Category Archives: Ceramics ดินเผา

Glass

พอเพียง Paw Pieng translates as “enough”, or “sufficient”. It is one of the mottos and goals for the Thai People put forward by Rama IX, HRH King Bhumipol The Great. When he came to power there was a great deal of poverty and he wanted development projects that would provide enough for the people. His plan calls for reasonableness (or wisdom), moderation, and prudence. He said that the underlying conditions for this must be knowledge and moderation. Over the years before and during his reign its often been clear that there must be an economy of self sufficiency, that the country should be able to live without the outside world, be able to shield itself from the valleys of the world economy. In my mind I have decided that the word “sufficiency” is a better translation of this idea than “self sufficiency” because it stresses “enough”. Learning a little about this philosphy gave a new context for an old friend of mine, one of my personal heros, Uncle Glass.

Uncle Glass is a very funny, joyous man. He is fast to smile, crack a joke, pull your leg, and smile again. He is not “well educated” but is very smart, and it would be mistake to underestimate him. He has a bad leg. I do not remember how his leg was hurt, his calf broken, but it was when he was a young man, maybe in his teens. He was put into a cart and taken to the doctors. The doctor said that his leg below the break would need to be amputated. The monks from the local Buddhist temple said that they could heal the leg. They took care of him, bathed him, changed his clothes, and fed him. I was told how long this healing took, but I remember only that it was most of a year. Lung Gaeow (Uncle Glass) can walk, but for most of his life he found a bicycle a better mode of travel at least for distances more than about 20 meters.

Until he retired, Uncle Glass lived in a shack. It had a tin roof and short posts, and a wood floor. The walls did not protect from the wind much. His first wife got ill and he cared for her until she died. He remarried someone that he knew from school. I think he was in his fifties when this took place. She developed diabetes and became bed ridden. He cared for her until she died. His third wife he married only so that the village would not talk. She was already in bad shape and he could not care for her without there being gossip unless they were married. She was still alive in 2008 if my memory is correct. The world could use more people like him.

When I visited him back then he was going to the river every morning on his bicycle, maybe about a 1 km ride. He would park and climb down the banks. At the river he set some hooks with bait and then wash. He carried water up the bank (maybe 20 feet down) and watered his garden. After several loads he would pull out the fishing gear. When I was there he caught about 5 skinny 4 inch fish. Up on the bank he put them directly on some leaves he set on fire. Then he sat down, got out some glutinous rice and spicy vegetables, and a shot or two of whiskey his son in law packed for him. The fish, now cooked dry, were packed in paper and he rode is his bike off to the pottery to make water jars. A good person helps people in need. A great person does this again and again.

Lung Gaeow appears in my Thai Pottery Video in the height contest( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zi_t0y5jFxM&t=409s 02:57 ). After I returned to the US I was asked to write for grants to bring Thai potters to The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts Conference in 1991 in Tempe Arizona. Suwanee was to deal with all the arrangements in Thailand. I first asked for Uncle Good. I thought that he was nice, and had a love for making pots. He had a nice way with the traditional forms. He decided that he could not come because he was afraid that we would not have rice in the US and he could not eat bread. The word “eat” in Thai is really “eat rice”. The bread they sold in his part of Thailand was used as a desert dish, sort of like ultra-sweet Wonder®-type bread. The second person on our list had no birth certificate so they could not get a passport. Suwanee asked around. Finally two men agreed to come, “Craftsman Shotglass” (Chang Jork), and “Uncle Glass” (Lung Gaeow).

Lung Gaeow and Chang Jork (now deceseased) had a problem with alcohol. They were not anyone’s first choice but they were brave enough to come. My sole job at the conference was to take care of the 5 Thais, Suwanee (who could take care of herself) her sister (who stuck close to Suwanee), Mae (mom), and Chang Jork and Lung Gaeow. My Thai was rotten back then, but things worked out. So the morning after they arrived I went to see them. Gaeow says, “Louis, great to see you!” We are talking,,, how was the flight etc. “Louis, the flight was very nice but the airplane was cold, they brought us blankets.” “And you know Louis, they do have alcohol on the plane, I was worried. But it is so expensive and bottles are so little. Is it that expensive everywhere in America?”. I said, “no” .”You know Louis, we have alcoholism. Could you take us to buy some?”

So, I took them to the local alcohol store about a mile from their apartment. They walked in behind me. Gaeow grabs my arm kind of hard, it hurt a bit, “Louis, (he swings his arm to point across the store) Is all of this alcohol?” I answered, “No, that case over there is soda and Coke”. He said, “Louis,America is a great country!”.

He said, “Which type should be buy?” We finally settled on cheap beer. I picked up a six pack. They picked up two each. I showed them how to pay for it and we took it back to the apartment.

A couple of days later I stopped at the apartment. “Louis, we need more beer.” So we went back and got more. Gaeow told me that Jork could not read. Jork said,”Gaeow can’t read”, show us how to do this, then we won’t have to bother you.”
A few days went by. I was looking for them. They were not at the studio, not at Kurt Weiser’s house and not at the apartment. Then it dawned on me, “They are at the liquor store”. So I drove over to get them.

I walked in and they were not there. I turned to ask the cashier. He recognized me, “Its you!Where are those to guy’s from?” “Thailand”. “What language do they speak?” I answered “Thai” although really talking with each other its the local dialect. The cashier asked, ” Do you know what they did?” I am half already amused and a bit fearful.
“The rolled a big cigar with newspaper and a bunch of tobacco I think. The do smoke tobacco right?” I nod. ” You know, you can’t smoke in here” . I said that I would tell them. “After they lit that cigar, they squated in the back of the store in that language, What language did you say that was?” “Thai”. “Yeah, thats it. After a few minutes they came up to the counter, put thier hands on it and said, “Alcoholism, Alcoholism”. “I sold them some cheap whiskey. “You might want to tell them that they can’t drink in the store”. I thanked the cashier. As I was leaving he said, ” tell them the should not drink on the street either”.

So I head back to the apartment. “Louis!” Gaeow says,” I guess you were looking for us” . I said, “yes”. “Did you go to the liquor store?”Gaeow looks at Jork. “Yes” I said.
“I guess that the clerk said to tell us not to smoke in the store” I said, “Yes, it might explode”. “And we’re not supposed to drink in the store either?” “yes”. “Why not?” . “They don’t want drunk people in the liquor store”. Gaeow says something like, “how do they expect to make any money”. I tell them not to drink on the street. “They ask, “If we do, how much do we pay the police?” I explain that it is probably a mistake to try and buy off the police.

Chang Jork stopped by at Umdang Pottery when I was there in the early 2000’s. He gave me his Saw Duang ซอด้วง. This gift was probably the most significant of my life. He was not long on possessions. This was a return gift for bringing him to the US. He died a few years later.

I see Lung Gaeow nearly every time I go to Thailand. He is my elder. If I am to visit him I need to bring a gift. Normally this would be fruit, but he is an alcoholic so whiskey is what is expected. I no longer bring a full bottle.
Anyhow, I went to visit him about 15 years after his trip and he said, “Louis, Thanks for the whiskey. The neighbors don’t believe I ever was in America. Do you have any pictures of me there? And can you bring them here tomorrow?

I did not really understand this request until I stopped for another bottle of whiskey on the way the next day.

Lung Kaeow is retired. I saw him a few years ago.

Chip, Arrival, Thonburi,

I met Chip at The University of Michigan where he was the support staff for Ceramics and I was a new undergraduate. I was his work study. He liked what I did for him probably because I worked. If my memory is right, he came in and told me to be ready to help him unload the truck and I said, “another one?”. I had already unloaded a truck, counted the bags and cleaned up.

Kurt Weiser was a graduate student at the time. I used to sit and watch him work. He was an innovator in the field. He was always looking for some new tool or process. I am not sure that there was a direct influence, but it would be easy to look at my work and infer one. I am certainly not sure that there was not a direct influence on me. If I had to guess, I would say that there was. Kurt took me aside one day and told me I should go visit The Kansas City Art Institute. When the end of the semester came I got ready to go. This was Spring Semester 1975. I was an art student, it was my first semester in art school, and was taking an Asian Art History Survey with the late Professor Walter Spink as well as a ceramics course with Kurt, a figure drawing course, a 3D design course with Professor Georgette Zirbes, and a 2D design Course with Professor Ted Ramsey. It could be that one of these courses was taken the next semester but 18 credits was a normal full load.

The Asian Art History course feature thousands of slides, all shot (except where noted below) by Walter Spink. These were from Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, China, Japan, Tibet, Nepal, and Korea. I do not remember images from other countries of Asia, but there could have been some. The course was special. It was personal, he shot the slides. He was an expert on the Ajanta Caves but I remember all the big sites of India. There was a lot of memorization. But he started any section with culture, and his explanations were those of someone who had a lot of experience trying to give the sense of a culture to someone with no experience in that culture. How do you explain Buddhism to someone or how people relate to a Hindu Sadhu to a young Jewish kid and make it not silly, comprehendable. He had a hard task and did a reasonably good job at it. He was also funny.

The final exam was on material that was not from his own slides. It was on a traveling exhibition, “Recent Archaeological Finds of China” . I was going to try and get to Kansas City before the end of the semester. I had only a few days to hitchhike there so I brought my backback to the final. In the backpack I had my normal gear. For food I decided to bring peanut butter, it was cheap. I also brought some homemade granola I had left over.
From Ann Arbor I went south to Indianapolis. Indianapolis was always hard to get through but still easier than Detroit or Chicago. I made it to Kansas City the next morning. I got dropped off in front of The Nelson Atkins Museum. On the front of the museum was a show banner, “Recent Archaeolical Finds of China”.

The Nelson Atkins has free admission. But the Blockbuster show was not cheap. I paid for it anyways. When I got inside I met a young woman my age. She was attractive, at least I was attracted. But she seemed to be on drugs, I stayed with her in the museum and ended up giving her a guided tour. About halfway through she said, ” I thought you were making all of this stuff up about the work, but what you say matches the labels.’ The exhibition was great to see. I remember The Flying Horse. It is spectacular.

Kurt fixed me up a place to stay. I remember that the guy I stayed with had girl friends. I liked the school.
But really walking in the studio, everyone’s work was better than mine. There were a bazillion people in the studio late at night.I did not meet the teachers.

I left Kansas City and hitched to Yosemite. I never hitchhiked out of Denver. It was illegal to hitchhike in Colorado so I would take the bus. I have a hard time detailing the trip because I hitched out west so many times but I think on this trip I took the bus south and got dropped of in Albuquerque. It was hot. People at the bus station told me the wrong direction for the freeway. I walked about five miles. It did not look right. I asked again. I was told another direction. It too was not right. This time I knew it right away. I had not crossed an east west freeway coming in from the north so I know if I walked south I would get there. I got picked up by a guy in a sports car and dropped off in 15 0r 20 miles, a much worse place to hitch from. Then a VW stopped and picked me up. The car was full so I sort of got packed into the back seat. There was a Spanish speaking man in and a woman in the front. The woman told me that she was a prostitute and that the man was an illegal alien. A we approached Flagstaff I started smelling gas and the prostitute said that the gas gauge was dropping and the car was running terribly. Some screw came out and gas was coming out of the whole. I thought we were stuck, but then I thought of how we used to fix canoes that had lost a rivet at summer camp with bubble gum, and that it got stiff in the cold. Well that would not work because gum almost certainly dissolves in gas, so I covered it up with aluminum foil and jammed and the screwed it into the hole. The first gas station was about 20 miles away. We pulled in, I showed him my repair. He said “This looks first rate, what do you need me for?” I said that they were driving into LA and gum was going to thaw. He said, “thats a real shame”. The driver and passenger spent the night in a hotel and I hitched in San Bernardino and spent a night on my Uncle Leonard’s coach. It was terrible hitching out of there. I went north. My peanut butter was really not in a very good container so I mixed it with the granola and it formed a sort of stiff peanut bar. At some point I mixed in a pound of rasins. It was really pretty good. I bought a cabbage. They keep well out of refrigeration, especially if you eat the outside leaves once a day.I do not remember if I went to San Francisco that trip or not. My brother Dave, and my good friend Dave both lived there.I htiched to Yosemite and spent the first night in Yosemite Creek Campground. In the morning I got a permit to go up the back of Half Dome.

I had crummy equipment and it was May. I think I stayed at Little Yosemite Campsite. There were some yahoos drinking beer there. I spent a night, left my camp set up, climbed the back side of half dome (its a walk up, not technical) came down and stayed the night again. In the morning there was snow on the ground and my cotton sleeping bag was insufficient. I left cold, and a little wet and hitchhiked to Berkely California. It was slow getting out of Yosemite and I remember sleeping in a field and waking up surrounded by cows. It was scary. and stayed the night I think anyways with my cousin Ellen. In the morning I walked to the REI store and spent nearly the rest of my money on a Polarguard sleeping bag. I left town and hitchhiked up the coast. I stopped in Fortuna and stayed a day with a high school friend Carmen. She was living in an old funky house in a grove of redwood stumps. There were people who had built houses on top of the stumps and were squatting on the land. I think it was all owned by Carmen’s husband. Carmen had a daughter who I was introduced to as Indigogo.

My memories from there are not very filled out. There was bees nest in the wall of the bathroom and you could hear them buzz if you banged the wall. There was a fridge full of frozen cider. I have a vague memory of picking apples, but it was May. Maybe we only went to look at them. Now I think Carmen described cleaning up the dead apples then shaking the tree. They had a little press and it was two fridges set to as cold as they would go, mostly frozen.

I think that Carmen drove me into Eureka.I left and hitchhiked up the coast. I did not get far the first day. I think that I had gotten too much sugar from cider,,, its hard to know. But I walked down to the beach at Eureka State Park and made some mussel soup and ate it for a couple meals. Noon the next day I packed up and walked out of the park. I had little money but I though that a cup of coffee would be good. I went into a restaurant that had a view of the park and ordered a cup. The man running the place brought me a coffee, and asked if I was the guy eating mussels on the beach. I said yes. He brought me a sandwich and gave me another wrapped up for the road.

Mid June each year 1973, 74 and 76-79 I worked at Camp Tamarack, a Jewish camp for children near Flint Michigan.

Thailand 2019-10-25 Suwanee Natewong – aeng (spelling?)

(Ghost written bio for:
Suwanee Natewong.)

My name is Suwanee. I come from the Northeast of Thailand. When I grew up we had water buffalo and oxcarts. My father was an important federal judge and my mother a country woman. I had five brothers and a sister.

When I went to college I went into law but only stayed in school for two years. During that time my sister Sudarat and Jum, now my brother in law, and I used to take trips out of town to the village of Dankwian. Dankwian means oxcart station. It is about 30 minutes from the provincial capital of Nakorn Ratchasima where my father was then a judge. Dankwian is a rice farming village where during the dry season the farmers made pottery, mostly water storage jars and mortars and pestles for cooking. When I arrived in Dankwian to start working there were only a few families that made pots.

In Danwkwian I began carving the unfired wet water jars that the village potters made with patterns and images and selling them on the side of the road to passersby. My sister and brother in law moved there with me. At first sales and life was slow, and we would play guitar, talk, and carve while waiting for sales. It was a wonderful time.

The business, Umdang Ceramics, grew. We bought land and started to make more products and sell them more widely. The products included commissioned murals for the King and Queen’s upcountry palaces, hotels and government buildings. We also made ceramics jewelry and tiles.

In 1987, the Thai government organize a trade fair in Edmonton Alberta. It was our first trip out of the country. We brought lots of samples and sold them to pay for the trip. At the fair, I met an artist visiting from the United States named Kurt Weiser. He told me of a place called The Archie Bray Foundation where lots of potters worked and invited me to visit. My family decided after the trade fair to visit Las Vegas, a big dream for them. I called up Mr. Weiser and asked him if he would meet me at the airport in Helena Montana where the Bray is. I stayed at the the Bray for fourteen days and met many wonderful artists. The Archie Bray Foundation was a lot of fun and Edmonton taught us how to do international trade.

The next year I was invited to work at the Bray for 6 months. It was scary to be at such an important place with such great artists. I had to make friends before I could make work. Once I got to know everyone and got started it was easier. I lived there with Josh DeWeese, Gail Busch, and Louis Katz.

My business continued to grow. When we started if we sold one or two pots a day it could seem like a success. At the height of our business it seemed like we were counting semi truckloads a month. The Asian monetary crisis that started in Thailand in 1997 took all the air out of our business. Now our children are starting to build it back up.

Dankwean village has grown from just two or three kilns in the 1960’s to well over 50 now. There are also people working in other materials such as stone, fake stone, wood carving, and painting. Nearby we have villages that do bronze casting and Ikat silk weaving. Every day trucks leave the village with pots.

During this time, between meeting Kurt in1988 and today, I have been able to travel to many countries, and have been a visiting and resident artist in many places, most recently my second residency at LH Projects. I feel lucky to come from such a small place and have friends all over the world.

notes: write about father, mother, politics, sister, jum, santi asoke.

Thailand 2018 -11-09 Archie

Archie Bray (Senior) was a worker at The Western ClayManufacturing Company. Western Clay produced architectural clay products in Helena Montana, the state capital. For those who live in more populous places you have to understand that Helena even in the 1980’s only had a population under 30,000. The whole state, really a large state had few people living in it that many large cities out east.

Helena as a city got its start in the mid 1860’s with the discovery of gold. Development in town centered near the gulch,  and the placer deposits of gold. However there were also mine up the gulch and production of quicklime up the gulch not far from the townsite. During the later part of the century there was a series of devestating fires that started in the gulch. Coming out of the gulch these first created there own wind system and spread very quickly. Brick veneer was quickly added to many of the local houses and brick housing became a standard for new quality homes. There were several brickyards, but Western Clay is the one that survived.

Archie (Senior) started a subscription perfroming arts series in Helena. Through a booking agent he would arrange to perfroming artists on their way to Seattle to stop and spend time in Helena. They would go to the Natatorium, ride horses if they wanted, visit the Bray and watch demonstrations by resident artists there and perform. Because these performances happened on a stop they often wanted to make in a long train trip, the costs were affordable in a small town. The series was able to book big time perfromers such as , “” .  Music, fine arts, dance, and theater are big players in this town. Thry are out of proportion to the city size , and although seen as a draw for tourists, the biggest proportion of audiences is always local.

In the first years of the 1950’s Archie Started inviting university art students to work at the brickyard over the summer. They would work for him during the day and make art on nights and weekends. The ceramic pieces were usually fired on top of the brick in the beehive kilns.  Over time the needs of the artists grew and kilns specifically for them were built.

In 195- , on thier tour across the US, Soetsu Yanagi, Shoji Hamada, and Bernard Leach, stopped at the Bray. They lectured, and did demonstrations.  This tour, in terms of pottery was a turning point. It was influential enough to change the face of American Pottery. The Bray developed a line of standard ware that potters were supposed to produce to support The (Bray) Pottery, the people developed what really can only be seen as an appreciation of Wabi Sabi, without using the words, and much of US potter began to look towards the East for inspiration and less to the BausHaus, Scandinavian design and other European influences.

The pottery building grew in stages. Archie Senior, while building a wall, fell from a ladder and died of complications. Archie Junior took over the brickyard. He built a tunnel kiln on a loan and was never able to make it work right. A tunnel kiln is a long skinny kiln where the bricks are stacked on cars with railroad wheels and highly insulated floors that are slowly pushed through the kiln. Both ends of the kiln are cool and the center is the hotest. The kilns are left running. Only needing to be heated once, they also make good use of the waste heat to preheat the air used in combustion, and to preheat the brick coming into the kiln. There is a question if the tunnel kiln was too big for need, but it probably would have worked out if the brick were not cracking in the firing.
Part of the problem was certainly the clay. It could be that the best clay was played out in their deposit. I heard that this was the case when I visited there, but it also seems true that Archie Junior did not have the experience or knowlege to blend the clays well enough.  Either way, they never got the tunnel kiln working properly.

The loan from the Small Business Administration was unable to be paid and Western Clay Manufacturing Company was scheduled to be auctioned. David Shaner convinced the Auctioneers to separate off the Pottery buildings from the Brickyard.  There was a downturn in the economy and people were broke. Ken Furgason told me that Dave Shaner went around town looking for donations to save the pottery. People told him that they did not have money to spare. He said, ” we will take the change in your pockets, anything”.  The auctioneer opened the bidding on the pottery and Dave Shaner bid every last cent he had. My memory is that this was $32,000 for the pottery, Chicken Coop, Director’s House and Garage.

In case I fail to mention it anywhere else David Shaner was a spectacular human being. He always had a smile for people. He was helpful, generous, and just plain nice. HIs teapots were full bodied unlike Fergusons. Ferguson liked understated Teapot bodies feeling that the forms were finished by the spout, handle and Lid. Shaners were fuller. Both made wonderful teapots.

In the early-mid 1980’s the Bray was the most important residency for clay in the world. It was busting at it seems even with 5 people there. The old pottery building had the directors studio, The Clay Business director worked in the old Directors house. The director, then Kurt Weiser, and Christie, his wife and son lived in the Chicken Coop. Christi had her studio in an old shack attached to the garage. The pottery also housed the community classes and the gallery.

Anywho, after graduate school Gail and I became residents at The Archie Bray Foundation. The director, Kurt Weiser, had been my first college Ceramics teacher in the Spring of 1994. When he was hired he insisted that someone be hired to run the commercial clay business and that they would pay for themselves. He hired Chip Clawson. While I took classes with Kurt, Chip was my workstudy supervisor.

Sometime while I was in graduate school the Brick Yard was purchased from Medicine Hat Clay.

When we finished graduate school Master of Fine Arts Degrees in hand we applied for residencies at The Archie Bray Foundation. We both got them. At the time, Sarah Jaeger, Akio Takamori, Ei Yamamoto and Kurt and Christy Wieser were residents there. It is hard to keep the chronology straight. I helped move the Clay Business from what became the winter studios and is now the sales gallery, to the Brick Yard. Not only a resident I was again working for Chip.

Mixing Clay,
Rebuilding the pugmill and mixer.

Kurt Weiser one week took off for a workshop in Edmonton Alberta. While he was there they took him to The West Edmonton Mall, the largest shopping mall in North America.  At the mall at the time there was a trade show from Thailand. In the trade show was a display of pottery from Thailand. Kurt invited the managing director of the pottery, Suwanee Natewong to visit the Bray.  I heard that she was coming and thought, “Great, I can use my 25 word Thai language vocabulary”.

I was in the studio and someone came through and said that she had arrived. I walked over to the kiln area and saw a short Asian woman standing in the kiln room. She saw a giant western man with long hair and a beard backlit and filling the doorway.

About Painters

It doesn’t but I do. About painters, at least young ones that I knew when I was young, or at least younger.

Frequently I have had people from other media wonder/ask how the uncertainty of firing could be dealt with. I always found this question baffling. I could not always put it into words.Ceramics is no different in this way than any other medium.

Uncertainty can be excitement. You can have certainty if that is what you want, or at least close in onit. Test and measure until you are certain. Its not what I want from clay, but someone can want it. Somep[eople think that they have it. They  have more of it then I do, maybe, probably not. Life is uncertain, you are always balancing variables in everything, is the pan hot enough for the eggs not to stick or is the butter going to burn? You think that you know how the details will be seen. You think you understand your motivation. You think a lot of things and they are not always right, rarely if ever really. They are never complete. You cannot know the whole story. Stories are always too complex.

All of this, “I know what I am going to paint” nonsense, is prefaced on the idea that painters can visualize, fully comprehend, fully plan, fully understand, what their work will look like, how it will impact people, themselves, how it will stand. They work in a similar manner, and really have no idea until it is finished. They too have surprise. The too are orchestrating process. The finished content is not controlled, and never fully revealed. The work will be different through the lense of a weeks time, and a year, or however long.

Really though, the work is not finished until we are gone, and well after that. When someone uses your coffee cup or mug, or looks at your work anew, each time the work changes. It is not some fixed static entity when it comes from the kiln. I have a cup from a friend Wally. I bought it at t thrift store. I remember when people made handles like the one he put on it. Its ridiculous in many ways, but it shows time, it shows where it was made. It also has a handle that is hollow and since it is dishwashed the handle fills up with water. Could he have imagined how I feel about it weeping on papers after filling it with coffee?

The classic example of this post firing manipulation of work is Old Japanese Teabowls, with records kept of who drank what and when, with stains, cracks, repairs, Kintsugi, thoughts, writings poetry. But it really is not different for any other object. Price is part of the work, What Rick Newby thinks about it becomes part of it, who bought it, what gallery, a thrift store? The teabowl, The Kizaemon, the teabowl that is supposed to express it all was made by a peasant potter in Korea then taken to Japan.  It is rarely displayed.  How could the maker know?  It is a plain bowl for rice, disposable. Its worth was in its being collected, appreciated and held.

There is nothing that does not add to the work, even if it seems to detract. I am not sure it is over if it is buried. Although if its been subducted, melted in the middle of the earth and extruded as new igneous material the relationship is getting a bit thin,, Perhaps a trace of carbon will remain firmly placing it in time by C14 dating or some other scientific alchemy.

people should read this:
https://artevident.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/louise-cort-1992-teabowl.pdf

 

intendedness vs effortlessness, consideration

It is clear to me that as a media we are making progress at least in some ways. Sure there is more technical know how and horsepower than there was 40 years ago. There is more knowledge and more people doing glaze calculation and substantive kiln innovation. But even the pots themselves are getting better. This can be demonstrated pretty well by looking at handle attachments. I have joked about looking at upper handle attachments pictured in CM from the first issue forward using the criteria of intendedness(1). But I am not so interested in quantitative research in the field. I just want to generate thought. Still it seems that progress here can be demonstrated.

In this regard I have been looking at Simon Levin’s handles on cups. Really the whole cups are wonderous but it is the handles I am most in to. The mimicry of the smooth upper attachment is so well done at the bottom that the effort that goes in is not apparent. There are no signs of any effort. The bottom attachment looks as is it was accomplished the same way the top attachment was, no muss, no fuss. But it wasn’t. Simon has apparently developed the skill  and technique to make the bottom attachments look the same and a lot of effort went into this.

The lack of unresolved details in the bottom attachment meet my definition of intendedness. Every part of the attachment looks like it was considered. The details look like they were all intended. The clean lack of struggle, the lack of unintended marks, makes these lower attachments look effortless and I wonder if the terms “apparent consideration”, “intendedness” and “apparent effortlessness” are not in some ways relating to pots, synonymous.

(1) Intendedness: This is the appearance of intent, rather than intent itself. Something can look like it has intent but if it is actually accidental, or a controlled accident it still has intendedness. The Bauhaus  designers used to say that every aspect of a design needs to be considered. This is an important principle, but in my opinion poorly stated. I say that every aspect of a design needs to look considered or intended. They do not need to be intended. How well something conforms to this ideal, this look of intention or consideration is its intendedness.

Once something looks intentional it is possible or easy and almost automatic to either think you know why something was chosen the way it was or to wonder why. Either of these is a gateway to meaning.

 

WoodKilnCoffee

Wood kiln brew recipe

First off if you don’t drink coffee or don’t fire with wood, don’t read this ceramic recipe if you don’t want to.

Wood kiln coffee cannot be wimpy. Drink water if thats what you need, but drink COFFEE when its what you need. Good coffee needs to be stiffly mixed. You need a thick unctuous brew. If you are going to do some sort of drip stuff, you need more grounds than water. If you are doing French Press you need too grind too fine and then press too hard. With French Press for wood kilns you need a large proportion of the grounds to blow by the filter

Cowboy coffee is fine. You can even do the thing with the egg shells if you don’t know how to filter with your teeth. It is especially fine if you grind the coffee fine. But good wood kiln coffee is done Eastern Mediterainian , ArabeoIsraeliTurkishGreekSerbiaCroationSorryIfILeftYouOutCoffee, thick, sweet, stand up and chew, coffee.

Here is my recipe.

Take a “six” pot, if you fire a large anagama with more than four side stokes use 12 and double the recipe, pots for this have numbers. If you don’t have a six pot it is OK to use a can from pork and beans. Eat the beans first. Rinse the can but do not wash it.. You can fashion a handle out of the lid if you don’t cut it all the way off, but it is too short and hard to use, you will burn your fingers and you need them tonight. I use small vice grips.

For wood kilns you want African Cardamom if you use cardamom. Its smoke dried. One pod is enough for several pots. I grind it with the coffee. Asian stores often have good deals on African Cardamom.

Grind the coffee as fine as you can get it. You can do this in a ceramic mortar with a wooden pestle or you can use your Turkish Grinder or even a Krups. Fine, 80 mesh is not quite fine enough. Don’t use a sieve.

Fill the pot up to just under the narrowest part of the neck with water. It can be hard water, it can be soft, and it can be rain water. Add 1 to 2 TABLESPOONS of sugar. Honey is OK, corn syrup will work. Don’t use any molasses unless you feel way way south of the Mason Dixon line and want to show it.
Heat the water to near boiling in one of the air passages of your kiln or over a side stoking port. Don’t pull coals out of your kiln for this, you won’t get enough woodash in your coffee this way. Don’t fake it by mixing woodash in, are you crazy? Woodash contains lye.

Take the pot off the heat. Add 3 T of coffee powder. Stir it in or not depending on your style. Do not get picky about it, you are firing a wood kiln. Set the pot in the heat again. When it boils up near the rim take it off and let it cool about 30 seconds. I am a barbarian so I do this boil up three times for wood firings.

If this were some fancy setting I would knock the side of the pot with a spoon a few times and let it settle. Its not that kind of setting, I just pour the ambrosia. If you are looking for caravan style add some yak butter. If you don’t have any yak butter a little salt and a little cow butter will do. It is one place where “sweet cream” butter is not wanted.

Don’t forget to stoke the kiln. Drink it. The grounds go into the stoking port.

Din Phao, Din Phao: ดินเผาดินเผา

2014
Dankwean Dinpaw , the sales area on the road is hurting. Based on quick appearances……..There has been an incredible building of sales malls. People are still building them despite lots of vacancies. Perhaps, hopefully, people believe that sales will improve. The old large potteries are falling into disrepair. Umdang is closed essentially and the business that they do is via phone sales and visits to sites where they design installations, murals and bas reliefs. The have almost no road sales except perhaps tiles.
Chao Din (people of the earth) seems to still be producing murals, but the bustling stream of visitors and buyers seems to have ended. Its once immaculate display area is getting funky. The fish pond is full of algae and the air and water pumps not working. The koi are oblivious, but as a visitor it is not nearly as nice looking.
The old professors are dead. Ajahn Pit who was always welcoming and nice to me died a few years ago and his daughter and son took over for a few years. I am told that they are now in the US. Like Chao Din the once brilliant and organized display of Ajahn Pit’s Din Phao has seen better days. Eddie McGrath wrote that there is a tendency in restaurants to rather than keep up on maintenance to just “let it go” and sell out to someone who wants to sell cheaper food and build a newer restaurant. The tendency may have some similarities here, but it is not working, Only a few nik-nack shops across the street seem to be doing well with street-side sales. I have seen several places packing work up for sale elsewhere.

Ajahn Wirot from Din-Dam has been dead for some time and his once chaotic display and museum is hard to see among the weeds and behind the distracting buildings. It would surprise me to find out that any sales at all were going on there.

Across the street from Umdang there is a place where tour busses stop because the displays are clean. They sell espresso there for 45 baht and about 100 yards away it is only 25. There apparently are people buying little nicknacks still.

The hand skills on the “traditional” carved surface Dankwean pots have continued to improve. There is truly some incredible carving going on. I hope that the scrafitto workshop really takes hold as this would help create an opportunity for these skills to translated to fired surfaces. That said the painted surfaces look better and better every year I visit.

Breath and the Brute

Breath and the Brute: Exhaling Stone in Thailand

Potmaking, making real pots, is a good educational track for future sculptors. Former makers of real pots, assuming these are pots with breath,  go on to make sculpture with similar life and erumpent form.

Chris Berti’s carved limestone sculpture shows such breath apparently descended from his potmaking. The sculptures have a taut skin. They look as if a prick in the skin would lead to a fountain of limestone squeezing out; the skin hangs on the volume. In these forms the tight skin creates the feeling of erumpency, a readiness to burst forth, also know as pregnant form.

I have been thinking of the obvious visual differences between the form of pottery and that of traditional European stone and bronze sculpture and the basis for this difference. The great stone sculptures shown in traditional Western art history survey courses have skin on muscle and bones, the muscle and bones being the structure upon which the skin is stretched. These sculptures never deny mass, you sense their weight, their density. If you were to squeeze them you would sense muscle, and bone. The muscle bone and sinew sensed through and reflected in the nuance of the skin reinforces our knowledge and understanding of the mass inside. In pottery-derived form the mass is denied or minimized, the skin seems stretched on volume, a moving kinetic volume of air, or perhaps another light fluid medium. Squeezing volumetric form, at least squeezing it in your minds eye causes a sense of increased or decreased pressure, of air movement, or in some closed forms a sense that the form will “pop”.

I am not convinced of the superiority of either paradigm, these paradigms of mass or volume, but I work in a University studio next door to a sculpture studio and notice the shift when I travel just a few feet. It is not the materials that change but the eye, conventions, and aesthetic. This is not to say that volumetric form is unknown in sculpture (or for that matter mass to the potter). In fact sculptors working with volume, in the potter’s paradigm, seem to gain recognition on its account. It is just that this kind of form is harder to get in concrete media than truly plastic media. Mass is what stone is about. Denying mass and stressing volume is apparently difficult to do but it can make work dynamic. When one paradigm informs another it makes both stronger.

Several years ago I had the good fortune of returning to Thailand. I had been thinking of Clary Illian’s book on potmaking. I visited the remains of a bronze foundry that had been relocated outside of Thonburi, a suburb of Bangkok. The old factory specialized in Bronze images of the Buddha. The sizes ranged from 6 inches to 9 feet tall. The sinuous limbs and lithe but full form of Thai Buddha images sculpted in wax on top of plaster cores have kept my mind returning to this foundry. These wax forms had no sign of the underlying bones and muscle, no structure. What they had was erumpency, the breath of inflation, a sense of the volume within. The skin was taught. Visiting the factory and revisiting the process gave me a clue to what I believe is the reason. I have ceased wondering if the sense of fullness in these forms is related to the importance of breath in Buddhist religion and meditation. I now believe that breath was imparted consciously by the sculptor.

Most traditional bronzes in the west start as a clay model often with a wire or wood armature, a mold is taken from the model and then it is cast creating a thin skin of wax inside the mold. The hollow interior is formed by pouring plaster investment inside the thin skin of wax. The outside is then also invested in plaster. In large scale Thai Buddhas the core (volume) is modeled out of investment first. This looks a lot like a Buddha, but the artist has to visualize the finished form. Detail is left off. Over this core, this image of the internal volume of the figure a skin of wax is applied. Then details such as the curls representing hair, fingers, and other thin details such as folds in the robe are added. The finished images, like well made pots have the sense of kinetic volume, and a dynamic volume like that talked about in Clary Illian’s book. The skin although just wax has a sense of elasticity. In ceramics this dynamism of surface comes from the process and materials but requires skill to enhance and conserve. This sense is easy to kill. In wax it seems to come solely from finesse. Lots of finesse.

Back when I was in school in Kansas City we used to grunt about pots. Our ideas were at the state where we did not have many words to describe them. Victor (Babu) with brilliant hand gestures would do minimalist dances describing the positive, negative, or lacking attributes of our pots. Victor would talk about pots, springing from within, as blossoming and would talk about pregnant luscious form. With the dance and gestures the words had great meaning.  We went on a dictionary quest for more words for Victor’s use and found the word erumpent. He wasn’t much impressed. It may have been that I defined it as, “Ready to burst”.  It may have been the lack of positive connotation. These words, blossoming, luscious, erumpent, pregnant, kinetic are all variations on a theme. They seem to reside inside the overarching term of what is now called breath. Even in pots, this term breath seems to speak of life-force. In a less spiritual language breath is the word to describe an active skin/volume relationship.

I am not a big fan of sentimentalism in discussion of art but when you talk about art you necessarily tell lies, what some of my Catholic friends might call lies of omission. The words trim off essential nonverbal meaning. I tend to think that a lot of what is said is vacuous, words with no insides, like pots without breath (Dancing while speaking, gesticulating, give words greater fluency). While in school I always had a suspicion about all the talk of the inside hand, feeling the form from within, sensing the volume. My suspicion was that it was poppycock, nonsense. I could not have been more wrong. I had begun to be converted sometime in the mid to late nineteen eighties. It could have been a small series of pitchers by Josh DeWeese while he was between undergraduate and graduate school. To really see it you have to look at bad pots, next to good ones. Photographs only carry traces of breath. I became convinced of the primacy of volume over form in potmaking while working on inflatable teapots for the Las Vegas NCECA. We put together some not well-made inflatable clear plastic teapots the size of travel trailers, and put an audience inside them while we subjected the audience to a tortured story about Alice’s life with Lewis Carroll. Looking at the skin while inside a teapot was a big education. I learned volumes.

I now talk about throwing from the inside, the volume, breath, erumpency, the inside form, with my students. I see the same look on their eyes, “what a bunch of sentimental art talk without substance”.  I wish for them a visit inside a teapot, a good look at a Thai Buddha, and the clarity that comes from a good deep breath. Breath is there to see, once you look

Louis Katz Breath and the Brute: Exhaling Stone in Thailan

Volumne, axis, centrifigualforce as the replacement for bones and mass.

Up Wind

2014 Prep

I am preparing to go to Thailand. I have lists and even a list of lists. I have packing lists, lists of paperwork to duplicate, lists of people to contact, letters to write, and files to transfer to the laptop. Oy.

But there are other preparations I have to make. They may be more important. I must slow down, remember the Thai manners, the cool heart – jai yen, slow, controlled not too excited. I have to remember to slow and greet people properly, the smile and the ability to let things roll off my back with a smile on my face. It is not just smiling that I need to do, but the smile state of mind.

The idea that desire is the root of suffering, that grasping creates disappointment, is at the heart of this change. It is a part of Buddhist philosophy but, it is so widely accepted and implemented in Thailand , that you have to succumb or find yourself swimming upstream. I no longer can swim upstream for months at a time. I have to smile, go with the flow, allow the troubles, the hurry, frowns, worries, to flow away, to touch perhaps but never stick. I have to learn to “mai pen rai” . To activate the phrase “its not a problem or worry” you have to make it a verb.

I have a huge agenda. It is work. It is too much. It would be good if I could get it all done. It is almost certainly undoable.  An agenda like this can add an off flavor to everything. It can prevent months of work from being productive, too much stress on doneness not enough flex to contemplate, think, digest,,,. I have to start by doing “mai pen rai” by turning off the worries and allowing the future to come. You can only swim upstream so long.

I  have to even stop my little social concerns. Did I fail to slow down and say Sawasdii, did I remember to call them “elder”, was I polite enough. I have to do this because really the first politeness in Thailand is to mai pen rai. It is a necessity like air. When you do this, the little stuff comes easy, and the hard stuff is easier.