We take a kick wheel, 40 or 50kg of hand wedged clay, and some pots to Palmerston for the A and P show. We set up in a corner of a village hall, with wood turners demonstrating on one side of us and trestle tables of prize winning pots of jam on the other side. In the center of the hall competition flowers and vegetables stand to attention, some are bedecked with coloured ribbons or cards if they have won a prize. Children's art decorates the wall on the far side of the hall, and a display of photographs by the local photography club occupies a "Stonehenge" of metal stands. The wood turners also have a table of turned and carved work. There is a strong group of wood turners in Palmerston, and it is good to see a craft group that is flourishing.
The hall is fairly old, with a wooden floor, wooden walls, and wooden ceiling. Our surroundings are mostly brown. There is only limited natural light. It is not grand, not very exciting, but it is OK. In fact I quite like village halls, they have their own atmosphere; there is a sense of history about them, of half remembered past events, of village shows, dances, civic meetings, maybe even the odd wedding reception and wake.
Bowls, bowls, bowls......
I work on the wheel for the day, and throw more than 40 small bowls and a few goblets. Laura talks to people about our work, and deals with any sales. It is good to have her there. If I am honest, I really am "out of sorts", very tired, and probably need a few days to quietly rest (and still do....), so I am not at my most charismatic and cheerful. I do find I am able to relax and just concentrate on throwing simple forms, and this is actually therapeutic. Healing through work. Healing through repetition, and simplicity. When I start kicking away at the Leach-style wheel, I wonder if I will be able to continue for very long, but the day disappears with me making pots from about 9.30 in the morning until sometime after 3 in the afternoon without a break as such.
|Bowls, well... here I am making a goblet.|
Mostly I cone up a few kilograms of clay, then center a large door handle sized ball on top of the mass of clay. I make an opening with my thumbs, and the clay transforms quietly into a bowl with my fingers lightly thinning, compressing, and drawing the clay to its final size. One advantage of working from a hump of clay is that it lifts the bowl to a height that people can more easily see. The height of the clay also ensures that I sit more upright, rather than slouched over the wheel like a kiwi incubating an egg.
|If you look carefully, you may see two stilt walkers in the top center of this photo.|
And..., we're off... slowly....
We have rather a slow start, with sales totaling NZ$8 after the first couple of hours (that's US $6.67 at today's exchange rate). Mostly people are outside enjoying what is on show there. There are equestrian events, vintage tractors, stilt walkers, food stalls, all sorts of things for people to do and to see, and, frankly a hall with cut flowers, pots of jam, wood turning, and a balding fellow making small bowls out of sticky clay, probably doesn't have the same magnetism! As I treadle my wheel and squeeze and cajole clay, I do wonder if I have been foolish setting up our stall inside the hall.
Wood, noise and cold, cold steel...
Every so often one of the wood turners demonstrates on a lathe. The harsh rasping hiss of wood being shaved by sharp metal tools attracts little clusters of onlookers far more effectively than my rather quiet process. One moment the hall looks empty, and then there is this little gaggle of humanity gathered in a half circle, with the wood turner at his lathe before them like a High Priest sacrificing some unfortunate animal.
|A rare moment when the wood turners used foot power in stead of electricity.|
Barney Barton, a great encourager of other wood turners, at work on a pole lathe.
Mothers, children, and "hobbies"....
Occasionally people stop and look at what I am doing. Mothers with small children in tow, or in prams or strollers, sometimes watch and give a commentary to the child as to what the strange man is doing. One commentary goes rather like this... "See, that man is making a pot out of mud. Look it is turning on his wheel". (The child stares glassily at a point to the right of me, maybe he is starting to register that there is a table with pots of jam nearby.) "When the man has finished the pot, he will cook it in the oven". (The child begins to pull on his mother's hand.) "Making pots is that man's hobby".
The child drags its mother towards more succulent things, and I am left with the words "Making pots is that man's hobby", stirring in my mind as I center another mass of clay.
I am not sure if I like what I do being labeled a "hobby", but it does pay as badly. Probably worse. Maybe it is better for this young child to be brought up with the belief that pottery is only a hobby option, and not the thing that a person would do for a living, because, there really isn't much of a living in it..., well not around here anyway.
"Do you do sales..?"
I think we get another sale or two after midday, small things, and I am thankful to those who buy the work... heck it would be nice to at least cover our expenses for being at the show! I overhear someone asking Laura if we ever "do a sale"... , I am glad that the person is talking to her and I do not have to answer. Our prices at the show go from $8 love hearts, through $15 tiles, to $20 mugs, $25 bowls, with some items being $50 - $65, but..., surely we have something that is affordable for most people. I don't know how we can make prices lower.
In a quieter moment, I remove a layer or two of clay from my hands and eat a little lunch that Laura has made, then clamber back on my wheel again (has anyone ever told you that operating a Leach-style wheel is a bit like riding a camel, you are so high up on them).
Talking about our summer weather....
Later in the afternoon the lovely summer weather comes to our aid.., the wind gets up, there are occasional small spatters of rain, the grey clouds thicken and lower, and it becomes distinctly cold. Some stall holders outside call it a day. Close to the hall, a group of highland bagpipe players start up a lament, and wind battered people decide that having a look at something indoors might be preferable to a lingering death outside with mournful pipers to play them to the hereafter (That was naughty of me, I actually really like the sound of pipers playing, and we have some good ones locally).
Adding it all up.....
We make a few more sales as numbed fingers open purses. Just before we start to pack up, a young couple arrive at our stall and buy a rather nice NZ$65 (US$54) bowl that has only recently come out of the kiln. This is one that I nearly did not take to the show, as it was near the top of the price range that I thought might sell at the show, (and of course I failed to photograph it). This bowl was an experiment really, I tried layering several of the glazes that I have been testing recently. Some good things went on with lacy patterns forming as glazes boiled through one another in the firing, and I want to make more with this approach. With this sale our daily tally reaches NZ$190 (US$158), out of which has to be deducted hire of trade stall and trailer (take out another NZ$40 or so (US$33.40).... So, the day is not a great financial success, but definitely a lot better than it might have been.
There were a number of lessons to be learned, and I know that we could have sold more had we planned and prepared for the event more. We need to attend to the presentation of our stock, the selection of what we show, and find ways of making our whole stall stand out and invite people to take a look. We also need to think more about where we set up. When demonstrating I think that I should also throw some much larger, "dangerous", pots, and take more risk. Whilst I can't make as much noise as a wood turner, a spectacular failure or two might actually do more to draw a crowd than the sight of someone throwing small bowls. It is all about confidence, experience, and self-belief... or learning to fake such things!
Sorry that we did not manage to take many photographs of the show, I did not manage to get out and about at all once I got behind my wheel, and Laura only managed a very brief dash outside with the camera rather late in the day when the pipers were piping and the light was dreary.