Monday, May 6, 2013

Sardines and Phylum Chordata...

Image from the McGregor Museum, University of Auckland, NZ
I am used to working on my own, especially when painting or drawing, but had for a short time a companion in my studio when I was an art student.  Fortunately this fellow occupant of my little space was good at keeping quiet and still.  My companion was a skeleton that I had borrowed from the life drawing room so that I could make some drawings and try to understand how it worked.  The skeleton was almost certainly a composite one, made from more than one donor, and possibly both male and female, so giving it a name was tricky.  A fairly androgynous name that could casually sail between male and female would have been a sensible choice, but, when in doubt I favour Henry or Percy.  So, for a few days, the skeleton took on a male identity.

Some people are squeamish around skeletons, I am not, but I am respectful.  Not only are the gently curved and intriguingly lobed bones a fascinating thing to look at from an engineering point of view, but they can be beautiful.  When drawing such things, I do also think of the donor of the skeleton, be it human or another member of the animal kingdom, and respect the life that once was carried on this elegant structure.

In less hallowed places than an art school life drawing room, or an art student's studio, the skeleton can also be encountered.  Open a can of sardines, for example, and it is likely that you will find a fish backbone, and maybe some ribs amongst the oil and scales and fragile brown fillets.  Laura cannot abide canned fish if she finds anything bony in the can.  She claims that this in not due to any squeamishness on her part about skeletons, but due to a dislike of crunching small bones.  What ever the cause of her dislike, if it is my turn to open a can of fish for lunch, I also have to carefully remove any evidence that the pathetically flattened and anointed life form therein ever had a backbone!

Hesperornis regalis, and extinct diving bird. Image from McGregor Museum, University of Auckland, NZ.

Animals with a backbone...
"Phylum Chordata", by the curious means of an open can of sardines I have been transported in time to a biology lesson, where Latin words were uttered like an incantation from the mouth of our biology teacher, Miss Slater.  I see a wall chart before me, of animals and creeping things of all kinds, set out according to their classification.  There were two Miss Slaters at the school, known as "Ancient and Modern".  The elder retired at about the time I started school, but the younger sister still had some years to go.  Both sisters were keen bird watchers, and popped in and out of hedgerows, and marched over hill and dale to see some lesser spotted, or otherwise rare member of aves Neornithes.  "Ancient" I remember as being tanned, wrinkled, with hair in a severe bun, and somewhat formidable.  "Modern" I think may have been slightly less formidable, but had the ability of reducing 11 year old boys and girls to tears with a surgically precise sentence, accompanied by a look.  Biology classes were conducted in the strictest silence, unless an answer to a question was sought.

 Wikipedia, has the following entry for Chordates..

"Chordates, members of the phylum Chordata, are deuterostome animals possessing a notochord, a hollow dorsal nerve cord, pharyngeal slits, an endostyle, and a post-anal tail for at least some period of their life cycles. Taxonomically, the phylum includes the subphyla Vertebrata, including mammals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds; Tunicata, including salps and sea squirts; and Cephalochordata, comprising the lancelets."

They do mention the word "nerve" in there I notice!  And all this talk of skeletons and backbones, is a reflection of what the stock market would call a "sub prime week", or two, or three!!

Sometime in the week that ended about the 20th of April, I became aware that all was not well with my back.  My trip to Timaru on the 20th of April was accompanied by unpleasant pain in the hip and left upper leg.  In the days that followed things worsened.  Sciatica is not fun, and, at its nastiest I found it impossible to sit on most of the chairs that we have, and could only stand, or attempt to lie down.  Walking was a chore as each forward extension of my left leg was accompanied by a cheerful cacophony of pain from the lower spine, hip joint and thigh.  (for those that complain that "cacophony" refers to sound rather than pain, I assure you that it was appropriate in this case!!)

Vase with Crystalline Glaze, 230 x172mm (9.25 x 6.75")

Most activity in my studio had to cease.  I did manage to glaze and fire some more crystalline pots, and one such crystalline glaze firing was particularly successful.  I also did an oil drip reduction firing of some of the work with fairly spectacular results. 

Crystalline glazed porcelain bottle, with oil drip reduction firing.  253 x 168mm (10 x 6 5/8")

Crystalline vase with oil drip reduction firing, 197 x178mm (7 3/4 x 7")

Crystalline glazed bowl with oil drip reduction 190 x 225 x mm (7.5 x 9")

Crystalline glazed bowl with oil drip reduction firing 223 x 242mm (8.75 x 9.5")

Sadly I have been unable to lift bags of clay, let alone prepare clay for the wheel or make pots with it. 

Whilst wondering how to find a position that was not in some way painful, I read a lovely book, "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand", by Helen Simonson.  It is, I believe, a first novel. Amazing!  I selected it for its charming cover that is decorated with teacups and other hand painted looking images (I see that some editions have a less exciting one), and it was a most entertaining read. Highly recommended!

Anyway, the good news is that my return to the studio is immanent, and the back is almost behaving itself again.  I have an set of exercises that I can attempt to get things going, and all is almost well with the world!

Now over half a century old, one day, my spine may end up in a life drawing room, and become a good friend to poor Percy or Henry, or what ever his name was.  Look for significant deterioration of the L5 or L4 joint and it could be mine! 


Melissa Rohrer said...

Good luck in your recovery. Even a smaller injury makes us recognize the physical aspect of pottery.
Beautiful glazes. Can't decide which of the latest pots on the beach is my favorite.

Peter said...

Thank you Melissa, things are improving, but it is rather a scare just how limiting a back injury can be when it comes to making pots! The beach is a nice place not to have to decide anything... just to enjoy!

Michèle Hastings said...

Glad you back is improving. I hope you are back to normal very soon.
The second to the last pot on the beach... OMG, it's gorgeous and looks so at home in the sand, like a treasure from the sea.

Tracey Broome said...

I like your location shooting, very pretty.
Ahhh, the back, sometimes I think that we were not meant to walk upright at all. I have had my share of back pains forever, not fun! Right now my C2 is to the right of where it should be and causing a great deal of hand numbness. Oh to be 16 again, haha.
I am a bone collector and find them beautiful to have around. A deer died in our woods a few years ago and I was able to salvage almost the entire skeleton, it was great.

Angie said...

You poor thing ...I only have had it properly once and it lasted 5 and a half weeks and went suddenly, just as it arrtived. I now just get all the pains from knee up to lower back, seperately so all of your pain I can feel with you. I have never been given exercises ....not that I go to the doc much.
Have to agree with Laura about crunching bones...hate it.
Now to your pots ...what amasing colours and crystals you have created. Hope you are 100% soon. xx

Peter said...

Hi Michèle, thank you for your comment. I'm rather fond of the second to last pot too. It has had one glaze firing and two reduction firings so far, one in the wood fired kiln and one in oil drip reduction in the electric kiln... so it has lived a bit! It has been quite a revelation to me as to how "at home" the pots can look on the beach. I'm thinking about new work that develops that idea a bit more.

Hi Tracey,
Mmmm, what with your C2 and My L5 we could start a fascinating collection of pre loved potter's spinal components! Just the thing for a future collector to keep in a shoe box under the bed! I think that top loading kilns have a lot to answer for! Wow a deer skeleton would be beautiful!

Hello Angie,
I try to avoid the Doc as much as I can, my income doesn't stretch far enough. Quite a lot of good information about back problems online fortunately, although one has to tread carefully with some of the medical advice! I'm much improved on what I was, and have got the sense of humour back too, which is a relief!! P xx

Rhonda said...

Peter , The pots look so proud,so grand, in your photos. They glow from the beautiful sunshine. I think these photos, with the beach background, very much express the depth of beauty in your wonderful pots. It is far too difficult to choose a favourite for me. Each one, has its own specialness. So well done....PS. Enjoyed your skeleton tale. Rhonda.

Peter said...

Thank you Rhonda for your lovely comment, I like the "proud and grand". I think that kindly sunshine and sea air is good for pots as well as potters! Ha, Ha, maybe there are skeletons in my closet after all!! P

Pat - Arkansas said...

First... lovely, lovely pots! The photos taken on the shore are a most attractive.

I'm so sorry about your sciatica! Having suffered from that particular malady several years back, I am most empathetic. Feel better!

I laughed a lot over the sardine bones report. I remember that during my childhood we ate a lot of canned sardines (they must have been cheap), and I'm sure my parents made sure that every last bit of the contents of the can were consumed. Despite having been required at an early age to eat the bones, I am remain quite fond of (fully pressure cooked) fish bones, and willing chomp both canned sardine and salmon bones. Hmmm... I've been wondering what to have for lunch. I do believe I have a can of sardines in the cupboard. :)

Hugs, Pat

Peter said...

Hello Pat,
Lovely to hear from you. Ha, Ha... sardine bones! I admit to sharing your willingness, fondness even, to consume such delights, and am somewhat relieved to find that there is at least one other person on this planet that is! I also like the skin on custard!

Thanks for the hugs, much appreciated! xxP

smartcat said...

The pots are so beautiful...the crystals look almost fractal.

I used to love to crunch sardine bones. I still do!

I hope you back is improving. You need a minion. Aging is a drag....especially youthful injuries that return to haunt us.

Peter said...

Hi Smartcat,
Good to hear from you. It would be nice to retain a youthful spine... I think that porcelain one might be a great drop in replacement for a potter, hey we could make our own!!

Ha, ha... another sardine bone cruncher!

Crystals are magical under magnification, I'm not sure if they are true fractals (someone will know), but they certainly have that look about them. Some crystals that came out of a recent firing are rather like snowflakes.

A minion... what a great idea!