Friday, November 16, 2012

An Angel At My Table

Maintaining an element of surprise is essential to a happy life, I am certain of this.  Imagine a world where all days are the same, and you will see what I mean.  Much of the pleasure of childhood is contained in the not knowing what happens next.  As an adult it is possible to slip into a routine where life is too ordered, and too much is known, and the precious childlike sense of fun becomes calloused and hardened like a walnut shell.

Commissions can break routine and bring the unexpected into the studio.  Recently a young man asked me if I could make him an Angel as a gift for a special friend.  This made quite a change from coffee mugs and bowls.  It did take me a while to make a start on the commission, and when I finally did pick up some clay and start to explore the form of an angel, it became a process that was so interesting that I made four of them!

The angels are hollow and are between 6 and 8 inches high (150 - 200mm).  All were made in much the same way.  I began by rolling out a small slab of clay, then forming it into a cone shape, with a wide base and narrow top.  After some basic shaping of this, I added shoulders and the head out of a separate lumps of clay, then added wings, arms and hands.

Some of my angels became male and others female.  I did not get too preoccupied with anatomy or theology, but wanted to rely more on my feeling of what was right.  I also wanted some of the "clayiness" of clay to be part of the work and not too disguised. 

All the angels have got through their drying and bisque firing OK, so now I have the job of glazing them still to do.  I enjoyed making the angels, the process took me back to my childhood, where I spent many hours making things out of plasticine. 

Although the faces are very small, much smaller than this photograph, each one has its own unique character.

My title for this post, "An Angel At My Table", was borrowed from Janet Frame, a New Zealand author, who wrote a series of auto-biographies, "To the Is-land", "An Angel at My Table", and "The Envoy From Mirror City".  You might enjoy reading some of her poems and novels.  Some people find them a bit strange or hard to read, but I have loved the ones that I have read.  Here is a link to the Wiki entry about Janet Frame.  Some years ago there was a film called "An Angel At My Table" that was made about her life.  Some of it was filmed very close to where we live in the South Island of New Zealand.

There we are at the Craft Show, photo by Rhonda

We recently took part in a three day craft fair at the local hall.  I demonstrated on the wheel for two of the days, and Bill Blair, a maker of trug baskets from Kakanui near Oamaru, bravely toiled away at his trug making for most of the three days.  Bill does lovely work, and also makes wooden rakes and forks.  You can visit his web site here

When I have demonstrated at other craft shows I have usually made small things, often little bowls thrown from a hump of clay.  This time I decided to make something big, so I set to work making three large pots by the coil and throw method.  

Hum...., nuff said!  Photo by Rhonda.

Sadly very few people attended the show, but some of the other stall holders became quite interested in the gradual progress of the pots that I was working on.  Near the end of the show, stall holders were starting to show some concern...., "How are you going to get it home?" being a common question.  I finished one pot, 27 inches high (690mm), and left the other two incomplete.  Some people seemed genuinely distressed when I said that I probably couldn't get the large pot home as it would most likely collapse whilst taking it out to the car, and even if I got it into the car... well, it would certainly collapse when driving off down the hill!  To make things even more hazardous, the rain poured down on the final day of the show.  

Because people were worrying so much about the fate of the big pot, I made a special effort to get it home.  I first fitted the lower part of it into a metal bucket to protect the lower part of the pot, and to give it more stability.

Much to my amazement, protected by the bucket, the pot reached the car in one piece, and it fitted in the back..., just!  There was no more than 1/8th of an inch (1mm) clearance between the roof of the car and the pot when I slid it through the back door of the car.  

With Laura sitting next to the pot, and steadying it, and me driving very carefully, the pot made the journey to my studio, and I was able to put it on the wheel and correct a small wobble that developed in the top of the pot where it had made gentle contact with the car roof.  The following day I put a coat of white slip on the pot, and it is now slowly drying.

I had better end this post on a colourful note (most of the photos on this post have been of grey clay drying!).

This is a splendid painting that Laura did recently, and she sold it before it got out of the studio.

The cat was almost life size and was painted in artist's acrylics on MDF board (high density compressed wood fibre board).  The white background is not part of the painting, but is the wall behind it.  The cat was cut out with a fretsaw.

Sorry that blog posts dried up for a while, hopefully I will get back into the swing of writing them again!
Kind thoughts to you all, P.


Cat's Ceramics said...

I love reading your posts Peter! That is great you got the pot back to the studio safely! I am having to transport green pieces to my kiln at my old house which is very stressful to say the least! x

cookingwithgas said...

Those angles are wonderful, sweet and sad all rolled into one, as angles should be.
I have to skip down to the painting- OMG! What a love.

Judy Shreve said...

I love the angels - and Laura's painting is fabulous!

Michèle Hastings said...


Angie said...

Nice to have you back ...I love the angels ...they make me think of the Middle Ages ...they have such character ...I hope the client loves them. How are they to be finished ...I can see them with a natural stone/sandy finish as though they should have been sitting out side, on a church for several hundred years.
Shame there were few visitors to the exibition but it sounds and looks as though you had fun.
Now for Lauras work of art wonder it sold so quickly ...I love it ....the cat oozes feline charisma. xx

Peter said...

Hi Cat,
Always nice to know that someone is out there reading the blog.. and enjoying it. Thank you! Transporting green ware can certainly be scary. I remember reading about Lucy Rie having to take green pots across Vienna to a kiln on the bus when she was a young potter, and learning to raw glaze because of this (raw glazing meaning only one risky trip across town with pots on the bus instead of two!). It is amazing what can be done when potters are determined and stubborn enough!

Hi Meredith,
"Sweet and sad" mmmm, I think so too! The cat was fantastic, I hope Laura does more soon!

Hi Judy,
Thank you for that, good to hear from you.

Hi Michele,
Thank you.

Hello Angie,
I would love to try some wood fired angels with just the action of the fire on the clay to toast it up, I think it would look just right. These angels will be glazed though, the one for my client needs to have a mostly green colour scheme, and I will practice on one of the other angels first. I've been having a look on line at renaissance angels and ones from Northern Europe around 14th century, some lovely use of colour back then.

It was sad about the low turn out to the local exhibition, it seems to go like that here, but we did sell some work all the same (every bit helps), and it is a way of showing local people what we do.

Laura says to say thanks to everyone for their nice comments about her cat painting! xx

gz said...


Lovely angels, so characterful- and the idea of toasty woodfired ones too...good!

I haven't found any potters local to Te Aroha yet, to talk to, apart from one who probably would rather not be contacted and his work disturbed- understandable but sad

Peter said...

Hi Gwenneth,
Good to hear from you. Do try to visit Coromandel and see the potters in that area, well worth it.

Amy said...

no wonder Laura's painting sold quickly! beautiful.

And your angels. Looks like you've made similar before as you mentioned. you are brave to take on a commission that asks for such different work.

Saw pottery today that had glazing similar to yours- the kind with crystal glazes and thought of you. Don't see crystal glaze much around the parts of NC where I live and travel.

Peter said...

Hi Amy,
Lovely to hear from you. I am missing Laura's painting of the cat, it was around here for such a short time, and was really nice, so... I hope she does some more soon!

Taking on commissions that are so different from what I do normally might be brave, or foolhardy... I'm not sure what! In these difficult times it is very useful to be able turn your hand to anything!

I must do some more crystalline glazed work. There is very little of it done around here too, and it can be really beautiful when everything works as it should.