The Mission: to explore, create and inspire!

thePatientPotter is a blog that is designed to encourage and inspire fellow Potters and Entrepreneurs as it takes them through the challenges and triumphs of a 'potter on a mission'.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Book Review - Dirt for Making Things

Dirt for Making Things: An Apprenticeship in Maricopa Pottery
As told to Janet Stoeppelmann by Mary Fernald
Publisher: Northland Publishing
ISBN: 0-87358-599-2
Price: $14.95

This is my favorite pottery book right now. I've read it 3 times - it is a quick read, and each time I pick it up to read something I am inspired to pinch some pots; to sit back, relax and create a pot with my hands. I highly recommend this book to potters interested in processing their native clay, and hand-building as well as collectors interested in Maricopa pottery and their history.

Theme: This book centers around the Maricopa Indian Potters and their processes for making clay and pottery. The intent of the author was to document the processes that she learned while apprenticing with the Maricopa for future reference should their processes die out.

Character: You get to know Ida Redbird and her cousin Mary Juan, two of the original potters from the 1937-1940 revival period, and Elizabeth Hart who helped them and 18 other Maricopa potters start the Maricopa Pottery Cooperative. You meet Mabel Sunn and her daughter Barbara Johnson, potters who taught the author Maricopa processes.

Content: Full of black & white photos of potters making clay, potters making pottery, potters firing pots and the potters themselves. Full color photos of early and revival period pottery. Illustrated Maricopa designs. And detailed instructions of Maricopa pottery processes.

Writing Style: This book is written in a very personable manner and is only 98 pages (including index). Light reading that packs a powerful punch.

All in all this is a great little book for your pottery library and in my opinion, worth every penny.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

It Exploded! What do I do now?!?

Yesterday my kiln exploded, died, bit the dust, use whatever descriptive word you want, just make it catastrophic. I like exploded because that’s how it felt.

My kiln didn’t actually explode, but the devastation I saw upon opening the lid hit me like a ton of bricks. Like an explosion.

One of the greatest joys a potter can have is the opening of a kiln after a good fire. It’s like Christmas morning, only better.

Not this time.

This time my kiln wasn’t full of pretty pottery but was empty running a test fire. It was not firing properly and after months of troubleshooting, patching and installing new elements - several times, my kiln was finally running its first test fire. Woo Hoo!

The empty kiln, all patched up with shiny new parts, was going to be the revival of my studio. Coming back to life after 3 years in a coma state. It was going to start living again. I was going to start creating again. 3 years I have waited patiently.

Now what.

My kiln is dead. The automatic shut-off did not work. It way over-fired. It destroyed itself.

Kind of like me 3 years ago when I tore the tendons in both elbows creating pottery. Repeating a process over and over again without rest, until I broke.

I cried yesterday. Soul searching tears. Like a moth to a flame I kept walking back to the garage to take another look. It was true. Still dead. Writing this down today is helping me sort through the questions my mind is relentlessly asking.

Is this karma for not going to church yesterday? Is this a sign I should not go back into pottery? If so then why do I have such passion for it? Does it mean I need to go in another direction with my pottery? Do I save up and buy a new kiln? Do I try and repair this one? What does this mean? Where do I go from here????

Any suggestions?

Photo above by Michelle Rivera

Sunday, July 3, 2011

So How do you Clean Native Clay Anyway?

This is a question I get asked a lot.

Let me show you the process I use and then at the end of this post I will include a link to someone else's process. The two different processes should give you a good idea of what needs to be done.

This is what my native clay looks like fresh off the pile my husband made. Besides your normal pebbles, sand, and impurities, I have crabgrass, bugs and anything else that might find itself on top of a pile of dirt outside.

So What is the Process for Cleaning this Mess?
The first thing I do is dry the clay completely. I have two methods for doing this: Either I spread a wagon-full directly onto my garage floor where the cement will soak up the moisture as it sits underneath my car
or, I keep it parked in the wagon I loaded up for a week or so, breaking up large clumps into smaller clumps as it dries, pulling out the weeds and large pieces of whatever.
I want to end up with a 5 gallon bucket half full of dried clay that looks like this

In another 5 gallon bucket I fill it half full with water and slowly pour the first bucket of dried clay into the second bucket of water. I do not stir the two together but instead let it settle on its own to slake for a few days.

This is what the mixture will end up looking like; silky, sandy, pebbly, muddy, beautiful, slimy clay. Sometimes this mixture can stink if it has a lot of organic material in it. Even though the organic material will burn out in the kiln, you don’t want too much of it in your clay.

Next, I take the first 5 gallon bucket, which is empty now, and put a 80 mesh sieve which is designed to sit on top of a 5 gallon bucket, then scoop in enough slaked clay to fill the screen about ¼ of the way. I fill up a smaller, regular bucket with clean water and set that next to this bucket. I grab a seat and settle in for some soul-searching cleaning time.

Add clean water to the slaked clay and take a rib and scrape the sand from the top of the screen back and forth, so the clay can be washed through the screen. Back and forth, back and forth adding clean water as it flows through the screen. Keep adding clean water until you think all of the clay has been washed out.

This is what I have left in my sieve when I am done washing. Sand, pebbles and debri. This I set aside to be used as grog on hand-built projects (I'll post about this later).

Let the washed clay set for several days so that the clay settles and the water becomes clear on top. Then pour that water back into the small bucket to be used next time. Pour off this water slowly so as not to disturb the settled clay.

Stir up your clean clay and then pour into some plaster bats.The bats will remove the excess water and leave you with wonderful native clay.

The bats will remove the excess water and leave you with wonderful native clay.

The only item I needed to purchase to wash my clay was the sieve. I had tried the window screen as others have mentioned but did not like using it. The screen I used also let too much sand pass through. I have a lot of sand in my clay so I spent some time researching trying to figure out what size mesh I should use to get the right amount of sand removal. I finally decided to try 3 sizes; 60, 80 and 100 mesh. The eighty works well for my needs.

That's it. That's my process. I have each phase of this process going at any given time so that I always have clay available when I need it. Now here is the link to the other process that I promised you. Have fun!

If you have a different process for cleaning your native clay, mind sharing?