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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Wet Clay

It's difficult to believe the colors that happened to descend on this smidgen of clay at the time it was fired.

Who is responsible for the color here? Am I? Is Tony Moore, the owner of the kiln? Or does 'credit' belong to the one who formulated the Shino glaze that I used? What of the centuries of Chinese and Japanese potters who developed the technology of firing to two thousand degrees with wood or rice husks as fuel?

What of the American ceramic engineers who designed refractories that could make an efficient firing of a few hundred cubic feet of work with just a few cords of wood? Let's not forget that we're not ancient potters doing it the ancient way. No pretense here - this is high tech.

Shino glazes are ancient. Essentially powdered feldspar, it's been melted again by the fire, though some other stuff has been tossed in. Pottery folks play with the Shino paradigm endlessly, adding this, adding that. A Shino can turn almost any color.

On it's own, in a reduction firing, with no ash moving through the kiln, this glaze, on this clay (the clay influences the outcome enormously), might have been coffee-colored.

Might have been. But the fire got ahold of it and said, "Hold on there brother, this one's MINE!"

What I'm saying here is "Look what I didn't make!"

Not "Look what I made."

Here's a similar pot, same firing, different part of the kiln. The fire in this case showed no interest at all . . .so I end up with a coffee colored . . . blah!

No blessing from the fire-Goddess. She showed me her backside, and said, "Live with blandness Mr. Potter."

Back to the first bowl - if I can remember making it, (I can't), am I allowed to say I made it? Does anyone remember me making it?

 . . . The process usually works because:.

a) The kiln is well designed and constructed.
b) The fuel is whatever local wood is available. Downed trees, discards from local woodworking shops, flooring companies, all the usual sources.
c) We fire slowly, steadily, and let the fire do its work.
d) Potters 'show up' to put their pots in and contribute human energy.
e) Wood 'shows up' to contribute tree energy.

That's the story of wood-firing. It tells a story. Twenty first century people, twenty first century taste, twenty first century fuel, twenty first century kiln.

Eternal fire.

Same story everywhere.

So 'who' did the work?

I didn't dig the clay, I didn't make the kiln bricks either, but suppose for a moment I had, like the traditional potters of many cultures. Suppose I did throw a lasso around every step of the process, mine the clay myself, mix a usable body, build the kiln, formulate glazes, choose the fuel, and stoke the firing . . . would the pot be more 'mine'?

I'm just one who wants tea-bowls, and likes fire.

The fire just wants to consume fuel and release energy. Fires like wood, paper, iron, anything that will burn.

Trees like sunlight, and want to reach for the sky.

People like a cup of tea, and like to reach for a bowl.

Water likes to dissolve, evaporate. Water moves towards gravity, or low energy. Water will throw itself into fire. This is what happens when a pot is fired, the water deserts the clay.

"Loyal friend you were!"

"Sorry chum, gotta run."

"You're leaving me here to melt. You always do that."

"I'll be back. Live as a vessel for a while, then when you break up, I'll come round again and wash you into the sea."

Each of us has a desire, as well as a device, and a plan, a ploy, for satisfying it. What comes from from all this is something else.

'We all threw confetti that day but yours happened to land on the head of the Buddha! You're so lucky!'

'Or the foot of a slug. Does it matter?'

Let's ask the clay:

"I'm just a lonely bit of clay who got stuck with a firey residue. Some goofball made me into the form of a bowl! Put enough of us into a big enough fire, and you'll see everything!

"You'll see galaxies . .  You'll see your planet Earth, your home, a lonely wad of fired clay that's still cooling, and already has got some mold on it, a slimy mold, you call life."

I have no attachment to these tea-bowls, though each does talk to me in its own way. I'm somewhat embarrassed about their form - the clay still looks wet! I like fired pots to look fired, not like they just got out of the bath.

These still have that callow, wobbly wet-pot look. And the ash that slammed up against the fire side of the first one doesn't even seem to take the chill off.

This pot's still shivering, "Mommy hand me my towel!" A juvenile pot!

A lady named Jane Love bought it from me. I don't know Jane Love though I hope she likes it. Maybe she'll go for one of my free tea-bowls and I'll be able to journey south, to make her a cup of tea.

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