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From today's email

...with a subject line, Quality Pottery!!!

"Fun to use your art in Christmas baking!"

As near as I can make out from the recipe, there's butter, sugar, vanilla and rum flavorings, flour, eggs and nutmeg. And a rum/buttercream frosting. And a nice use of an Off Center Ceramics mixing crock.

Then and now

Before I moved to Oregon, I worked as a graphic artist in a four-color print shop, La Crosse Printing Company. This was pre-digital photography, pre-flatbed scanner, just barely at the beginning of laser color separation. The latter required a large-format color transparency (4x5", typically), which was wrapped around a transparent tube, using mineral oil to be sure there were no bubbles or gaps between film and tube. The tube then spun very fast while a laser read the colors and recorded them as digital data, which could then be used to produce the color separation negatives.

This has nothing to do with pottery.

What does have to do with pottery is that, since we did so much four-color printing, especially for the local brewery, we needed a studio photographer in-house to shoot products, largely beer cans, though occasionally air conditioning units. (One of our other regular clients was Trane Company). When he wasn't working for the printers, he did his own free-lance work, and practiced at improving his skills.

Which is how he came to take all my slides for graduate school applications. I'd taken some of my own pictures previously, using tungsten film and what back-drop and lights I could cobble together, but Brad had a professional set-up, and shot my slides in return for (if I remember correctly) a set of four beer mugs.

Looking back on those slides, I suspect he's at least half responsible for my getting into graduate school. Certainly, the pots themselves were not all that strong, at least to my forty-years-later eye. There's promise there, but I had a long way to go.

Case in point: two teapots, both decorated with elephants, one professionally shot circa 1984, the other snapped with my phone cam on the shelf of my Holiday Market booth yesterday.

The current one could still use a little work--spout could be shorter, and I want to put the elephant painting on the other side next time, so the trunk runs up the spout. But I, at least, can see the years of practice and improvement.

Flame on!

More pictures from the storage unit: A raku class I taught at the EMU Craft Center sometime in the early 90s. I'm actually still in touch with three of the folks shown here; T\two more, sadly, are no longer among the living. And at least two I have no recollection of whatever. Hey, I've inhaled a lot of (sawdust) smoke over the years. The brain cells get dusty.

Raku is a ceramic process originating in Japan, where low-fire pots were rapidly brought to temperature in very small, wood-fired kilns, then pulled out red-hot and plunged in water to cool. Raku tea bowls were highly prized for the tea ceremony, and the firings eventually became a social event, where pots were provided for guests to show off their calligraphy on. They were then fired on the spot, and much admired before being taken home as party favors.

American raku usually uses a gas kiln, and adds an extra step: After removing from the kiln, and before cooling, the pots are sealed in a metal barrel with sawdust, leaves, newspaper or other combustible material. (A steel trash can with tight-fitting lid works well.) This post-firing reduction emphasizes crackle in the glaze surface, as carbon is absorbed there. Carbon absorption makes unglazed clay surfaces black as well. And it's also possible to get metallic lusters, mostly from copper, and rainbow-hued matte glazes (also copper) as well.

Credit goes to Denise for taking the pictures. I think I just gave her my camera and told her to be careful not to set it on fire.

On the left, Penny McAvoy bravely pulls a glowing pot from the kiln; Kathy Lee scrubs a layer of ash off a plate to reveal the black figure, wax-resist-on-crackle-glaze pattern beneath.

Kathleen Fitzgerald and I pull still-not-very-cool pots from the reduction chambers, while TK McDonald prepares for the next batch of hot pottery.
everybody has something to be proud of

Correction: SIX times

Two weeks ago, I told you about a little girl who came to my booth four times, to look at all my pottery, and show it to her brother, her sister, her mom.

Last weekend, she came in a fifth time, with her dad, to purchase a penguins dessert plate... that I had just sold an hour earlier.

Fortunately, I'd glazed two more for my firing, one a commission, the other just because. They both turned out well, so today she came back again (thanks, Avery!) to buy her penguins plate.

Sixth time's the charm. 

I'm amazed I still have lungs

Among the photos found in boxes buried was a black-and-white series from my graduate school days, recording an Advanced Ceramics class clay mix. We'd begin by dry-mixing hundreds of pounds of clay and minerals on a table-top in a 2x6 frame. Afterwards, we'd add blunged, screened slip from the recycle buckets, mix by hand, knead into a solid mass, then run it through the pug mill. In a three-hour class, we'd mix up a ton-and-a-half of clay, with time to clean up the shop and pose for a group picture at the end.

In retrospect, it was horribly unsafe. All that silica-bearing dust in the air, and us in cheap, disposable dust masks. (Even worse for those of us with beards, as dust-laden air gets in around the edges of the mask.) But it was a great team-building exercise; we had a read feeling of accomplishment, knowing we'd made the entire term's supply of clay in that three-hour class.

First add the dry ingredients, fifty-pound bags of fireclay (Greenstripe, Lincoln), ball clay (OM4, I think), Custer feldspar and talc as body fluxes. Possibly some silica, too, I'm not sure at this late date what went into a cone 6 stoneware. Then add the glop, five-gallon buckets of recycled clay slip.

Afterwards, it's like making egg noodles from scratch, everybody makes a well in the flour, pulls in some egg, mixes and kneads.

Lumpy, uneven balls of clay get rolled in more dry mix and run through the pug mill, then bagged for aging and eventual use.

Last of all, clean up and try not to look too exhausted for the group photo.

Time travel

In the day or two between the madness that was--glazing and loading and firing--and the madness that will be--unloading and sorting and an early morning trip to Olympia--I've been sorting through boxes. Old boxes, put in storage back in 2000 when we moved to this house. I've been finding lots of stuff to throw away, a fair bit to shred (tax forms from way, way back)... and some that's really kinda cool.

Like photos.

Here, for instance, is the earliest extant photo of Off Center Ceramics, circa 1993. Yup, our first year at Saturday Market, before we got a reserve booth, sharing a space (and points) with Kathy Lee, whose business, Useful Pots, provided the original of what later became the Off Center bear.

Contrary to Eugene-fueled preconceptions, that's not a bong I'm holding. It's a form of ocarina, an eight-note whistle, though as this one has one large sound hole rather than eight small ones, it's played by your palm, allowing all sorts of cool slides and partial notes.

I'm sort of appalled by how few pots I actually have in the booth, though I do see a stack of pie plates, dinner plates, banks and cookie jars. Plus some things I don't make any more, like an orange juice squeezer and a long oval fish baker. And the whistles.

In today's mail

Good afternoon, Mr. Gosar

I heard your interview on Productivity Alchemy with Kevin Sonney. If you have a moment, I have a question about worn pottery glazing on a finished bowl.

I have a finished bowl that I believe is stoneware. It belonged to my great-grandmother. It was one of her mixing bowls. And it is a well-used, well-loved mixing bowl.

The glaze around the rim of the bowl has been worn away from years of use. Is it still safe to use the bowl? Should I try to have it reglazed? Or should I use it as a display bowl?

Thank you for your time,


Hi xxxxxx!

Greetings to another Productivity Alchemy listener!

If the bowl is indeed stoneware, worn glaze is not a concern. Stoneware, even when unglazed, is waterproof, so there shouldn't be any absorption of liquid into the bowl.

That said, it's possible that the bowl was never glazed there at all. If the design is like this one that I inherited from my great-aunt, the top and bottom of the rim were left unglazed, so the potter could stack them one on top of another, with the foot of the bowl suspended inside the one beneath. This saved on kiln space, both because the ware could be so closely packed and because they didn't need to use as many shelves and posts in the stack. A lot of crocks have a similar design, with no glaze on the top of the rim nor on the outside edge of the bottom, for the same reason.

A clever potter could stack his kiln floor to ceiling, no kiln furniture needed, with pots designed this way.

I'll have to look in on your blog next week, while I'm firing *my* kiln.


With a little help

I frequently say Off Center Ceramics is a one-man shop. Oh, Denise helps with the selling, with show set-up and take-down, even (especially) with loading and unloading kilns. But as for making the pots, trimming the pots, glazing and decorating the pots, that's all me.


When I first started Off Center Ceramics, I did a lot less decorating, a lot more dipping. I had odd, labor-intensive things like cow-handled mugs, 24 different styles of animal bank, incense dragons. I've trimmed that down since, lost the cow mugs, only eight types of bank, and I only make incense dragons once or twice a year. But back in the day, Denise learned how to glaze them: dip wax the base and top, paint wax on the bits where top meets bottom. Dip the head in clear glaze, then wax resist the eyes. Dip the whole body in another glaze, then just the head in a third, snapping it to make interesting drip patterns as it comes out of the bucket. Carefully cleaning up with a sponge where glaze beads remained on any of the wax.

It's finicky, careful work, not excessively artistic, and she excels at it. So yesterday, while I was glazing painted mugs, cat food dishes and stew mugs, she glazed dragons for me. All fifteen of them.

She's so good to me.

Fashion plates

More work bound for next week's firing: dessert plates.

They've been surprisingly popular all year. I even bumped the price up a little, and they're still selling. Good thing I enjoy making them.

Resting up from the weekend

Yeah, right.

After our first weekend at Holiday Market, I'm down at the studio glazing again. I've got five days to get everything ready for next week's firing (could possibly stretch to six, if Denise would watch the booth Saturday. Sunday, though, she's going to Portland for a paper making workshop).

Should be manageable; I have fewer pots than usual because so many were left over from the last firing, and I'll have Denise's help glazing incense dragons Thursday. Yesterday I got the biggest items out of the way, pasta bowls and platter, servers and batter bowls. Today I blew through the creamers, stew mugs and tall mugs, and did a couple of special orders. 

One was rather lovely--a covered crock with vented lid for keeping sourdough starter. I'd already done one for the customer, decorated with cardinals; this one's for her mom, with Carolina Wrens.

The other is rather silly, though I suppose deeply sentimental to the owner: a picture of his old VW Camper/Van, Buster, painted on a set of three mugs.

Tomorrow, it's flat stuff: dinner, dessert and pie plates, plus a few covered crocks and butter dishes.