Sunday, August 28, 2011

Waiting on Irene

When Chris went outside to secure the grill in case of heavy winds, the rain had quelled to a smattering of drops. Once he began the task, however, a torrential downpour stirred. Yes...I thought it was funny....and....I told him he could NOT come inside until I got a good picture for the blog!

Set of four tall tumblers.
An official Cobscook Pottery website is in the works, but in the meantime, I will continue to post a few items on Etsy.

Bouli thought that she should help with the photo shoot for the Etsy site.
The mug is sold "sans Bouli".

I guess it takes a storm to bring on a day of relaxation! Quiche, peanut butter cookies, blueberry muffins, and zucchini-carrot bread have been baked. The house is clean and smells like warm toasty cinnamon. It all feels pretty mellow and homey. Yesterday was quite a few hours of prep including cleaning out the barn so that the car could be put away safe. I think that Chris has gone into "survival mode". Yesterday he cooked and dehydrated a huge batch of "Sierra Pasta" which he proudly packaged and stored away in the freezer this morning.

The impending storm has been the impetus to get a few things done around here. I even got into the garden to pluck the ripened goodies which are now washed and drying on the kitchen counter. If the storm hits, we have good food. If it doesn't, we still have good food! The cats are hunkering down with us, null in the begging department for outdoor activity. So far, we have had torrential downpours and thunder much of the late morning into early afternoon, but the "tropical storm" is not expected to hit until later this evening. Talk about a dramatic re-entry into the school year!

This past week felt most like vacation than any other week this past summer. Like most teachers, I have a summer job that keeps me preoccupied. The shop has been busy with customers visiting from all reaches of the country, Canada, and even Europe. Between tending shop and pottery production, I was hoppin', but this past week was a bit of an exhale as we had the blueberry festival vending behind us and we had slotted in some enjoyable activities. After a day of Chris and I basically sitting around in a comatose state from exhaustion, we recuperated enough to visit Geer and Pat for homemade waffles (I admit it, we beg them for these waffles every year!). It's always good to catch-up and participate in lively conversation. After our stomach-bulging brunch, Chris and I headed into Machias for a kayak excursion. There is a stream that we hadn't tried in a couple years so we gave that a whirl. It proved to be quite enjoyable and perhaps is now on my list of top fave kayak locations. We ventured off on an inlet and came upon a clay bed which was fascinating. There were plenty of tiny fish, and a few larger ones jumping, as well as a frog or two near the waterlilies. The dragonflies were flitting about and the geese, though slightly annoyed by us, didn't budge much at all as we floated by. We even saw a beaver slink down into the water and found plenty of smaller trees that had succumbed to its teeth-carving carpentry.

I spent the middle of the week cleaning the pottery cave (as much as it can be cleaned!) and then set-up the photo tent to get images of recent pottery work. My hope is that an official Cobscook Pottery website will be up and running this fall, but decided that in the meantime I would upload a few items to my Etsy site which has been void of pottery for some months now. I might try to snap a few more shots of work this week to upload, though I suspect I will have my hands full with setting up my classroom and welcoming students back.

My job teaching job changes dramatically this year. I will return to school as a half-time art teacher. This is a huge change for me as I have been teaching full-time for the past fourteen years. I am embracing the extra time to dive into my sculptural work and to grow the pottery business. I spent a lot of time this summer working out the details and game plan of how to proceed forward in my life as an artist. There is no time like the present to go after your dreams!

I hope that all my readers on the east coast have fared well and safe throughout the storm. And for those still awaiting Irene's arrival....take care!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Vending, Food, and Firing

Honey Pots: $30 with dipper or
$34.50 with dipper and 8 oz. of fresh Lubec Bee Honey

Honey pots have been fired and are sold with the first batch of honey from the Lubec bees that swarmed our house back in June. This honey tastes amazing! Peter Cowin of Hampden is the Bee Whisperer who saved the bees and now oversees their honey production.

Chris and I vended the Machias Wild Blueberry Festival this past weekend.

Linda attempts to cut this extraordinary pie that she baked- heartily filled with crab apple, blueberry, rhubarb, and....ZUCCHINI!!!
In photo:
Rabbi Linda Motzkin, Ruhi Sophia Rubenstein, Shanna Wheelock, and Chris Crittenden.
Photo taken by Jonathan Rubenstein.

Beautiful bread by master baker Rabbi Jonathan Rubenstein.
Slice of Heaven Breads

New glaze pattern "mossy Forest"

Fresh out of the kiln....

Pottery on shelves in our Cobscook Pottery and Fiber Arts shop.

Stunning new turquoise necklace for sale in our shop,
handmade by my sister Kristin Wheelock, The Indigo Iris.

Though it has only been a few days, it feels like weeks have passed since my last blog entry when dealing with the intricacies of computerized kiln firing methods. With new elements and relays replaced (thanks to my dad and Chris!) the kiln is firing hotter than ever, which now presents its own set of issues. It is like working with new glazes again, and I have resorted to using cones and peepholes to gauge temperature. I thought those days were behind me! The next few firings will be test firings and I won't risk my best wares. Until I have a good grasp of what to expect (if such a thing is possible in pottery!) I will be holding off on new work for a few weeks. Well, the glazing component anyway. I am itching to get back at the wheel. The glazing for the past two weeks was tedious work, but working with form calls to me.

This past weekend was my re-entry into festival vending. I kinda laugh at myself for calling my sister while at the festival to say to her that "now I remember why I gave up vending years ago." It is exhausting work! We were told to be unloaded and have car moved from area by 7:00 a.m. This early arrival was met with energetic resistance post sleep-deprivation after a previous day of packing ware and loading tent and display units on car racks. Not to mention, we were already zombie-like from late night firings, travel, and kiln issues. The first day of the two-day Machias Blueberry Festival was hot, humid, and hectic. At the end of the day, wares had to be packed and loaded, only to be returned the next morning at 7:30 a.m. for day two. Though tired, I enjoyed day two much more. Having the display figured out, and somewhat the quirky knucklebuster Visa machine, I was a wee bit more relaxed and got to enjoy conversations with other vendors. Chris and I were glad, however, when 3:00 rolled around and we could pack up and head home.

Day two of the festival was also Chris' birthday. I know I know. It was torture to have to work on his birthday, but the day ended on a celebratory note with a magical-misty hike in the fog at West Quoddy, followed by a garden fresh pasta dinner complete with gifts and homemade cake. Needless to say, we are both drained to the max today and moving a bit more at a turtle's pace.

In the midst of festival preparation and kiln quirks, we enjoyed an amazing evening with friends. Rabbis Jonathan Rubenstein and Linda Motzkin of Saratoga Springs, New York, have been visiting Lubec for many years more than we have lived here. The past few years they have stopped by the shop to say hello, and this year we were the beneficiaries of a delicious meal at their cottage overlooking the bay. Not only was the food delicious, but the entire evening was a meaningful exchange of philosophies and cultures. Linda is one of only a handful of women scribes in the world, translating ancient texts, and Jonathan is a master baker for the Slice of Heaven Bakery. Together they are "Bread and Torah". They are co-Rabbis for Temple Sinai in Saratoga Springs, and their daughter Ruhi is following in their footsteps, planning to become a Rabbi as well. As you can see by the photos above, we were well-fed that evening with homemade bread, pie, and delicious ginger-sesame tofu with veggies. What a treat!

All else is status quo here. The garden is starting to produce ripened sun gold tomatoes in good quantity. It's more like a tomato jungle than a garden plot, though. Next year I will know that the plants must be spread a bit further apart. Presently, I have to tip toe throughout the wandering stalks and shoots delicately so as not to crush too many fruits. Tonight I plan to cook a special meal in honor of Chris' birthday and will pluck fresh green beans to accompany the main dish.

Bouli is getting big! She is almost five months old now and still torments elder Bello. But Bello is making small steps in reclaiming his space in the house. I have high hopes that all will get along fine before long.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Making A Production Out of It

The weather in Lubec has been
gorgeous these past couple days with blue skies and lots of warmth.
Perfect for quick-drying pots outside!
(Honey pots, boulibase bowls, and tumblers)

Honey Pots ready to be trimmed and fired.

Me working on a vase.
I admit it, I am lacking any sense of fashion with those pink wool socks and yoga pants.
No, that's not grey hair.
It's clay.

I uploaded photos nearly two weeks ago and intended to blog, but time just got away from me. I have been in heavy production for the past month in preparation for the Machias Blueberry Festival next weekend, but ran into some snags when I started the rounds of glaze firing. Last Wednesday morning the cone 6 glaze firing was on it's 15th hour of firing, far too slow, and clocking in at 3:30 a.m. With less than 100 degrees to go before completion, the kiln had an Err1. This happened during the last firing that I did back in June, too, but I was able to restart the kiln and finish the firing. I thought it was a fluke. This time, I attempted to restart four times over and after 24 hours of monitoring the kiln, I realized that it just wasn't going to happen.

That morning, between the kiln and other events, I was on the phone ten times. The next day, almost as many. Problem-solving mode kicked into high gear. New elements were on their way UPS but did not arrive on Friday as expected. Mind you, I had a firing schedule lined up that included two bisque fires and four glaze within one week: a strenuous schedule to begin with. I did receive one relay in the mail, but after speaking with Skutt tech support, one technician said it was not the elements, but the relays (he thought). Of course, the second technician said it was the elements. Had to be. I had one relay from Portland Pottery, but Skutt said I needed to replace all three. (Head spinning, three people, three different solutions). So, elements arrive tomorrow, and by Tuesday I will have the additional two relays in hand - and Chris and I will repair the kiln. In my twenty plus years of potting, I have never done this. Baptism by fire, so to say.

Once the parts are replaced, an empty firing will have to be done to "season the elements". Each firing cycle is about 24 hours (or should be!) between the firing and the cooling. So, after loading parts, will do the empty firing then two glaze loads, which takes me up to Friday when all must be packed and ready to ship. On the bright side, I will have plenty of pottery ready and waiting to be fired for the Two Countries One Bay Artist Studio Tour in September.

I had been right out straight nonstop glazing and throwing the final pieces. When the kiln issue popped up, it changed the itinerary quite a bit. I did a bit more throwing and was able to do a bisque load yesterday since there is no problem getting to cone 04. The kiln even fired in a reasonable time frame.

Yesterday I built a display unit for the festival. It was the christening of my new jigsaw, and I must say, the unit came out pretty good! I got the idea from my artist friend Becky of Dirt Girl Pottery who has been vending her wares for years. I needed a display that could be easily transported and fold up to fit in our tiny economy car. It will probably end up on the roof rack along with the tent, but most importantly, it is something that I can easily lift and assemble myself if need be.

Much of the past two weeks is a blur at this point. I woke this morning at at 3:00 a.m. and am trying to get organized and prepare for the week ahead. Chris and I did enjoy a beautiful meal at our friend Barbara's home a few nights ago. I have complete garden envy. I have been thinking how grand our garden is doing this year, then I saw Barbara's. Wow! We now have something to aspire to. Though, we don;t foresee ourselves launching into the floral/perennial planting - maintenance looks beyond our time restraints. But, we did get some new ideas for the veggies next year. Farmers Shanna and Chris have quite a ways to go!

Bouli and Bello are managing to cohabit with a modicum of civility. Bello still has his limits to how much he will allow his tail to be chased and bit before he growls, but he is making progress toward reclaiming his space and authority. Bouli. Well, she just is the same ol' Bouli. Cute as button and free-spirited. About five pounds now, too!

I think I will get-in an early shower and unload the kiln. I was a bit daring this last load. I three a few pieces, sundried them, and bisque-fired same day. I am curious (hoping!) that the wares made it through safely.

Everyone put out some good vibes for me, if you will, that we get that kiln up and running in good order and that the glaze firings go through beautifully. Much appreciated!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Back to Routines at the Homestead

Ceramic, encaustic, acrylic. metal, wood
Shanna Wheelock, 2011
(photograph by Leslie Bowman)

The American Craft magazine article about my work should be on newstands soon!
(August/September 2011 issue)
to preview the article go to:
"Remote Revival"

Playing around with encaustics the past couple days, I decided to make another pomegranate.
The smooth texture and color is luscious!

This sci-fi looking contraption by John McMurray is a vent!

Honey Pot
(not yet trimmed or fired, fresh off the wheel!)

Big bowl drying on a bat affixed to the wheel.
It's a workout for my arms to center such a big lump of clay.

Bello LOVES garden time.

Bello guarding the bean pole beans.

Bouli playing inside the factory sculpture.
I had been wondering why all the furniture was tipped-over on floors one and three.
Now I know.

It's a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Lubec. The sun is shining, birds singing, sky blue, temps warm. I rose early the past two days and accomplished throwing tasks well before noon, and that left me with time to play with wax and do a few "chores" for the shop. It feels good to have a somewhat uninterrupted week ahead to get things done. Production has been a bit behind this summer for various reasons: bees, globe sculpture, travel, but overall, summer has been productive and pleasurable. I am going to put a request in to the weather goddess for an extension - maybe an extra month or two of summer if that could be arranged? Please and thank you.

The shop is looking a bit sparse of late, but that translates as good because it means that I have had good sales. I've been throwing lots of new work but the drying time is slow: up to three weeks. I finally managed a bisque fire on Thursday and am at this moment firing a second load. I plan to glaze mid week and am looking forward to restocking shelves next weekend. Inspired by the bees, I have begun to make honey pots. The final shape is an unknown until they are trimmed, but so far, I like them. The little lids are adorable!

The past few days entailed a routine of early waking (about 4:oo or 5:00 a.m.), pottery production in "the cave", then time tending to the shop, office details, and encaustic painting. We've enjoyed the company of friends from Cape Breton and Blue Hill. Also, John McMurray, our Lubec Arts Alive sculpture expert who also is quite the engineer, stopped by with a cool new sci-fi looking contraption that will act as a vent for the pottery studio. Air quality will be much better for our lungs! Thanks, John!

All else is going well on the homefront. Bouli is growing and becoming quite demanding. Yes, she seems to rule the roost here. Bello is making slow progress toward reclaiming his space on the feline totem pole but prefers to send most of his time with the beanpoles in the garden. Compared to last summer, the garden looks fantastic! I hear other folks in more southernly areas brag about their bounty of fresh tomatoes and squash, but we have only had a few peas, three cherry tomatoes, swiss chard, and herbs to pluck. Lubec climate is a bit cooler and this is probably why things are behind. I am hoping we can harvest plenty for canning and dehydrating before snow hits!!!! All else fails, we always have the apple trees.

I have a full schedule planned for this week - appointments, shop, production, and supply ordering. I can't believe that it is already August. The Machias Wild Blueberry Festival is in three weeks and I am going to try my hand at vending once again. It's been years. The time leading up to the festival will be nonstop busy in the studio, as well as the time following. Soon I will be back to teaching and taking classes at Heartwood. Each month through November has pottery events slated. Reality is sinking in...I best finish-up this blog and get to work!