lately

(You may have noticed we've been a little absent here.  Because, well, toddlers + home renovation + running a business. No matter. We have missed you, and where better to start than the present? :) )  

Lately, we have been . . .

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Making . . . yes, pottery! It might sound obvious, and I'm sure most people think we do this every day of the year (that would be so nice, eventually, we hope!) but pottery making has been the major thing missing from our working lives because we are also . . .

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Renovating.  We spent the bulk of the winter months purging and packing the entire contents of our 1850's farmhouse in preparation for completely gutting the upstairs.  It's a huge project, brought on by the need for a little thing called insulation, and we find ourselves banging nails, running wires, and coordinating all the contractors and pieces and decisions at the same time as we try to prepare 800 pots for a firing.  I assure you, this was most definitely not the plan.  The renovation was supposed to happen in our "off season."

But there you have it, and so it goes . . . fortunately, we are comfortably camping out in the 600 square feet above our studio space, so we're not feeling too rushed to get the project done on a deadline (right now, anyway, check back with me at the end of the summer ;) ).  For now, not feeling too rushed plus not actually living in the mess, helps tremendously.

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Taking a deep breath.  Apparently winter ended last week, and now it's summer.  Popping leaves, birds, green growing grass, daffodils, warm sun, mixing glazes outdoors.  We'll take it.

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Prepping.  For our big firing of the year at the very end of June/beginning of July. We are so grateful for the energetic crew of potters and volunteers who help us with the four days of the firing itself, and all the tasks that go into being ready.

We had a really fun and productive work day a couple of weeks ago, where we stacked the holes in the kiln shed full of freshly cut slab wood, and started in on grinding and cleaning the kiln shelves.  We ate good food and laughed a lot.  It was the BEST of reminders of why we became wood-fired potters in the first place.  We can't do it all ourselves.  Exactly.

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(Thank you Matt, Harrison, Jill, Lexi, Patty, and David!)

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Lately, we are also . . .

Testing.  For Christmas, Nathan and I bought ourselves a new electric kiln. (Practical and romantic! ;) ) For various reasons since we met (as potters in separate states) it's been seven years of driving various fragile pieces to fire in other peoples kilns. (We can't thank you enough Tiffany, Stephanie, and Joan!) However, we decided we'd like to move on, and that we were ready to have everything we needed right here.

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Although most of our pottery is single-fired in it's raw state in the wood kiln, the small electric kiln will allow us to bisque fire a few pieces for the wood kiln that are better glazed when not leather hard, which is how we typically slip/glaze our work.

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Additionally, and most excitingly (that's a word?), we'll use the kiln the fire small batches of finished work - remember the silky white glaze with designs?!  It's actually quite nice, if I do say so myself, and the good news is that the preliminary results were really good.  We'll be able to finish small batches of work in between our every six-months-to-a-year wood-firings.  Hooray.

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Enjoying.  Playing in the sand in the driveway, digging in the garden, splashing in water and moving rocks and feeding chickens and . . . oh we're having so much fun with our little one.  She's 1.5 years (wait, what?!) and so talkative, funny, happy, strong-minded, and loving.

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We are tired (ahem) at the end of every day, and yet sooo ready to scoop her up again come morning.

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Readying. For VT Open Studio, this coming Memorial Day Weekend.  Our studio - and over 200 others around the state will be open Saturday May 23rd and Sunday May 24th from 10am to 5pm.  We love this event.  (Can we top last year?!)

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Join us for the Tour in our area, there's lots to see!  downloadable and printed map request here

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You guys, we hope it won't be so long before we check back in.  Stay with us. :)

Fondly,

Becca (and Nathan)

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

 

first firing

Two years, eleven months, and sixteen days after breaking ground on our two-chamber climbing kiln, we lit the first fire.  Stacked with over 700 pieces of mostly raw and unfired pottery on 121 kiln shelves, we were ready to see how our creation actually worked!

The first couple of days of the firing were fairly quiet.  We burned hemlock and a hard wood mix fairly slowly, starting in the four-foot long opening at the bottom of the kiln, and gaining just 25 degrees per hour, or 150 degrees per shift.  Nathan and I split up the days by taking six hours on and six hours off, so one of us was always at the kiln, taking good notes and taking it all in.  (The other was trying to get a bit of sleep! 12-6, 6-12, 12-6, 6-12, you get the idea.)

The kiln was really responsive and fairly easy to control at this stage . . . we were learning each other, and enjoying ourselves.  Friends brought dinner, and good company, even homegrown strawberries and fresh milk for coffee.  (Thank you Becky, Chelsea, Dave, Sarah, Bob, and Sarah!)

We were really pleased with our firebox design, which is a sort of stepped down staircase filled with air channels for efficient burn.  The four-foot lengths are stoked first through the opening in the bottom of the kiln, and eventually through the doors on top, alternating, and stoking wood every 5-10 minutes.  The slab of wood sits on the 'stairs' and burns all along its length.  Below is a photo of the inside of the firebox taken before we loaded the kiln.

We burned a lot of wood.  One of the biggest learning experiences during the firing was that our chimney is SUPER powered.  (As in, a very big opening.)  It drew a lot of the heat across the bottom of the kiln and out the stack, causing us to consume more wood than we hope to in the future.  (We'll close up the flues a bit more with bricks, so it doesn't pull quite as hard!)  We estimate that we burned about 5 cord of scrap hemlock and pine slabs, and 1 cord of hardwoods.  Thank goodness for our wonderful friends who stopped by nearly every day to help us move wood up to the kiln front for us; we were so glad we had TONS of wood on hand and at the ready.  (Thank you Grace, Matt, Chelsea, Dave, and Charlotte!)

Side stoking (putting wood into the sides of the chambers in addition to, and then instead of the front) began in earnest in the wee hours of the fourth day.  At that point, the pyrometer (basically a high-temp thermometer) we had salvaged had ceased to give us a reading (it only went to 1,999!) so we were firing solely using cones and blowholes (pictured above) as indicators of heat and internal atmosphere.

By hour 90 or so (the morning of the fourth day), we had reached cone 12 in the front of the kiln, and needed to stop stoking there, and move onto solely the side stoking ports in the back of the first chamber, and in the soda chamber.  The narrow gauge dry wood ignited on contact.

Thankfully, we had great help at this point.  Our friends Kaitlyn, Sarah, and Matt (all potters!) showed up with food and most importantly, fresh energy.  At this stage, we were both running on very little sleep, but nonetheless feeling energized and excited by all that was going on. (Thank you, adrenaline.)  If the rest of the firing were a slow jog, these last few hours were a flat-out sprint.  We moved quickly to get the soda chamber infused with soda (soda ash mixed with some whiting and borax, made into a paste, and stoked into the kiln on boards), and to raise the temperature evenly throughout.

We checked cones and pulled draw rings, and were pretty happy with what we saw.  We would have liked it hotter in some places, and cooler in others, but that's wood-firing!  (Especially the FIRST wood-firing.)  By eleven-fifteen that morning, after 94 hours of firing, we were ready to shut it down.  All the plugs went back in, the damper was closed, and we did a wee bit of collapsing celebrating.  It's safe to say that regardless of the results, this first firing was a huge success in many ways.  We are grateful for the experience . . . and hoping and waiting for at least a few (?!?) nice pots.

We did it!

 

P.S. Cooling takes an entire week.  Stay tuned.  We can hardly wait.

 

 

 

 

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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

Two steps forward, three steps back, lots more steps forward!

Sometimes progress must be measured in more than just forward steps.  Kiln building over the last couple of weeks has demanded that we measure progress in backward, sideways, and diagonal steps, too.  It all gets us down the path, just maybe not as quickly as we thought.  As it turns out, carpentry with curves is fairly tricky stuff, but we've finally got it all figured out.  (We think!)  Here are some photos from our recent escapades under the big shed in the field. wood kiln buildingNathan removing arch forms from the flues between our main chamber and the soda chamber.

We used a high heat castable to cap off the flue arches. Here's our casting in progress!

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We love this photo- doesn't it look like some kind of temple?! We finished the flues between the chambers, and repeated them at the back of the soda chamber, where the kiln will begin to taper into the chimney. The openings are just a touch wider at the outsides to try to discourage "center pull" of the flame and create a more even firing.

We used a chain to determine the strongest possible arch- a catenary- for most of our wooden forms. This one is for the soda chamber, the nearly complete form shown in place below.

With the help of our shed lights, we worked late into the evening one night to complete the final skeleton shape of our main chamber! Pretty exciting to see it after all of the drawings and all of the dreams. Next step: lath.

Family traveled from Maine, New York, and San Francisco to strap lath on this kiln of ours, with our crew ranging in age from 26 to 87!



The kiln forms- particle board arches, lath, supports, all of it- will be burned out once the last brick is in place and the shape is self-supporting.

Entertaining the puppy is among the most important of the jobs! (Thanks, Ma.)

Mmm, Happy Spring.  More photos coming soon!

Why We Plan To Wood-Fire Our Pottery

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Nathan and I both love to wood-fire our pottery.  When we met, we'd each "logged" many hundreds of hours stoking hot kilns, and were both dreaming of some day having our own.  And so we embarked on this wood-kiln-building journey, which looks now as if it will span a fairly large portion of the first three years of our lives together!  

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We had the land, and we had the dream, and slowly but surely, things began coming together with serendipity- it made us feel like we were on the right track!  Just two weeks after we got engaged, five pallets of brand-new super-duty firebrick and a whole mess of free insulating bricks came our way for very few dollars.  A year later, our families and friends gathered to help us raise the 30' x 40' shed over our kiln site on a warm November day.   A year has passed since then, and we've amassed thousands of bricks, countless other materials and tools, and water and power at the kiln site.  We've built a well-drained foundation, and are well under way building the floor and firebox of the kiln.

These are big accomplishments, and yet the amount of work still to be done can, at times, overwhelm me.  (Especially with the impending winter and next years' show applications going out!)   I have been tested by the physical and mental strength this project requires of me, by the countless details to be foreseen- like sub-floor air channels and buried steel bracing- and daunted by the number of tasks to be completed that I know very little to nothing about at present. (Fortunately, Nathan knows a lot!!) In the meantime, I take comfort in photos and memories of wood-firings past for re-assurance, guidance, and encouragement.  I think about my favorite wood-fired mugs, or the juicy stoneware bowls that got covered in a heavy coat of wood-ash, and melted to create a gorgeous glazed surface.  It is motivating!

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Also motivating are the reasons Nathan and I believe in wood fired pottery.  We get excited thinking about how the wood burned in the kiln will provide our pottery with a natural glaze: we leave much of the decorating to the fire and flame!  We love that it is an ancient process, that for thousands of years, humans have been lighting a fire inside an arch of bricks to harden water jars and bowls that will sustain and enhance human life.  And most of all, we can feel good about fueling our kiln with a local, renewable, and plentiful resource; we'll be getting bundled slab wood from the local saw mills.  It's already scrap product, off-cuts from locally-milled and harvested lumber.  There's a lot to be done, and a lot to look forward to! ~Becca

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The Potters' Open House

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On the eve of our Open Studio this 2010 Columbus Day weekend, I wanted to share a few images and thoughts for those who can't make it to central Vermont to visit us in person.  I have always loved potters' open studio events  . . . the common elements seem to be a newly-fired kiln of fresh pottery (often times unloaded while it is still hot!), homemade baked goods (my favorite recipes are those shared between other potters), freshly cut flowers in handmade vases, a postcard to friends and followers, and some painted sandwich board signs.  (This particular open studio also happens to involve pumpkins, apple cider, and 'mums!)  I like to think of all of the potters and artists who are hosting open studios this weekend, all of the new people we will meet, the old friends that will be greeted, and all of the dirt roads that will be traveled to find these artistic hideaways . . . have a wonderful weekend!   ~Becca

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pottery studio open house

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