Sunday, July 6, 2014

Geese, Spoonbills, Greek pots, Fermentation, and Firing!

These geese are part of a larger flock that spend much of their time grazing the grass at Northern end of the Hawksbury Lagoon at Waikouaiti. Farmers generally don't like geese as they compete with the farm animals for grazing. One local farmer told me that five geese will eat about as much grass as one sheep. I love geese of course, and I also like goats, gorse, hawthorn, and many other introduced "pests". Really humans are about the worst introduced species from an environmental point of view, but that is another story!

My early morning reading about geese tells me that the ones in the photo above are English Grey geese, also known as Greylag Geese, and that the white one is male, and the other two are the females of the same species. The English Grey Goose was first introduced to New Zealand in 1773 by Captain James Cook, so it is just possible that these birds may have ancestors with an impressive seafaring history, having sailed from one side of the world to the other in a wooden boat.

It is winter here, although it has not been a particularly cold one, and thus far there have not been sheets of ice on the lagoon, or the sand at the beach covered in a rime of frost, as there has been in previous years.

I have never taken a really good photo of the Royal Spoonbills that visit the lagoon, but I was pleased that this photo shows the amazing spoon shape of the beak quite well. I love spoonbills, they are really elegant in flight, and have a rather "high tech" look about them when they are on the wing, rather like an advanced fighter jet.

Here they are again, seeming to do a little dance! The spoonbills feed with with their beaks swinging from side to side in the water. They do so with all the concentration of a person with severe myopia watching a game of tennis!

Mostly I have not taken a great deal of notice of what is happening outside my studio window for the last few weeks, as I have been rather busy attempting to catch up on some very overdue commissions, as well as trying to develop some new work.

Here is a photo of a little line of new pots that are awaiting their glaze firing. As a change from my usual practice, I have been experimenting with making pots out of three separately thrown parts. The idea for doing this came to me after looking at photos of ancient Greek pots, and trying to think about how they were made. These new pots of mine all have the foot of the pot thrown as a small bowl, and joined to the body of the pot the next day, when the foot is firm enough to take the weight of the pot above it. I have added  another section above the middle of the pot, to form shoulders and neck, but this part has been added in a very "primitive" form, then further shaped after it is joined.

When I made the foot of the pot, as a bowl, I made it by "throwing off the hump", which is the method of forming a large mass of clay on the wheel into a cone shape, then making the pot or bowl from the clay at the top of the cone. Then cutting that one off when it is finished, and making another, and another, and another, all from the same cone of clay until it is used up.

I had an "Ahhh" moment when I made the first little bowl that was destined to be the foot of a pot, as it looked so like the ones on the Greek pots I had been looking at. I thought, "this is how they made them!", and I had a fleeting glimpse into a pottery workshop with a Greek potter also making little bowls off a mound of clay. It is nice when that happens, as it is a bit like time travel. There is a feeling of kinship with potters working thousands of years ago that makes studio work less lonely.

For me, making pots this way gives me a chance to blow away some of my mental "cobwebs". It is significantly different assembling a pot from soft leather hard clay on day two, rather than making a pot in one piece, and it opens up other possibilities.

Here is a photo of some pots drying on top of the kiln. Centre stage is a jar with a domed lid, this is a fermentation crock that someone asked me to make for them. It has two semicircular weights drying near it. These weights are made to go inside the crock to gently compress the fermenting food that is inside the pot.

The domed lid has rests in a water filled moat. The water stops air getting into the pot, and allows gas from the fermenting food inside the jar to escape. I enjoyed making the fermentation crock, and am happy to report that it got through its bisque firing OK, so now is awaiting glazing.

I started writing this post at 4 am whilst looking after two electric kilns that are both packed with pots ready for glaze firing. By switching them on alternately I brought them both to a gentle heat where the excess moisture from the freshly applied glaze could steam away. Now I am commencing the firing of one of the kilns, and will feed some power back into the other kiln as soon as I reach peak temperature in the first one. I don't think that our power supply will cope with me firing both at the same time, which is why I have to alternate between them. Both kiln loads are crystalline glaze firings, and I have some new glazes to test along with the ones that I know to work. One new glaze that I am particularly interested in, is an aventurine glaze. This is a special type of low alumina glaze that contains an enormous amount of iron oxide. If all goes well the glaze will be full of tiny sparkling crystals, rather like a chocolate coloured night sky full of stars! We will have to wait and see.....

Must go now, it is time for some more coffee.... Sorry that I did not manage to post at all last month...


Teresa Evangeline said...

Peter, This is such a wonderful post, beautifully written. I love the bit of humor involving the spoonbills and would so love to see them in flight.

Your talk of time travel as it relates to pottery and the kinship you feel with those who came before is such a lovely thought, and fills me with a reassuring sense of the continuity of life as expressed in our creative lives.

I so enjoyed reading this ...

Anonymous said...

Lovely post Peter. The section about spoonbills evoked an Aaah! moment of my own, seeing them caught by the rays of setting Sun as they flew to roost in the nearby trees. Unforgettable!
There seems to be no end to an imaginative potter's innovative progress!

Peter said...

Hi Teresa,
Really lovely to hear from you. Thank you for the encouragement regarding the writing..., I was fairly tired when I wrote this one, so I wasn't too sure if I was even making sense! The sense of kinship with those who came before is a special and wonderful part of working with clay, and I also found it whilst painting, especially when I went through a period of making my own paint. I wonder if you have a sense of those who came before when you are writing?

Hello Anonymous,
How nice that the mention of spoonbills brought back such a lovely memory. I suspect that memories are often better than photos, although photos can be handy to trigger them. Of course I was camera-less on the evening when I actually got close enough to a spoonbill to have taken a good photo! And then I saw it lift off into the last of the light against a backdrop of vast, stormy grey-blue sky.

Arkansas Patti said...

Lucky you to get to see spoonbills. I will have to Google their flight. You have made me curious.
LOVE those pots. Just amazing and different from the norm.
Kind of miss the romance of you tending the wood fired kiln but know the electric must be so much easier.

Anna said...

Great post, looking forward to seeing the glazed results of your Greek vases. Its ages since I've seen any spoonbill ibis here in Oz, the Strawnecked are everywhere and have adapted to city life. I've seen geese gone feral along the rivers in Nthn NSW..

cookingwithgas said...

Those vases are fabulous. It's great to read you again.

Melissa Rohrer said...

Thanks for the explanation of how you made the vases. There's always lots to learn!

Linda Starr said...

Oh I am liking the stylized handles on the vases especially the large one in the last photo group, how wonderful to see the spoonbills, never saw white ones only the roseate in florida. Like Patti I'll have to google their flight as well.

Peter said...

Hi Patti,
Lovely to hear from you. "Romance", I must do something to keep that alive... we mustn't let this potter get too electrical or unromantic!! I have been thinking quite a bit lately about the wood fired kiln, so I will do my best to wake it from its long sleep in a week or two! I should fire a love heart in it, just for you!! :)

Hi Anna,
Interesting that you haven't seen the spoonbills for a while. I always think of Australia when I see the spoonbills here, as I think that the ones in NZ actually migrated here from your country. I'll have to look up the straw necked ones that you mention.

Hi Meredith,
Good to hear from you. Thank you so much for your encouragement!

Hi Melissa,
I remember talking to a potter who had been making pots for 30 or more years, and him saying how he always looked forward to going to his studio, as there was always something new to learn, Now that I am potting, I can really understand what he meant!

Hi Linda,
It has been fun doing the stylized handles. The pots really asked for them when I was making them, and didn't feel complete without them!
I must have a look online too, and see if someone has filmed spoonbills in flight, it is a magnificent sight.