May 7, 2015

From Feline to Canine

Despite my work on illustrations of cats, or perhaps in an odd way on account of these illustrations, I have attracted the attention of dog writers. No, I don’t mean dogs who write, but rather people who have been writing odes and stories to or about dogs. It could mean a job making illustrations of dogs. One can only make a bid and leave the rest up to fate and willing clients.

In my last pit firing I included a small group of figurines that were distinctly canine in nature so perhaps these were a harbinger of things to come. Most of them were purely fanciful and imaginary but one, the terrier form in the foreground of the photograph above, was based upon a friend’s Bouvier terriers. I liked their shapes.  They seemed to made up of a series of squares and rectangles. All of these dogs, save one, were made from burnished local South Carolina Midlands clay. I preserved the natural purples and reds of these clays.

The exception to this group was the small figure in cobalt blue. He was made with local Maryland clay and salt fired in a wood firing kiln.  I retained her as a reminder about how to pace activities. I created her in a class I took a number of years ago in Maryland. The instructor was a young, gifted artist who was a treasure trove of knowledge about local salt fired cobalt glazed pottery but who was new to teaching. The course was ambitious - perhaps too ambitious for the time allotment of just one week. We would have to make pottery, dry it, bisque fire it, then burn it all night in a wood firing kiln. I would not have attempted to teach such a course in five days. A seasoned instructor would know that the time crunch would mean that students would have to create their pots the first day, dry them the second, fire them the third, and salt fire them the fourth day, open the kiln the fifth. 

The newly minted instructor perhaps had not anticipated the tight schedule, as we spent the first day playing "get to know you" games and learning the history of salt firing in the northeast. Then we played "get to know the clay" games as the instructor passed around a minuscule bit of clay for us to play with. When the fragment got to me I decided that I would conscript it into my service and made a tiny dog out of it. I was allowed to keep it. I knew that it would be dry by the next day. Another student potter with a keen sense of self preservation that matched my own and I snuck back in to the studio that evening and made a few more things. They were the only things to survive the bisque firing as moist clay vessels made the second day by the rest of the class, sadly, exploded in the kiln. Duty bound, the men teaching the course put these fragments in to the wood kiln along with my intact little dog and kept the kiln burning all night long. A lot of work for a two inch dog, a whistle, a pot and an ocarina. It was awkward to say the least.
 I sometimes look back on this event and wonder if I should have stepped up and encouraged the new teacher to have his students make their vessels on day one.  But I was a painter and not a potter and wasn't completely certain that the work could not have been completed in four days instead of five.

I do hope that the potter was hired back again in subsequent years and given another chance, most certainly having figured out how to pace the pottery making.  I keep the little blue dog to remind myself about budgeting time.

No comments: