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Divided we eat

I don't know what it is about kids not wanting their food to touch. I know a lot of people's kids who have that flavor of fussy eating, and one of my customers seems to be encouraging the behavior in her grandkids.

Yep, divided, cafeteria-style plates, thrown and handbuilt from stoneware. They'll each get three pictures, too, one in each compartment.

They're incredibly tricky to make, as I have to catch them at just the right level of moisture to attach the dividers. Clay shrinks as it drys, and if the plate is too firm and the dividers moist, a crack will develop as they dry and pull apart. In the current hot spell, I threw them first thing in the morning. By just after lunch, they were firm enough to smooth in the dividers, and slow drying seems to have kept them from cracking so far. They're in the bisque kiln right now. Some time tomorrow evening I'll find out how many I have to work with for glazing.

These are not gonna become generally available. Way too much risk, way too much work.

Flat stuff

Drying plates out on the driveway, while an old Greg Brown tune runs through my head:

Flat stuff; flat stuff. Way out to the, way out to the setting sun...

View from a vineyard

Originally, it was Art in the Vineyard, a combination art fair and wine-tasting in at a local winery. After a few years of growth, it moved to a downtown park in Eugene to become Art and the Vineyard, with more art, more wine, live music, a kids' space, valet bicycle parking...

I've never tried to get my own booth here; I'm already over-exposed in Eugene, what with Saturday Market, Holiday Market, Clay Fest. There just  aren't enough different attendees here. Most of them know I'm always around town, so it's not worth my while to pay a premium for a booth that just advertises my (much more affordable) Saturday Market booth.

That said, my pottery co-op, Club Mud, is located at the Maude Kerns Art Center, sponsor and beneficiary of the event, so they invite us to set up a group booth, for a fee plus commission, and it's generally worth the effort, and the workshift or two, to participate.

This year participations was up, fourteen of us showing, so all the sales shifts were covered. Which left me the fun job--demo shift Friday evening, throwing pots on a kick wheel for an audience that included lots of kids, a fair number of teens and adults, and at least two security guys who stopped every time they went by to see what I was making this time.

Being a lovely day, I rode down to the show on my trike, hauling tools and 25 lbs. of clay, that I just kept smooshing down and reusing, then home again at the end of the day. Good exercise, but my left (wheel-kicking) leg let me know in no uncertain terms I'd overdone it at bedtime. Worst charley horse ever.

Home again

It seems like it's been ages since we've been home, longer since I've been in the studio. Two out-of-town shows in a row, followed by a fast trip back to Wisconsin for a family reunion. Finally got home Tuesday morning, spent the rest of the afternoon sleeping, as we'd gotten up at 3:30 am in Minneapolis to catch our flight.

We seem to have been missed: I got two emails and a phone call from customers who'd been looking for us at Saturday Market and couldn't find us. One of them stopped by the morning of the 4th to pick up an elephant bowl for her sister in Montana. The other two will look for us this weekend. Also, can't seem to do anything anywhere in the house without one or the other cat glomming onto us.

Most of Wednesday was spent unloading the van, sorting the restock boxes, choosing what to put back in and what to put in the shed. (And what to take to Art & the Vineyard this weekend.)  Wound up with four boxes of pots going to ATV, two going into the shed, two or three emptied out or consolidated. I guess we had some sales, huh?

This morning, I started throwing again. We recycled clay before this whole ex-travel-ganza, so I had lots of soft clay waiting for me. Threw about 80 lbs. worth, between four large platters and sixteen dessert plates. I've also got a special order for eight dinner plates in the next firing, in addition to replacing ones we sold, so that'll probably be tomorrow's project. I also have orders for a stick butter dish, small covered crock, covered casserole and a covered pasta bowl. That last one's gonna be an interesting project.

(I also have someone who really wants a spoon rest, but he hasn't sent the follow-up email yet, so I may be off the hook.) 

One more show this weekend, but it's kind of low-impact. Club Mud traditionally has a group selling space during Art and the Vineyard, Maude Kerns Art Center's annual fundraiser. I'm one of fifteen potters who'll have work there, so I don't need to be there all the time, just to set out my pots, pick up unsold ware Sunday, and do a workshift or two in the meantime. I'll be doing demonstrations, mostly throwing, though I may bring a set of paintbrushes and demo paper as well, Friday from 5-8 pm.

ETA: I shouldn't try to math at 10 pm. Threw 52 lbs. of clay. Will try to do better today.

My breakdown

It seems everybody has a story like this. Robin and Richard once broke down at a show in Arizona. Bill's van stopped on the Golden Gate Bridge. It's a special feeling of helplessness, breaking down at an out-of-town show.

I'm on my third time now, in two different vehicles:

1. My first van, an over-worked Dodge Caravan, died during set-up at the Bend Summer Festival. One of our neighbors worked on his motorcycle, and was able to fiddle with the carburetor enough for me to drive it, choking and wheezing, off the street and into vendor parking, but it didn't run again that weekend. I had it towed to a garage to rebuild the carburetor, rented a U-Haul to get my pots and booth home. Later that week, I took the Greyhound back to Central Oregon to pay the shop and drive back down the mountain.

2. My second--current--van is a Chevy Astro cargo van, much better suited for a load of pottery than the Caravan, but it's not infallible. Driving back alone from a show in Coupeville--Denise had stayed home with a sick kitty--it broke down in 100° heat alongside I-5 just south of Albany. As with Bend, it had not been a good show--third year in a row of declining sales. The breakdown clinched it: we weren't going back there again. My roadside insurance only paid towing to the nearest town; I paid the extra to take it all the way back to my shop in Eugene, where they diagnosed a broken fuel pump, fixed by the next day.

3. The third time was just a week ago. We were in Washington again, at Edmonds. Because the show site is so constricted, they only let a few vehicles on the grounds at a time, coordinating volunteers with clipboards by walkie-talkie. They take some of the pressure off at load-in by dividing us up into time-blocks; north-facing booths like ours set up from noon to 2 pm. At take-down, though, everyone wants out at once. They confirm that your booth is packed before they give you at dash-board permit and let you get in queue.

The queue runs forever. Two blocks up the hill to Alder on Eighth street, then down Alder for as many as four more. So you wait. Trusting your parking brakes. Start up, move forward a couple of car-lengths, shut down again. And repeat.

On the fourth or fifth repeat, my van wouldn't start. No click, no grind. Also no lights, flashers, dome light.

Mike the painter from across the aisle was right behind me, so pulled up and tried to give me a jump. (As a midwestern boy, I always have jumper cables.) No luck. People were pulling around me to continue their packing up--I wasn't exactly at the curb, but was not quite out in the traffic lane either. I spent an ungodly amount of time on hold with Emergency Road Services, waiting for an actual person (cell service was too poor to connect online), and was told I'd have a 90-minute wait for a tow truck, who would take me down to the fair so I could load up. And then I'd have to start the process over again to get another tow to a garage. If I'd have only made it two more car lengths, to the top of the hill, I could have coasted in neutral down to the park and loaded up. (And no, I wasn't gonna ask for volunteers to push me. It's a steep hill, and anyways, they'd already gone ahead by then.)

I phoned Denise to come up the hill to watch the van while I went down to fold up our tent and start hauling boxes of pottery out to the curb against the eventual appearance of the tow truck, thinking if we could load up fast enough, they might be persuaded to wait for us. On about the sixth load, my friend Shelly, from Club Mud, drove up to start packing her car, and asked how I was doing.

I kinda lost it, told her the whole story. Upon receiving my tearful earful, she immediately drove over to my space, started loading shelves and hardware to ferry up to Denise, then came back to get pottery. Kim and Eddie, the paper-quilling artists in the booth behind me also pitched in, though couldn't haul as much, as they'd already loaded their work. Between the bunch of us, we managed to get everything out of the park and up to the van, where I was just finishing loading it in when the tow truck finally arrived.

And refused to tow us.

They'd send out a light duty hook truck, expecting an empty van. Fully loaded, we'd need a flatbed.

I got on hold again. Walked back down the hill to use the porta-pots--in pitch darkness--came back to find Denise talking to a concerned neighbor and a friendly Edmonds policeman. Finally got a service operator, who put me in a three-way conversation with a tow driver, trying to estimate how much a van full of pottery would weigh. I was thumbing through the owner's manual in the dark cab, trying to find the empty weight, and decided to get out of the van to stand under the street light...

...And the dome light came on.

I slammed the key in the ignition, twisted, and started right up. Thanked the operator, apologized to the driver, and headed for the motel, where we arrived just before midnight. And so to bed.

The next morning, we packed up, loaded clothes and bears, checked out of the hotel. And couldn't start again.

I'd noticed a battery store three-quarters of a mile down the street, so called to ask if they could deliver and install a new battery for us. Normally, they could, but a couple of people had called in sick (I'm thinking hangovers) so they were short-staffed.

Which is how I wound up getting my morning exercise rolling a hand-truck down Broadway in Everett, getting a replacement battery, which I had to install with a pair of pliers and a crescent wrench. Barked my knuckles something fierce.

And still couldn't get it to start.

It turns out it's lots easier to get a tow on a Monday morning during business hours than it is late Sunday night. We rented our hotel room back for the day, and I rode with the tow driver to the nearest garage. They promised a check of the electrical system, said they'd do their best to get us back on the road again, and drove me back to the hotel.

Slow-forward five hours.

The garage calls. They've found the problem: the screws holding cables to battery are stripped, so not making proper contact. With an hour's labor and two small parts, we're ready to go as soon as the Uber can bring me back to pick it up. (They're short-handed too.)

I get back to the hotel at quarter to six, noticing in passing that the shifter seems oddly stiff, and that the under-dash panel hasn't been properly reattached, but I'm so relieved to be moving that I don't think any more about it. We reload our stuff, check out again, and walk across the street for supper at the Chinese place while the horrible Seattle rush-hour traffic clears. We finally leave for home at 7 pm, catch clear traffic all the way down the interstate, and come in the doors here at just about 1 am.

But I'm not done yet. While driving, we discover that not only is the shifter stiff, it won't go into low gear (1 and 2) at all. And when it gets dark enough to use the headlights, the instrument panel light doesn't come on until about ten minutes after we start up.

So it's back to my shop in Eugene on Tuesday, where they eventually find, Thursday afternoon (short-handedness seems to be a theme here) that, in addition to not putting the dash panel together again, the shop in Everett didn't seat the battery properly back in its tray after replacing the terminals, just left it askew and tightened the clamp. This left a corner of the battery pushing against the shift column which... you get the idea. My shop only charged another hour, though it probably took them longer to retrace the previous crew's missteps. I took down a half-dozen coffee mugs as a thank-you present, then drove home to reload the van again for our show in Roseburg.


I always envy jewelers at shows for the speed of their load-in and take-down. I forget that the have to do this every day.

My product is neither so valuable nor so perishable that I can't leave it in the booth overnight. We take plates off of the vertical grids, but then just bring the walls down, fasten them, and we're done. 


If I had to choose one word to describe the UVAA Summer Arts Festival, it would be relaxed. Particularly as compared to Edmonds, last weekend.

Where Edmonds has regimented load-in and -out, complete with legions of volunteers with walkie-talkies, Roseburg simply blocks off the curb lane of Harvard Avenue from 7 to 11 am for vendors to drive up and offload. We time it perfectly: at 7:30 we park immediately behind our booth space, unload everything, and I take the van off to the elementary school parking lot and walk back.

Our space is mostly level, a minimal amount of shimming and blocking required, so set-up is fairly fast. Unlike most shows, they allow 11 feet square per booth space, with generous margins between, so we’re not bumping up against our neighbors, nor they us. We also have extra room behind the booth, so we can move our restock boxes back a bit, giving us some space to move around in.

Weather is gorgeous, cool and grey during setup, but the sun comes out around one, the customers even earlier—we make our first sale at 12:30. Some years the heat can be brutal—several times over 100°—but this year it’s predicted in the low 80s, and we have a breeze through our booth most of the time.

Sales are moderate to slow Friday, as expected, though I do sell both my. $70 serving bowls, which I hadn’t managed to do all last weekend. Saturday starts slow, and I go into my “I’m never selling anything again” funk, but things pick up in the afternoon, and we end up the day reasonably content.

Days are long—Friday and Saturday we close at 8—but Sunday’s a short day. Load out starts at 4 pm.

Memorable moments:

1. The customer who’s been buying a table setting a year for five years now (This year it’s a bear plate, bowl and mug). She’s apologetic about missing me last year, and I admit that I was gone too, back in Wisconsin for my 40 year high school reunion.

2. The family in to allow adolescent boy to pick a soup bowl to replace his favorite, sadly broken. While he’s deciding, I ask dad who autographed his straw hat; it turns out to be Asleep at the Wheel, when they played at the Stewart Park Band Shell. He’s the mandolinist for the local HotQua String Band, and we bond over my playing them on my radio show in years past. Incidentally, son Max eventually decides on a bear bowl.

3. The elephant keeper from Wildlife Safari who spends a long time in the booth before deciding to buy the happy baby elephant-patterned large pitcher.


Had a customer in the booth yesterday afternoon who really liked my work. Was going to send her husband over to buy a particular bowl for her, as it was her birthday. And she asked if I ever did commissions.

Yes, I said, I did the all the time.

Well, I'd like a bowl like that one, with no rim, just a straight side, she said, pointing to the batter bowls. That's easy enough, I replied. And I'd like it in a matte black glaze.

Aaaand that's where I had to say no.

I do take special orders all the time. Every firing has at least half a dozen of them, I've already got three or four in queue for my July kiln load. But they're generally a form I usually do, but with a particular pattern, or a new form but glazed and painted like my standard ware. I do not match colors, I do not test glazes.

Glaze is not like paint. You do not just buy a can at Home Depot and slap it on the pot. There are chemical interactions, with the clay body, the firing, the atmosphere in the kiln. Even the most reliable glaze in your firing situation will need extensive testing to adapt to mine. Best case, it will take at least two or three firings to get a reliable result, and since I fire the famous 50 cubic-foot car kiln only once every six weeks, we're talking a minimum three months, more likely six, before we get a finished pot. (A potter I work with at Club Mud has taken over a year on projects like this.)

Add in the fact that matte black glazes are notoriously tricky--they're just on the edge of devitrified (no longer glassy), and loaded with metal oxides--usually iron, cobalt and manganese--so I can't be sure the resulting glaze, no matter how lovely, is actually food safe.

So I explain the complications to her, and suggest that she find a potter with a black glaze she really likes, then ask them to make the bowl for her. It's far easier to throw a new form than it is to create a new glaze.

I didn't realize it was so complicated
, she said. (Few people do.)

And her husband never came by to get her birthday present.

Edmonds, day 1

Favorite things from the first day of the Edmonds Arts Festival:

1. The little girl, maybe three years old, who spun the wheel at the Edmonds Community College booth and won a prize, delightedly showing off her LED flashlight keychain to any and all passers-by.

2. Edmonds police patrol the festival, in pairs, in uniform, night stick, gun, the works. Then, in mid-afternoon, I see a solo officer, still in full fig, shopping with his wife while pushing the stroller containing their tiny, tiny baby.

3. The family of four--mom, dad, two boys about 8 and 6--who have a prolonged conversation, in Japanese, examining every pot in the booth featuring a crab or octopus, with both boys finding more options to point out. Younger son also has a teddy bear on his shirt, so Yuri (the bear in the icon, above) has an entertaining several minutes communicating in sign language (waving, dancing) before his parents settle on the octopus oval platter. Whereupon I hand him the bear to hold while I dig through boxes to find it and notice him puppeteering it back, waving at me.

There are no stupid questions

 Or maybe not.

A woman in the booth this afternoon, examining the pots, asks Do you get these colors from acrylic paints?

Wait, what?