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Catching air

Everybody say jump!
Might as well jump...


I love it when I come around a corner and happen upon an unexpected bit of public art. This is a tile mural in the Men's Room entryway at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. (I didn't take a pic of the associated Women's Room entry, because standing in the doorway with my camera? Just be weird.)

ETA: Oh look! they have it online:

Is Russian

My friend lydamorehouse has a gift for finding the perfect place to take visitors to show off her city. When we said we'd be in town for the weekend, and had Sunday free, after tossing around some ideas, she said, How about the Russian Art Museum? Oh, hell yeah!

The Museum of Russian Art is in a little converted church in south Minneapolis. I don't know if it has a permanent collection, or just assembles guest and touring shows, but the two shows they have currently are fabulous.

On the ground floor and upstairs was a painting show called The Body in Soviet Art. The paintings in question are post-Stalinist, mostly from a period called the Kruschev Thaw, when the old-guard, Social Realists got the boot and both style and subject matter diversified. The subjects, while still including hard-working proletariat--tractor drivers, women plasterers and loggers--also include some lovely portraits, people at rest and play (and bicycling!). The style is where things really open up. There's a lot of impressionist influence on composition, light, brushwork. A couple of portraits, back to back on the same display panel, could have been early and late Rembrandts. And a big panel of winter life in the courtyard of a housing block harkens way back to Pieter Breughel the Elder in the way he fills the scene.

There's also a little gallery of nude studies, very student-life-drawing-class-ish, and a bunch of more recent political allegories upstairs, surreal and creepy monsters dissecting the body politic (as represented by nude female figures). Surreal, check. Creepy, double check.

Less creepy, but still very surreal (and, okay, a little creepy) was the show in the basement: Surreal Promenade - Sergei Isupov. He's a sculptor in porcelain, born in Russia, but now living in Massachusetts; the show was apparently organized in conjunction with the NCECA conference last winter. The subjects and juxtapositions can be a little unsettling, but the craftsmanship is amazing.

What does a potter do on his day off?

Go to a art fair, of course!

The graduation party ended at 2-ish, so we went over to St. Paul to take in the St. Anthony Park Arts Festival, a one-day event to benefit the local library. Pretty much everyone was from the Twin Cities--I think the furthest away vendor was from Eau Claire--with lots of beginning potters, though a few really skilled ones as well. Also a couple of bookbinders for Denise to schmooze with, and a painter whose technique I admired greatly.

It's nice being on the other side of the booth, especially when I know I'm way too far away to ever consider doing the fair (I always feel a little like I'm playing hooky walking around at a show where I could be selling). It's interesting, watching how vendors interact--or don't. It could be a Minnesota thing, not greeting or acknowledging people in your booth, but it feels unprofessional to me. And the potter who was to busy talking to his neighbor to even nod in our direction after we looked at and picked up pots for five minutes? Amateur hour.

God, I've become an old, grumpy potter.

We're a little limited in what we can take home with us, but we did collect a few treasures. Prints from the painter, Kat Corrigan, and a charming little sculpture from Dan and Lee Ross.

And yes, we did take the bears with us. It's an art fair. We had to.

Today's theme is..


Celebrating with my niece (college) and nephew (high school).

See you next week!


So last year I purchased a new kiln. Well, an old, used, but very well maintained kiln, a Skutt KM 1227 electric (twelve-sided, 27 inches deep) to replace my well-worn, also used Olympic of the same dimensions.

The Skutt is computer-controlled, which is a huge improvement, as it means I can program it to fire itself at a safe, measured pace, with holding time built in to drive out excess moisture if need be, and just walk away. Go to Saturday Market. Go to bed. The kiln turns itself up, and eventually, turns itself off.

Except when it doesn't. A few times over winter, the breaker would trip, and I'd come back to find the kiln blacked out and cooling down. I'd generally reset the breaker, grumbling under my breath, and start the firing over.

Last weekend, the breaker tripped twice. No idea how close to fired we came, as the power failure wipes the computer memory. The pots look pink, but feel a little... clunky. At least a few cones under-fired.

I spent Memorial Day afternoon unscrewing the connection box on the wall, looking for shorts. Opening up the control panel, likewise. Nothing obvious jumped out at me, though I did spend some extra time redoing the connections I'd had to undo when I installed the new (new, not used) Envirovent, as I'd realize the conductors would fit better in the buss block if I didn't twist the wires.

I'd closed up the control box and just about given up when I noticed that the model info panel read KM-1227-PK. 240 volt, 1-phase, 60 amp.

Wait, what?

Apparently, I got a better deal on this kiln than I realized. The PK is short for Production Kiln, the top-of-the line, cone 10-capable Skutt model. The Rolls Royce of studio electric kilns. Woot!


My old Olympic was a 48 amp kiln. The other 1227's I knew from Club Mud, both the old kiln sitter model and our new computer-driven version are both 48 amp kilns. You want 25% over capacity, so when I wired in the kiln, I installed a 60 amp breaker. Now, running a 60 amp kiln on a 60 amp breaker, there's no room for error. The tiniest power surge, and pop! goes the weasel. I talked to Perry at Skutt tech support this morning, and he told me I needed an 80 amp breaker. I'd also have to upgrade the wires, from 6 AWG to 4 (wire gauge, like sheet metal, gets bigger the smaller the number).

So I took a run out to Jerry's this afternoon, had them cut 12-foot lengths of no. 4 conductor--black, white, green--then found out they didn't have 80-amp breakers in my box's style, just 70 and 90. I worry 70 might keep tripping, and I don't want to go to 90, as I don't feel it's safe. The whole point of a circuit breaker is to trip when dangerously high current is running; I don't want the wiring to go before the breaker.

So I spent the evening wrestling fat wires through a skinny conduit, connecting the kiln end and the ground, leaving the remaining two leads hanging until I can swing by the electrical supply tomorrow after the Club Mud meeting.

So I can finally finish that bisque. Third time's the charm?

Oh my

Today's theme is... Charismatic Megafauna!

Looks like a flyer for the World Wildlife Fund.

ETA: aaand now I've got an earworm: the refrain from Animal Crackers, from our second album, When I'm Feeling Silly.

There's lions and tigers and elephants too
I'm not in the jungle, I'm not at the zoo.
There's ducks by the dozen and bears by the bunch
I'm having animal crackers... for lunch!

It me

My friend lydamorehouse sent this my way. I feel slightly attacked?
so attacked...

It was bound to happen

Saturday Market has a weekly members' newsletter, which you can pick up at the Info Booth every Saturday (or download from their website). It's mostly insider information: notices, classifieds, messages from staff and an inspirational column or two. Oh, and the cartoon.

For some years now, potter and tile artist Danny Conan Young has been drawing a four-panel strip called "The Freak Show," an insider's take on our weekly madness. Some poke fun at customers, some at other vendors, some at our other occasional cartoonist, Willy. (Though "Cowtoons" hasn't seen print in a while.) This week, I finally made my appearance. In a comic looking ahead to our hundredth anniversary, in 2069:

Oh come on; I'll only be a hundred-and-ten years old by then...

Another day, another Market

I didn't expect much from Market this last Saturday. Mother's Day was over, and with it the bump in sales. Weather had been uniformly horrible all week, grey and rainy, and the prediction wasn't much better for this day. Lots of vendors believed the predictions; our neighborhood was pretty full, but big swaths of the middle of the fountain block were empty, and there were gaps on our side as well, despite the draw of music stage and food booths.

We set up for rain, putting up the sides of the booth, stacking all the empties inside, even installing the reinforcing pin that keeps the wimpy spring-loaded center pole from sagging and letting rain collect on our roof.

And then the sun came out.

It was gorgeous all morning, through lunch and into early afternoon. Sales were slow but steady, a bit over half of last weekend, but that one was a record, after all, so I was happy we'd braved the (predicted) weather. Sometimes just showing up is its own reward.

And then, around 2:30, things changed with a bang. Thunder, lightning, pouring rain. Not much wind to speak of, but lots of flash, splash and bang. The lightning rod on the courthouse across the street was struck three times, I was told by the pizza vendor. She's always a little worried about that, what with propane tanks for her ovens, but nothing and nobody at ground level was affected.

After about an hour, things dried up again, and we even made a few more sales. Showered briefly during load-out, but I had some drop cloths to throw over the boxes to keep the rain out, and it stopped again before we finished.

Had a nice chat with a new vendor, Nick, who'd just gone through standards approval on Wednesday*, and really didn't expect to get a full booth, what with no points and all.** So his display of chainsaw sculptures looked a little sparse, spread out in an 8x8' space, but nonetheless adorable, as this little fella, who had to come home with us, will attest.

Think we'll call him "Woody."

*Saturday Market doesn't jury for quality, like many craft fairs; we let the buyers make that decision for us. We do, however, require that the seller actually make their wares, and the work has to be assessed when you join, and again if you add new products that are substantially different than your previous work. You can use commercial components--beads, or jewelry findings, for instance--but the handmade component must dominate. We wind up with some amazing craft work for a non-juried show, just by trusting the artists/craftsfolk to bring what they make.

**If you haven't paid extra for a reserved booth, like us, you put your name in the lottery for a booth space before 8:30 Saturday morning. Priority is by points, which you get by joining and selling over time. There's a complicated formula that assigns a total based on things like how many years you've been a member, how many times you sold last year, and most importantly, how many times you showed up to sell this season. (Nick, being a new member, had zero years membership and zero times selling, for a total of...) Names within each point level are randomized, so you might be first in the 8 point range today, but at the middle or end of the nine pointers next week. On busy Saturdays, they might run out of booths before they finish the list, but as long as you signed up***, you still get your point.

***And paid your fees. $50 annual membership, then $13+10% each Saturday you sell. Considering I paid $450+17% for the three-day Ceramic Showcase, this is dirt-cheap. And it's a great place to get your start, learn what sells, and how to sell it. The entrepreneurial world calls this a "business incubator," but remember, we started doing this 50 years ago.