Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Function Follows Form

     I have made several square cups, bowls, and vase forms after the wood fired masu, the subtle square piece that emerged from last month's wood firings, but this bottle form is especially interesting to me right now. It feels like a unified form in surface, shape, volume, and finished details such as lip/rim and foot. I'm making them in various sizes. The one pictured is about six inches tall. It's striking to me that I have had to approach the vessel via sculpture. Working solid allowed me to detach my mind from utility and tradition. I now address clay from the outside, rather than creating a hollow space and trying to "decorate" it afterward, and function is allowed to follow form.

Monday, August 29, 2011

More Mushrooms!

     Impatience and opportunity got the best of me yesterday and I weathered the lightning and rain to ascend the San Francisco Peaks in search of mushrooms. I was elated when I found more than eight different species in less than 100 yards of hiking. The rain had subsided but the dripping from the tree canopy was too plentiful for me to take out my camera, so I collected one of each species found and brought them home for study. In one spot I found three species withing two square feet. Here are a few photos of the specimens featuring a beautiful bowl by Candice Methe, decorated with Burrowing Owls (my favorite).

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Mushrooms Are In

     This morning I walked around my little corner of Coconino National Forest and was very pleased to find a pair of mushrooms growing in the footprint of a fallen ponderosa pine. I won't guess at the type of mushroom or whether it's edible but it was exciting to see just the same. There's something magical about the way mushrooms push their way out of the soil, seemingly overnight, and their variety is almost without bounds. I plan to spend considerable time photographing and learning to identify our local fungi this autumn in hopes of one day harvesting the little gems for consumption.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


     On the way back from Phoenix this past weekend I enjoyed a shin-scraping romp through the blackberry bushes along Oak Creek. The grocery bag I carried became wet with berry juice as the weight of the harvest began popping the berries at the bottom of the bag. I also sped along the path under the apple trees to pick a bag of small ripe apples. As I write the smell of cinnamon, apples, and blackberries is wafting from the oven as I am now baking an apple-blackberry crisp. A fitting reward for a few deep scratches and a sweaty brow. The apples are pictured here in a bowl by Kazu Oba and the berries on a plate by Takashi Nakazato.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Red Consolation

     This morning I set out to find and photograph mushrooms. The monsoon rains and cooler temperatures bring a good variety of fungi to the ponderosa forest. I think, however, that I am a bit early this year and will have to try again in a week or so. As a consolation I was rewarded with the discovery of a small patch of delicately beautiful Western Red Columbine.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

In Abundance

     This year's monsoon season has been erratic and rains have been very localized. The wildflowers have, however, been very forgiving. They can be enjoyed readily and in abundance. Today I took some time to wander around the ceramics complex and kiln yard and gather a little sample of each available variety.

Friday, August 5, 2011

New Whiskey Cup

     Here are a couple of photos of a whiskey cup from the latest salt firing. Made from a dark clay body and dipped in Barnard clay slip then rubbed clean in select areas and lined with a celadon glaze, it was sheltered from heavy salt during the firing and maintained an overall matte finish. These are made in the same way as the tea bowl sculptures. I still regard them as in progress.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wood-fired Masu

     Our recent kiln opening at NAU yielded possibly my favorite, if not my best, piece of utilitarian sculpture to date. It was a piece I had regarded as a mere exercise in mark-making and almost threw away instead of firing. At the beginning of summer, two weeks after graduation, I had the idea to create some clay boxes as maquettes for larger pieces I may like to make in the future. The goal was to make tool marks in clay that would not be touched, therefore remain sharp, as opposed to softened by handling or refinement. I carved seven boxes from solid blocks of wet clay. One of these was square, the rest rectangular. It was the square shape that almost did the piece in. Squares are...square, boring, lifeless, predictable, dead. I would come to be delightfully proved wrong. The piece was loaded in the front of the Double-Wide Train Kiln which was fired for 45 hours then lovingly reduction-cooled by yours truly. The piece caught my eye only after I had examined every other piece I had made for that firing. It waited patiently as I poured over the flashy surfaces of the loud chunky tea bowl sculptures and small sculptural cups which I had been so anxiously awaiting. As I filled each bowl looking for leaks it sat on the dusty shelf watching. After a conversation about the aesthetic significance of wadding with Kazu Oba I was curious about the bottoms of my boxes. Some of them received long coil wads rather than the small round ones usually applied when loading the kiln. I examined the boxes, giving greatest attention to the rectangles. The square was of so little concern that I had relegated the wadding to chance and had "thrown it on the pile" of other pieces to be loaded, giving greater care to my favorite pieces, even ensuring that they face a certain way on the shelves when loaded. Then, a day after the unloading, I finally picked up the little box. As I turned it in my hand to consider the flashing left by the wads on its bottom surface, the marks nodded gently to the glory of the square. I turned the piece over and over considering its surface, angles, corners and inside. It was then that I saw the potential of the piece as a drinking vessel. The image of traditional masu wooden sake ware flashed in my mind. I walked to the sink to test it for leaks. At that moment, when the water filled its volume, the jeweled green wood-ash-glass came to life. This piece was made to be filled with a clear liquid and contemplated and savored as one savors the drink from it. The next night I carried the piece in my pocket to a dinner date. My friend, a ceramic artist and educated collector of Japanese wares, reacted to the piece as I did, confirming for me that I had incidentally created a pleasing object of sculpture and utility. We headed out to a local Thai restaurant where we drank sake, I from my new found gem and he from his favorite small bowl-shaped guinomi that he carries regularly. As I sipped from the corner of my stone-like masu, I began to understand the dignity and significance of food drink and friendship.