight of the piece, the back will be three quarter inch plywood that will be inset into the sides. Making the box itself is easy, getting the tiger wood flooring boards ready to use was another matter: being pre-finished flooring, the boards had half round stabilizing grooves in the bottom side that had to be filled up since both sides of the wood would be visible.

First the half-round grooves were enlarged and squared, then small strips of tiger wood were glued into the grooves. After the glue dried, the boards were sanded smooth.  On the horizontal boards one can hardly tell where the filler strips are…

Cabinetmaking skills do come in handy at times! 🙂

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“Chartres Revisited.”

The piece is intended as a wall decoration for a bank or factory lobby, a doctor or lawyers’ office, a library or a school. The shadow box is three and a half inches deep, sixteen and a quarter inch tall and forty-eight and three quarters of an inch wide.

Interested parties are encouraged to call 812-394-2289 and procure the piece!

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Hit the links below to view an assortment of Rogier’s pottery:

Batch 1 Pictures
Batch 2 Pictures
Batch 3 Pictures
Batch 4 Pictures

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Thanks to the Internet, distances and separations between nations and individuals have become ever smaller and friendships are developed throughout cyberspace. One such friendship has developed between Muazzez Unal and myself.  Following age-old Turkish tradition Macik’s forte is decorating, with paints and India ink, pots thrown by her potter friend Sinan. The pots range in size from a few inches in height to 30 inches tall.  Sinan’s pots are glazed with locally processed Terra Sigillata that renders a smooth, slick and semi-shiny surface.

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Macik’s free hand decorating techniques boggles the mind as she re-creates ancient designs in a manner that might be rather foreign to American eyes but is none-the-less worthy of a closer look. The creations of Muazzez and Sinan are a in a class all by themselves! You can visit her Facebook page here.

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Since 1983 Muazzez has been decorating pottery as a hobby while working as a supervisor at the Turkish Ministry of Education. Having raised two sons and having retired from her government position Muazzez now devotes all her time to her artistic endeavors, which include jewelry design, decoupage and textiles. Her hobby has become her livelihood and patrons are encouraged to contact her. The pieces shown here are but a small example of her talents! Muazzez can be contacted here.

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