studio building - almost there

We. Are. So. Close!  The last few weeks of work on the studio have been huge and exciting.  Nathan and I have adjusted to a "new way" - one where we actually hire out some big parts of the process. For the last three years, we've literally place every brick and nailed every piece of wood ourselves.  We wanted to get the wood kiln just right (and the kiln shed, and the showroom, and the tractor shed, and . . .)  all the while making decisions as we went.  In some ways, much of it was work that only we could do.

But when it comes to things like dense-pack cellulose, hanging and finishing drywall, even doing a large scale paint job - well, sure, we could have tackled the learning curve and done it ourselves.  As the saying goes "You can do anything.  But you can't do everything."

So with lots of pottery-related things to do before we get to potting and firing, we decided to hire these big jobs out.  After all, these folks are pros- they do this every day, more efficiently and expertly than we could have.  And we (most likely) make pots better than they do.  That's our job.

That said, meet Alex and Matt.  These are the awesome guys behind Central Vermont Insulation (Bethel, VT), who did the tough and dusty work of crawling around on planks in our ceiling to dense pack cellulose insulation into the rafter bays, the drop ceiling, and the diagonal wall cavities.

We actually hung the foil faced foam on the underside of the rafters with a couple of friends, strapped it, and they came around with typar and netting and sprayed the recycled newspaper + borate into the bays.

We ended up very insulated - much more than our old house, in fact!  We can't believe how well the building holds heat and warmth from sunshine.  (Wait, why isn't this our house??) :)

Next up: Cal and Dennis of Cal's Custom Drywall (Braintree, VT) hung nearly 3000 square feet of sheetrock up, down, and all around the building.

It was amazing to watch them work - the tricks and skills these guys have were better than anything we could have hoped for.  They did an absolutely beautiful job, all the while laughing in disbelief tolerating at the antics of our dog running off with their tools, coffee mugs, and lunch boxes.  (Mmm hmm.  He's a nut.)

Meanwhile, Nathan and I worked on framing an interior wall for the utility room below the stairs.  Our rough-cut hemlock framing doubles as adjustable pottery storage. (More on that later.)

Soon, Dick Ratico the electrician (Solar Wind Electric, Bradford, VT) and Tim (Brownelle Plumbing, Norwich, VT), will get all the necessary panels and water heaters installed in the space behind this wall.

(I LOVE this as the back of my studio!)

With the drywall done, and the first phase of interior walls complete, we spent a day cleaning out the building of our tools and tables and staging and accumulated stuff to ready for the next and nearly last phase.

It feels so good to see it all cleaned up and emptied out . . . full of promise.

And as of this week, Gerry Vargo and his crew (Braintree, VT) are cutting, rolling, and spraying this building crisp and clean white.  (With one little color surprise to be unveiled later!)

While we probably could have made pots in here once we were insulated, we are pretty sure we'll never regret having all of this big, messy work done BEFORE we move in.  I can't imagine moving and covering all of our stuff once our potting was underway.  And we probably could have done the painting (actually, we love painting) - but who would cut and sand the ware boards, or scrape and clean our kiln shelves, or teach pottery class, or cut the wood for the upcoming firing?

In short, we are very happy with our choices, and full of gratitude for the folks who've helped us get here.  And we are in awe of the beauty of this structure.

We just can't quite believe this is our life's work space . . . . . . and that we'll be making pottery in just a few days' time.

~Becca

studio building - little things and big things

We are in total studio building immersion these days.  Despite the tiniest indications of spring, the weather in Vermont has continued to be wintery and cold, adding to the sense that we are in some kind of crazy time-warp where we are always building and it is always winter.

We've gotten a lot done, though!

The last few weeks have been punctuated by some very big things (a concrete floor! the last door installed! wiring! stairs! a heat source!), and some little things.  First the little things: the gable ends got finished - photo above.  (No more staring at purlin overhangs and the underside of our metal roofing.)  We also made soffit/vent boards out of pine and bits of screen for the eaves, and installed them.  (OK, we haven't totally finished the south side . . . but progress, nonetheless.)

Nathan continued trimming the underside of our windows, and we worked inside to fill the smallest triangles with rigid foam so our cellulose installer will have less hassle.

Nathan has also been busy with the foam gun - using the expanding stuff to seal the edges of the triangles and rafter bays (in pink, below), while I trim it back where necessary.

We insulated the entire cupola with rigid foil-faced foam for the highest possible r-value - in a space where a lot of our heat is likely to rise.  (Until we get a ceiling fan, that is!)

We also roughed in the wiring in the parts of the studio that will soon be buried in cellulose insulation.  We're still running off extension cords for now, but soon we'll have outlets for pottery wheels and tools!  And overhead lights, entry fixtures, and switches in all the right places.  Even a motion sensor that will kick on for those dark evening trips to the studio to attend to drying pottery.

Here's the big picture on the first floor - which will be our primary "making" area.  It's about 800 square feet.  (And yes, still very much a "work zone!")

But enough about the small stuff.  (OK, maybe you can't call any of that "small" stuff - but you can argue that the next parts of the project are a lot more exciting. :)

We completed the pick-up and installation of a new-to-us wood stove!  (Made, incidentally, by Vermont Castings, whose plant is less than a mile from our house.  Yay local.)  It's so nice to have a source of heat in the building - although insulation will make it a lot more effective! ;) Nathan worked diligently at installing all the components of our metal asbestos chimney- which begins way down on the first floor and reaches through the peak of the roof and up past the cupola.  The wood stove will be our main source of heat until the radiant system is hooked up, which likely won't be until next heating season.

But it wouldn't really make sense to light up a fire without first closing in the building completely - during a mid-March snow storm no less.  (And to think last year it was 80-degrees at this time of year!)

After some additional framing was completed in the rough opening, the last of the siding was installed under the awning, and the door went in and got trimmed out in record time.  It's so nice to have the last (south) side of the building complete from the outside!

Next up on the list of big accomplishments: stairs!!  We can now walk between floors of our studio without traipsing through the snow, mud, or any combination of the two.

Oooh, boy, are we excited about these winding beauties!  (Thanks to Bob for all the tricky math. :)

There are still lots of little things to do - and at least one major thing before we can get to making pottery - insulation!  We are used to working in the cold at this point, but we'd rather our freshly-thrown pots didn't freeze overnight. ;)  (We've been through that before.)  Here's a preview of the next insulation stage, during which our entire upstairs will shine like a new rocket ship . . .

. . . to be followed closely by dense-pack cellulose in the walls and ceiling . . . and a big 'ole drywall job!

Counting the days until we get to make pottery!  (Will we remember how??)

Happy Spring,

~Becca

studio building : ten days in

It's really quite hard to believe we're only ten days into building.  (With wood, that is!)  It is amazing what can be accomplished when you combine time, drive, passion, skill, experience, determination - and the threat of impending winter!

This past week brought many productive days, during which we put the purlins onto the rafters, as well as framed for- and built- a cupola.  (The floor with ladder hole (below) is just a temporary platform from which we built the cupola, whose main purpose, besides adding a bit of visual interest to the building, is to flood the new showroom and the upstairs with natural light.)

The views from up there are AMAZING!  (And we thought our kiln chimney was tall.)  We sort of wish it could become a reading nook or some such thing, but hey, the aforementioned natural light wins out for now.  Plus, we can't wait to be throwing pottery at our wheels on the ground level, and look up through the opening in the floor straight up to the sky!

We were also pleased to begin some diagonal framing, an aspect which makes George's buildings very unique.  Instead of putting the studs at right angles, he cuts them at 45 degrees.  They remain 16" on center, which meets building code, but creates a rigid and economical structure, and eliminates the need for sheathing - saving money and lots of toxic glues.

We enjoyed learning more about the process of diagonal framing, and appreciated the many years of experience George brings to this approach.  (He has a good head for math, as you can imagine!)  It is a beautiful end result, one which uses far less lumber than a conventional structure, and will contribute to less overall setting of the cellulose insulation we plan to blow into the wall cavities.

Nathan and George also took some time to build a reverse gable on the north wall. (photo below)  There will be entry doors there, into the showroom, and we wanted to ensure the snow sheds well.  We also think it makes for an appealing entrance!

If all goes well, this next week will bring framing of the lower level (where our workshops will be), roofing (metal), cupola windows and siding, and perhaps wrap!  We are also looking forward to windows and doors and eventually - before Christmas?! - ship lap siding.  Wow!

It's funny how hard it is to reflect on this project in a bigger sense - we're so deep IN it now.  I'm sure reflection will come later . . . but there are plenty of moments when we come up for air, take it all in, and feel downright giddy at the prospect of working in this gorgeous space, on our land, towards our shared passion.  Having the chickens clucking and scratching about the yard is more than just scenic - it's a nice, grounding feeling - that we're headed in the right direction - towards our "pottery farm!"

~Becca

P.S. We've decided last minute to have a Holiday Open Studio and Sale next weekend, December 15th, from 11 am 'till 4pm.  Hope you can join us!And yes, we'll be most certainly giving tours of the new studio!

building with wood

With our concrete foundation work behind us (yay!), the structure of our studio is coming together quickly.  Just seven days into building with wood, and we're pleased to say we've got rafters up!  The pace and intensity of the project has left us with little time for much beyond building, sleeping, laundry, cooking, eating . . . not much energy left for writing!  And thus, we share mostly photos here today, and the musings of our builder, Mr. George Abetti.

"We started this studio a couple of days before Thanksgiving after the intrepid couple did the entire foundation themselves assisted part time by some willing and available friends.  I must say I marvel at their courage--with me staying away from concrete with a passion only matched by love for building with wood....hmmmmm...probably an integral connection there somewhere. 

Both Becca and Nathan are experienced carpenters and indefatigable workers--which is what allowed us to work out a mutually agreeable arrangement where I would run them and as many willing friends as a crew for a few weeks to get the main shell up with roof, windows and doors and leave the siding to them.  We were doubly blessed at the serendipitous timing of two wonderful guys wanting to consider Geobarn careers calling to ask to work for free for a couple of weeks just to experience this kind of work....so yes....be our guests!  John and Charles--we humbly thank you.  (Yes, thanks, guys!  We are very grateful for your help.)

The building is quite creative--timbered with massive hemlock posts, our typical free span floor system--and incorporating both gallery and working spaces on both levels accessible from either below or above.  The views are magnificent and even though the weather has turned quite cold--their passion and energy (and high energy parents and home cooked meals) have all contributed to keeping us warm, well fed and filled with energy for the task at hand.  We finished the upper beam in spite of some tough site conditions and were overjoyed to have their wonderful excavators back fill the trenches and even hoist a few of the heaviest beams into place that we were otherwise struggling to carry up hill and wrestle into place onto the 7' kneewall....

Nathan and Becca cut all the rafters while I prepped the upper beam with her dad with layout, blocking, gussets and some diagonal framing to stabilize the upper level prior to the roof system....when it essentially becomes equivalent to a large sail ready to fly away in the high winds if not well anchored down--and this is a VERY windy hill as we discovered yesterday when our ladders not only blew over but flew out of the building.... the cold took its toll on us today--we have worked most days into the dark but today when the sun began to set we all looked at each other and agreed that going inside was the glorious thing to do. - George"

We returned to building Saturday morning . . . and in a snowstorm, we began to assemble and hoist rafters!  Despite the snow and cold, we had great success.

We are very happy potters!

Stay tuned - there is so much more to come . . . we can hardly stand it.

~Nathan and Becca

good morning

I had forgotten how much I love 'discovering' a new piece of pottery slowly over many mornings. Seeing it in new light, turning it over to find new fingerprints left from its maker, the sustained pleasure of determining which tea tastes best. I slow down a little. As a maker, it is so nice to be reminded of these simple joys. I imagine others, in sunny kitchens or home offices, slowly discovering the joy of something we have made.. . . .

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dreaming a little

The days following our biggest show of the year are ones of re-setting and attempting to ground ourselves in our life and our home.  Pushing to get the kiln finished and two large firings loaded and fired and packed up and the booth built and set up and the nine days of retail sales did amount to some fatigue.  I imagine it's something like trying to stop running after a long race . . . kind of hard to slow down mentally, even when the body is exhausted. ...

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second firing

We have begun to unload our second firing . . . . and although we haven't even seen the firing in its entirety (oh, how we've had to learn patience!), it could be said that the 'kiln gods' have smiled on us.  With just days to go before our biggest and best show of the year, we are overjoyed to find beauty after beauty emerging from within the still-warm brick walls.  We are feeling oh so very grateful!

lately

Lately we have been . . .

~enjoying the 'wilds' of summer in full swing . . . thick air, bright sun, and fresh veggies from our desperately weedy jungle of a garden and most especially our farm share (tomatoes were green- and fried!- last week, this week deep red, orange, yellow, pink and splitting with vine-ripeness . . . mmm)

~caught up in the intense and wonderful whirlwind of a four-day craft show in Maine, a 70-hour wood kiln firing, and an impromptu multi-generation + multi-family reunion on the farm

~getting our feet back on the ground after said whirlwind . . . taking a brief pause to catch our breath before the next big push

~feeling grateful for all of the positivity and encouragement coming our way, and so very thankful for the incredible support of our families and friends and random emails of kindness (we couldn't do this without you!)

We have also been . . .

~putting the finishing touches on as many pots as we could make in what amounted to a three-week period after unloading our first firing

~appreciating each others' craftsmanship (constantly surprised and amazed by what the other comes up with) and thinking we are just beginning to scratch the surface of all the things we hope to make!

~feeling the ups and downs of the summer studio we set up under the kiln shed (pro: great view, short and scenic commute, con: blowing wind and cracking fast-drying large pottery)

~honored by the presence of Becca's west-coast-dwelling brother Jeremy and his lovely lady Kate for help with our second firing (and hoping they love this kiln-glasses fashion shot as much as we do)

We are . . .

~thinking and hoping very much that the cooling kiln that awaits us just *might* be a good firing (all signs so far point to good changes since the first try . . . we flattened a lot more cones this time! translation: it got hotter in there!)

~knowing there will undoubtedly be many surprises, good and bad, when we finally get to peek at this second go-round next week

~glad to have tried a shorter and less consumptive (wood) firing

~readying for our biggest show of the year, a truly wonderful event, spanning nine days in August

~remembering how different the pace of life is in January ( . . . and maybe looking forward to it- just a little bit!)

We hope you are all enjoying a wonderful summer . . .

~Becca + Nathan

 

in our home

One of the best things about having 'fresh pottery' is seeing it in our home.  People are always remarking that we must have a great set of dishes . . . well, it's something akin to the old saying about the cobbler's children going unshod- yes, we have handmade dishes, but no, they don't match, and usually we got to keep them because there was some flaw or another.  We don't mind.  It certainly adds character to every meal!

On other occasions, a piece is waiting on the kitchen table to be shipped or go to a show - and I can't resist putting flowers or vegetables in it ever so briefly!  And every once in a while (i.e. very rarely), we just might decide to *keep* something especially beautiful for ourselves, just to remember where we've come from and what our best work was in that snapshot of time.  It is this quest for beauty- for the 'perfect pot' - that keeps us going and making and loving what we do.

~Becca

 

 

filling up and burning out

What a week it has been!  We began working last Tuesday with our friend Dave, another friend Dan, his skid steer, and a very large pile of granite rip-rap from the quarry up the road.  Our goal was to fill up the hemlock retaining walls we'd built around the kiln to hold the arch in place while our kiln expands and moves during firings and over time.  The work was heavy (isn't it always?!), but with three granite-chunk-placers and one very adept machine operator, the job went quickly.  By lunch time, we'd moved what felt like a small mountain in and around the kiln, and brought grade up on the surrounding ground as well.  (A huge shout-out to Dave, by the way, who when told we were going to be moving large rocks for several hours, said "Sounds like fun.  What time?"  Dave, you are truly awesome.)

The most exciting part of all this was that we were ready to burn out the wooden form on the kiln's interior!  OK, almost . . . we did build little brick culverts around the passive dampers in the flue, raised the retaining walls between the soda chamber and the chimney, and they filled them by hand.  By Friday, we were ready for burn-out.

Before we lit the first match, there was still a bit to do . . . stuff the kiln with newspaper, and brick up the doors.  We crawled in and around the plywood forms, stapling large clusters of crumpled paper to the arches and the lathe, and leaving little pieces of kindling every which way to wick up the flame for a complete burn.  We weren't entirely sure how the burning would go, and wondered if we'd be pulling charred chunks of wood out later.  Um, yeah, let's just say it didn't quite happen like that.

 

After bricking up the doors- hoorah for 3" thick reclaimed-from-our-NH-kiln bricks!- we were ready to light it up.  Or, as the case may be, I was ready to shed a few tears.  Tears of joy, apprehension, excitement, exhaustion, and so many other feelings swelled up and poured out after nearly three years of working towards this one goal.  We were about to have a finished wood kiln of our very own, built nearly entirely by our own two hands, all because we fell in love and had a dream.  (Cue the violin music . . . )

The fire started easily enough, dry newspaper catching quickly, and before long, light gray smoke was seeping out of every crack, but most especially out of the chimney, indicating good draw.  Yippee!  Soon, however, that light smoke turned to thick, black smoke chugging away with great force . . . and I was on the phone to the fire chief, the neighbors, anyone I could think of who would no-doubt be thinking that our house- or something very, very large- was burning down.  We even had some random passers-by pull down the lane to ensure everything was OK.  While Nathan tended to the kiln, I assured everyone that it was contained and safe, apologized for the smoke, and reassured folks it would never be quite this smokey again.  Which is true- as compared with our future firings, this was a far colder - only 500 degrees- and therefore dirtier fire with more combustible material smoldering burning than we will ever stoke into our kiln at one time.

When I returned to the kiln site, the form in the first chamber was GONE.  (Apparently, there would be no charred remains to be taking out with the saws-all!)  The second chamber collapsed soon after and disappeared quickly.  We sat in the front by the stoking doors, mesmerized by the flame as we watched it bring light to the shape of our new kiln.

During a typical firing, we will see mostly the front stack of shelves, posts, and pottery, so to be able to see the entire kiln filled with fire- straight back to the flues- was an unexpectedly delightful experience.

The next fire we build will start more slowly, but burn oh-so-much hotter . . . we hope to be reaching 2400 degrees two weeks from now, if all goes well!  Stay tuned.

~Becca

sunday in the studio

They say if you don't like the weather in Vermont, wait five minutes.  The day dawned with a quick ski around our snowy land (very important to exercise Lego the puppy before cooping him up in the studio for a bunch of hours!), and finished with a mud-boots-walk around bare, wet fields.  By afternoon, the snow had completely disappeared from all but the northern slopes.

I mention the weather because the gorgeously sunny 55 degrees outside forced me to summon an extra bit of willpower to stay inside and work . . .one of the bitter-sweet things about clay is that it won't wait around indefinitely for you; you have to tend to it when the time is right.  I had a few teapots, a couple small jars, and a board of mugs waiting for white slip and decoration.  It's work that I really enjoy doing, and add to that some great NPR programming, a fantastic new Red Molly album, and a cute four-legged side kick, and it was a pretty great way to round out the weekend.

handmade pottery



With fifty-plus-degree weather in the forecast for most of this week, we'll be shifting our focus out-of-doors to the last few weeks (??) of work on the new kiln! We're prepping for mudding/adobe/skin coat . . . call it what you will, but in any case, it'll be bye-bye brick work pretty soon. We'll keep you posted.

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