Friday, May 29, 2015

A Visit to the Heath Ceramics Factory

In mid-May I went to San Francisco for a mini family reunion to celebrate my niece's graduation. We are amazingly proud of her! Monica got a Master's degree from the Energy & Resources Group, University of California, Berkeley. Her Master's project dealt with electric vehicles. We had an outstanding time visiting the sights and going to great restaurants.

I spent one day with my daughter's in-laws, Bob and Cindie, who took me to Sausalito to visit the Heath Ceramics factory. What a treat! 

Heath Ceramics was founded in 1948 by Edith Heath (1911–2005) after her work was stocked by the Gump's store in San Francisco. The company has a production factory and store in Sausalito, a tile production factory and store in San Francisco, and a ceramics studio and store in Los Angeles. Today, Heath Ceramics is owned by Robin Petravic and Catherine Bailey, and is known for its distinctive glazes and handcrafted stoneware. Follow this link to a virtual tour of the factory to see how things are made.

Heath Ceramics recently won the 2015 National Design Award for corporate and institutional achievement given by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

I bought myself a little bud vase from a display of seconds.  I suppose that this lovely item is considered a second because the matte glaze is shiny in places.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Visit to the Hillwood Museum

The gardens were in full bloom!
I took my Mom to visit the Hillwood Estate today. It was the DC home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, which she bequeathed as a museum when she died in 1973. Marjorie was the only child of CW Post, who founded the Postum Cereal Company that later became the General Foods Corporation. When her father died in 1914, she became one of the wealthiest women in America, at age 27.

copper red vases
She started collecting French decorative arts in 1919. She lived in Russia in the 1930s with her third husband, who was the US Ambassador. There, she discovered Russian imperial arts and began collecting them as well. She showcased her collection to family and friends at the Hillwood Mansion that she purchased in 1955.

I must say that this is not my type of thing. Seeing how some people lived in such opulence while most people lacked the essentials makes me a bit queasy. I am also not attracted to the intricate designs of the times but I did like the vases shown in these two photos.

Staff dining service
We viewed many different porcelain place settings from France and Russia, but the one that I liked best was in the kitchen. It was the staff's dining service by the English firm Furnival Limited, in the style of Royal Copenhagen's blue fluted design. There were three cooks at Hillwood, one cooked for Marjorie Merriweather Post and the other two prepared the meals for the staff, who ate the same food although maybe not presented as elegantly.

Mom in the rose garden
The weather was wonderful and, all in all, Mom and I had a good time.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Family Collaboration Time (Again)

Mugs w/ decals of Sofie's manga drawings
I transferred my granddaughter's manga drawings to decals and put them on some mugs. I still need to work some more on the glazes to find the ones that do well in the third firing needed to put on the decals, but I think they look great! 

Sofie was proud to put her initials on the bottom of the mugs, but when I told her that she could have them to give to her teachers she responded that she wanted to work more on the drawings. "It's not my best work," were her words. And so it starts, that second-guessing of ourselves, the feeling that what we do is not quite good enough... It made my heart sad to see it start so early in this generation. She is quite a talented artist. It's a joy to watch her develop this gift. I hope that she will learn to love her creations rather than focus on perceived flaws.


Tumbler w/ line from Chris's poem
The other family collaboration was with my husband. Chris was into writing poetry and song lyrics in his twenties. I found a poem he had written that contains a line that spoke to me: 

"The trees were trying desperately to tell me something
waving their leaves frantically..."

So I made some tumblers and wrote those words into the leather-hard clay. To make it stand out more, I rubbed black underglaze into the words and glazed with my favorite green glaze.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Blue and White All Over

dress w/ parasol and ceramic bodice
 During March, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., presented Iberian Suite, a celebration of the cultures of Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking peoples around the world that also highlighted the influences that the region absorbed from other cultures. This global arts remix included dance, theater, and music performances, as well as installations and a literature series.

Two of the installations were of particular interest. One was an exclusive exhibition of more than 140 of Pablo Picasso's ceramic pieces. The other was titled So Blue, So White: Fashions Centuries in the Making. It was a selection of blue and white fashions created by various designers. Interestingly, one of the dresses not only incorporated it's own parasol, but also had a bodice made of blue and white ceramics.
This fashion exhibit also told the "story" of cobalt, which was first mined in central Iran in the 9th century. The Persians used the pigment on ceramics, which had a great appeal to the Chinese. They, in turn, began importing cobalt, producing sophisticated two-tone ware in the 14th century. 

In a story of early "globalization," in the early 1500s, Portuguese merchants began importing these pieces. Exports of Chinese blue and white ceramics soared when the Dutch captured two Portuguese ships in 1602 and 1604 and their cargo of porcelain was sold at auction. Blue and white tableware became very popular in Europe and local manufacturers--most famously, those around the city of Delft--began emulating the style.
Andí's collection of blue/white plates

In the meantime, azulejos, or wall tiles, derived from the Islamic styles of North Africa and Muslim Spain, became emblematic of the decorative arts of the Iberian peninsula and soon spread to the Americas, particularly Mexico and Brazil.

Thus, the continuing allure of blue and white ceramics.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Gifts of Hope

Serving bowl
I recently created some pottery carrying the word "hope" to support Family Services of Roanoke Valley, a private, not-for-profit organization that has served Roanoke Valley residents since 1901. Its mission is to improve life and restore hope to the most vulnerable, from the very youngest children to the oldest adults, through prevention, counseling and support services. Family Service is a dynamic, multi-service agency helping a diverse population of clients that spans the area's economic, ethnic, and cultural divisions.

The items I created, including brie bakers, mugs, and serving bowls, can be purchased at Amiable Qualities' Gifts of Hope, which allows consumers to purchase artistic items that benefit nonprofits and the clients they serve. Proceeds from the sale of all items are distributed to the designated organization they benefit on a monthly basis to allow the most flexible and efficient use of the funds by the nonprofit directly. For more information, check out Gifts of Hope about page.

Brie bakers

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Childlike Enthusiasm

It is not sophisticated technique or exact skill
but childlike enthusiasm, 
timeless concentration
and pure devotion that feed this clay to life for me.

Knowing this as my hands work slower than my desire to create,
feeling this on frigid winter mornings when clay spirits are
cold and so am I.
Laughing in J.C. Penney's when I notice there is still clay
stubbornly stuck under my fingernails,
and I pass a free manicure display.

Dreaming up new shapes and stories for brown
earth and me, as I secretly call myself
Mud Woman.

Indulging in limitless, creative possibilities.
How lucky I am to know this clay.

Nora Naranjo-Morse

Monday, February 9, 2015

Kiln, Greenware, and Birds

Going to California.

Overcast and in the 40s today. Got up at 10am to one sale in the Etsy shop: a green yarn bowl is going to California. 

After having brunch (kale and mushroom fritatta) and reading the paper I made it out to the studio by 12:30pm. It's 72 degrees in the studio: nice!

There's a flock of juncos scrabbling in the dead leaves outside the studio door.

Today I'll be happy if I can get a bisque load started. But first I'm making witness cone plaques in anticipation of the eventual glaze firing. After all the issues w/ firings at the end of the year I had a long talk w/ the Skutt representative (Wouldn't life be so much nicer if every customer service rep was as helpful and pleasant as the Skutt people?). I had been telling my husband that there *had* to be something wrong w/ the 20-year old manual kiln because my glazes were coming out all wrong. Husband, who is an electrical engineer, researched it and concluded that it was unlikely that it was the kiln. The Skutt technician agreed. More likely it was the glazes, which had been sitting in their buckets for several months and had turned a strange color. In any case, I learned a lot about my kiln from the Skutt technician. The most interesting thing I learned is that since I'm firing to ^6 my elements should last 200 to 250 firings -- I had been told I needed to change elements every 100 firings! I can actually go much longer since at least half of my firings are ^06. So, that is why I am making witness cone plaques. After all this time, I decided that I really need to know what is happening during my firings. And I'm making plaques because I didn't pay attention at the store and did not buy the self-supporting cones.

Witness Cones.

After making the cone plaques I started cleaning the greenware and loading the kiln. (I am definitely going to have to clean the shelves and put some kiln wash on them before the glaze firing.) I fuss too much with the greenware and, of course, I broke something. I have an order for a Starry Nights lamp twice the size I usually make them. I made 3 and was really quite happy with the way they came out, but I broke one during the cleaning up. It doesn't bother me too much to break ware. What bothers me is that I know better! As I was cleaning out all the clay burrs from the little stars, I was thinking that I needed to put a piece of foam under the lamp... but I didn't do it, so it broke.

I was able to fit in all the large bottle vases (some of them are for the silent auction at my granddaughter's school), the batter bowls, the brie bakers, and the mugs. The two platters were left out, they'll go in the next firing. A lot of stuff was still wet so I'm candling the kiln today. It'll run with the bottom ring on low and the lid and all 6 peep holes open for about 10 hours. Tomorrow, I'll do the actual bisque firing.

After that, I cleaned up a little... mostly put stuff away and wiped down the shelves. Then I played with some recycled clay that I pugged a couple of days ago. I made a wrapped vase like the ones I used to make when I first started out and my throwing skills left much to be desired. I also made a couple of plates using Styrofoam rings as molds as shown in the February issue of Ceramics Monthly. I don't have a lot of patience for this and did it from memory rather than follow the directions. The foam rings are too deep, I think, and they look more like bowls than plates.

I've got the yarn bowl packed up and ready to go tomorrow. The kiln is off now and the mugs on the top shelf look dry and ready for tomorrow's bisque firing. It's still 72 degrees in the studio, but the temperature is falling outside and there's a cold rain coming down.

There was a flock of robins scrabbling around in the leaves when I came inside.