Sunday, August 5, 2018

What Ever Happened to......?

My poor old blog has been neglected. I feel sorry for the dear old thing so will attempt to blow 3 months of dust away, find homes for the spiders that have moved in, and give the paintwork a bit of a scrub!

Raindrops on Snowdrops!

Spring is here, and it is a joy to see snowdrops and hellebores bravely flowering at the feet of the trees in our little half acre of woodland. The more reckless of our plum trees are flashing a glimpse of blossom, but others still whisper, “Too early, too early” and hold onto their winter’s sleep for just a little longer.

Winter was more windy than cold. Huge spiralling weather systems charged across the Tasman sea, or more directly from Antarctica, and roared and spat, and dumped rain in profusion! The clay soil of the farmland around us is easily chewed to a yellow porridge by the wheels of heavy machinery, or the push of the hoof.

5 cup porcelain teapot with lots of handles!

The studio has been unusually quiet these last few months. Life has become a little bit more challenging in regards to my poor state of health and I am having to face the reality of retirement. I will still make pots as energy permits, but not for a living.

Whilst I was still recovering from shoulder surgery early in 2017 I was diagnosed as having a very rare variety of blood cancer. It is something that there is no cure for, as yet anyway, but it is possible to manage with medication and regular blood tests and visits to the haematologist. I chose not to write about this on my blog, as I did not really want this blog to be one with a medical focus, but preferred it to be about making pottery. In some ways I regret not referring to it earlier, as I found it increasingly hard to write the blog because there was so much of life that could not be mentioned, and I have always valued honesty.

What Ever Happened to....?
I have noticed that some potter’s blogs that I followed in the past, have disappeared entirely, due to the Siren call of other social media, such as Facebook. I didn’t think this would happen to me, but I have joined an online forum for people like myself that are affected by a family of rare blood cancers that are called Myeloproliferative Neoplasms. These things are usually referred to as “MPNs” as, only the truly linguistically gifted can say the full name! The forum is run by an organisation called MPN Voice, and I mention it to you, just in case there is someone out there recently diagnosed with a MPN disorder, who is in need, as I was, of the wonderful support, care, and knowledge base that this UK based forum provides. 

You can find MPN Voice here  
and the MPN Voice forum here at

The first few months after diagnosis with something like this can be very difficult. There is the obvious shock and alarm of learning that you have a variety of the dreaded “c”, all be it a relatively unaggressive one, and this is all the worse because MPNs are rare, and it is likely that your GP or even your haematologist may not know much about such things, so you can find yourself feeling very alone and confused. As with many things, there is quite a lot of nonsense online and in consulting rooms in regards to medical matters, so it has been a challenge to filter out the bad information and to find the good, and that is where the MPN Voice forum has been so helpful, and I am very thankful for it.

Anyway, the expectation is that I will go on for a good many years yet, but the combination of the disease itself, and the cytotoxic medication that I take every day, does has a great impact on my energy levels, so I am having to learn to function at a very different pace than before. I am not a particularly good student of life in the slow lane, so tend to “boom and bust”!

Porcelain flower Pitcher! (A pitcher for flower arrangements).

We still have our Old Post Office Gallery in Waikouaiti open, and have no intention of shutting our doors at this point. Laura will no doubt keep the place ticking over and I will make an appearance there myself as needed. 

Laura has some lovely paintings on display and I have quite a lot of work on the shelves still, and we also have a display at the Potter’s Co-operative in Dunedin. I have almost run out of some of the “essentials”, such as breakfast bowls and mugs, but have quite a number of nice “one of a kind” type vases and pots.

Porcelain Flower Pitcher (For flower arrangements).
Porcelain Flower Pitcher (Detail).

Apologies to those who have waited, and go on waiting, for commissioned work to be completed. The reality is that some of this will get done, and some may not. I am finding some “simple” things quite difficult to make at the moment, because my time at the wheel has been so interrupted, and the sessions rather short, so it is easy to get out of practice.

3 cup Porcelain Teapot with ash glaze over red iron glaze.

There are still pots that I want to make, and things I would like to explore in the world of fire and clay, and I do hope that the wood fired kiln will rejoice in the heat of the flame again from time to time!

Thank you to all of you who follow this blog and who have commented over the years.

Best Wishes from Us here at the Old Post Office,

Peter, Laura, Nigella Stopit and Mr Smaug


Barbara Rogers said...

So glad you came back to blog-land. I'm probably a hobby potter you've never heard of, but I do some clay work, and some blogging, and would love to hear your story, however it may unfold. There seem to be more and more bloggers dealing with cancer, which I guess is a sign of the percentages of people who have the disease, rather than a cause and effect situation.

Linda Starr said...

so sorry about your health issue, I know how debilitating it can be, (my thyroid, then my back, then gluten intolerance, then my knees not to mention the medical bills been paying on for years). I hope you can get all under control and still be able to make pots, perhaps just the ones you're passionate about. Your flower pitcher is so wonderful as is all of your work, if I lived near you I'd bring a bunch of black eyed susans to put in that vase for you, it's blooming in my garden right now; I don't have a smartphone because I can't afford the monthly fee (still have a landline) so I don't do instagram but most bloggers seem to have gone to that format for their blogs. I find I refer to my blog for my own recipes and use it for a type of journal so I keep up with mine. hang in there Peter I'm thinking of you.

Peter said...

Hi Barbara,
How lovely to hear from you! I have visited your blog from time to time when I was more actively blogging myself. Thank you for your encouragement to keep on with the blog, I will give it a go, and will have to expand it to include a bit more of life rather than just the pots from the kiln! I guess that cancer does cross many of our paths and is part of the human experience. I hadn't read much about it before, but have found that the MPN Voice forum has helped me feel more comfortable about discussing it. Glad that blogging doesn't "cause" cancer!!! :-)

Hi Linda,
We would be delighted if you did turn up to our place with a bunch of Black Eyed Susans! It is a lovely thought! I do enjoy seeing my pots with flowers in, it completes them somehow. I realise that you also have struggled with your health for years now, and I admire you for keeping your creativity going. It certainly isn't easy to do so when health matters try to dominate. Thanks for keeping on with your blog too, it is nice to know that it is there. I haven't tried the instagram thing, although friends almost persuaded me recently. Like you, I do refer to my own blog from time to time, in my case for glaze recipes rather than edible ones, and it is good to look back over the years and remember the good things that have happened.
Thank you for your friendship Linda, it means a lot.

Anonymous said...

Glad to have you posting again! Best wishes for everything!

Peter said...

Thank you Anonymous!
It will be good to put virtual pen to virtual paper again and keep this old blog trundling along!

Anonymous said...

Nothing but love from us to all at OPO....will call you at some stage. G&A

cookingwithgas said...

I will be thinking of you and hope that the best comes your way.
Love to you from over the sea.

Peter said...

Good Morning G&A,
Lovely to hear from you, and look forward to catching up on the phone in the not too dim and distant future! Cats are basking in the heat of separate electric heaters (they are still a long way away from cuddling up together!!), and I have discovered that Mr Smaug likes to play Pooh Sticks in the little stream that runs through our bit of land. Great fun floating twigs of willow for him to get all excited about. He really doesn't mind getting his front paws wet when fishing for such things!

Hi Meredith,
Good to hear from you. Thank you so much for your kind thoughts, and for staying in touch. I got out of the blogging habit for a while, and it is nice to be back again! Love from over the sea is most happily received and reciprocated! Pxx

PP said...

I found your blog only a week ago and was bowled over by the good humour and the lashings of generosity I found here. And now I return to find that you're ill. I'm so very sorry - the worst things happen to the best people apparently. I've struggled with health issues myself for years, and low energy has been the one of the hardest aspects to come to terms with. As another boom or bust type, I hear you on how hard it is to regulate yourself. But I'd say that I've learned over time to do that, and it has worked relatively well, affording me enough resources to carry on quite well with clay. I hope it proves possible for you too and that you do manage to continue your explorations, even if they have to be somewhat slower in pace. All the very best to you Peter. I'll look back in the hope of hearing more of how you're going.

Peter said...

Hi PP,
Welcome to this blog! Thank you for your thoughtful and kind comment, it is really nice of you to write in.

Sorry that you too have struggled with less than perfect health, but big applause for having learned to regulate things so that you avoid too much of the "boom and bust"! (I'm still learning!!). When you have limited health and energy you certainly have to be creative in order to make the best of things.

I read something interesting recently regarding Henry David Thoreau and his book, Walden (an account of him building a little hut in the woods and living simply and in a self sufficient way for two years). What I read suggested that Thoreau was not a particularly robust man, and that the hut in the wood was in fact close enough to where his mother lived for her to bake him a cake each week (and probably do his washing!). How factual this is I don't know, but I found the idea quite moving in that, here was a man who wasn't a great adventurer, who would never scale high mountains or cut tracks through jungles, but he was still able to have an adventure much closer to home that was sufficiently absorbing and satisfying for him to inspire him to write a lovely book that helped others to go and find adventure of their own!

Lovely to hear from you, do stay in touch.

Michèle Hastings said...

Sorry hear of your health issues. Glad that you have found a support network to help you and others.
I have had difficulty being inspired to write blog posts. I am lucky to get out two or three a month. I sadly admit that the 2016 presidential election, here in the USA has sort of put me in a funk. I am now committed to moving forward and trying not to let the state of the country affect my day to day life.
Be well,

Melissa Rohrer said...

I am very sorry to hear this. I do know someone who was diagnosed some months ago as having a blood cancer but I do not remember if it is the same thing as you are dealing with. I will certainly pass on your information when I next see him if I learn that it is.

Wishing you the best,

Peter said...

Hi Michèle,
Good to hear from you. I do feel for you regards the 2016 presidential election, the media have certainly been spoon fed with drama and entertainment, but it is so sad really. It is good that you have continued to blog, regardless of the "funk", I do think that each little bit of good we do does matter, and I think your blog about making lovely things, both pots and yummy food!!!!, does help to make the world a better place.

Hi Melissa,
Thank you for your kind thoughts. Blood cancers vary a lot and what I have is probably one of the mildest sorts. The one I have is Essential Thrombocythemia (ET for short!). Whilst there is no cure, many of us with it can look forward to living to almost a normal lifespan if we manage the condition with frequent blood tests and medication. The frustration is that the disease and the medication both cause fatigue and it does mean that not nearly as much gets done in the day. I certainly can't manage much of a work load now. It is nice to do more reading though!
Kind Thoughts,

Unknown said...

Hi Peter. Always enjoy reading the blogs and following the antics of the furry friends, your pots,glaze tests, photos and poetic take on life .I hope your treatment goes well and we will see many more blogs from you.Kind regards. Charlie

PP said...

Hello again Peter
I've been thinking about the Thoreau story you told, and I find it a very creative model for how to get the most out of a circumscribed life (and which life isn't circumscribed in one way or another) in a way that has real significance and personal meaning. The message I take from it is that it doesn't matter whether your boundary is your mother's garden (I know that's not literally correct!) or a whole mountain - it's what you make of where you are that counts. I don't know about you, but my biggest obstacle was not my fatigue and illness but my inability to accept those things. All that denial and frustration and resistance! Once I'd moved a bit beyond that towards acceptance, which is still an intermittent thing, I found there was space and energy to work more creatively within the confines of my health limitations, to the point where I hardly noticed them. Of course it varies. I think it's great that you found the Thoreau book and are thinking about it as you describe, and I'm glad you mentioned it because it's got me thinking too. So thank you!

Peter said...

Hi Charlie,
How nice to hear from you. I am glad that you have enjoyed following the blog and the glimpse of the life we have here. I am planning a new post that is all about one of the "furry friends", so hope to have that up in the next day or two. I'm looking forward to continuing the blog, and it has been a real help hearing from you and the others that have written in. Thank you for your kind thoughts.
All the Best,

Hi PP,
Glad that the Thoreau story has had meaning for you too. It is quite a profound and happy thought that whilst we can still think and imagine we can still have adventures irrespective of the size of our personal boundaries. I suppose an extreme form of that would be the example of Stephen Hawking, a traveler of time and space in his brilliant mind whilst severely limited physically.
The denial, frustration and resistance, is certainly very real! Maybe some of that is actually a good thing to a degree in that is shows that we have some "fight" in us. It is a question of finding a way to channel it constructively so that it turns it into something positive rather than corrosive! I'm glad you have managed to move some way towards acceptance and have more energy and creativity as a result. I still have some way to go! :-)
I'm so pleased that you have written in, it feels good to be able to discuss all this in an open way.
Best Wishes,

PP said...

Hello Peter

I agree with what you say and I really appreciated the way you expressed it. I absolutely think it is about the way we channel the fight creatively. As for acceptance, that's a hard and lonely process (I think) and my experience tells me that it's not a boundary which is crossed definitively, never to be re-crossed. I still go back over the line and have my poor-old-me periods. I'm in one now, as it happens! But things have become more possible as acceptance has been more constant and although I'm stuck at the moment it's not because of my health. And actually, I've recently been noticing as I've trawled though Instagram (I'm one of those who migrated from writing a blog to posting on Instagram and I like its visual facility but hate its wordlessness) I have noticed just how many creative people seem to be juggling their making with various difficulties, both physical and mental. Which is interesting. And maybe it's becoming more 'acceptable' to discuss such things in an open way. Quite why there should be a stigma and shame attached to something that people aren't in control of is one of those interesting questions.

I have a glazing question for you, if that's ok? I've recently moved from Sydney to the UK and I have had a massive compulsion to make some functional things, having spent the last few years making non-functional stuff, all without glazes because I am a total duffer with them. I'm keen to try your nuka glaze over black clay, but have to have a few fires first to get the ashes. And the Janet de Boos recipe which you've adjusted looks good too. But right now I need to make a satin matt opaque glaze to which I can add stains for colour, because this is what my daughter is requiring of me. I am wondering whether your magnesium matt would work with stains? It looks opaque and satin from the pic and your description.

Anyway, here's to Thoreau and to us and everyone else with boundaries where they don't want them
. All the best.

Peter said...

Hello PP,
Sydney to UK is quite a move. What area of the UK are you? (I'm from there originally).
It is interesting how a change of environment can bring about quite radical change in creative output. It will be fun to explore that as you adjust to life in another country.

What sort of temperatures do you fire to? Most of my glazes are around Cone 9 to 10, sometimes a little higher.

Black clay under nuka sounds nice, but I fear that your black clay may mature at a lower temperature than cone 9 or 10 required for the nuka if it gets its black colour from a goodly amount of manganese and iron. If you could fire in reduction you would be better using a high iron stoneware that matures around Cone 10. The nuka does look good over a nice toasty clay.

At a slightly lower temperature than my usual, I have recently been using a rather nice glaze that came out of a book by Nigel Wood about Chinese Glazes, this is a cone 7.5 - 9.5 glaze that is a very pale celadon green-grey in reduction and clear in oxidation. The glaze seems very happy with a good range of metal oxides for colour, and I suspect stains would go well too. It is slightly more glossy than satin, but definitely not a full gloss glaze.

30.5 Potash Feldspar
22.5 Wollastonite
22 Silica
15.5 China Clay
6 Ball Clay
3 Talc
0.5 Red Iron Oxide

(Nigel Wood noted that, if using a high silica ball clay you can up the ball clay amount to 12.5 and lower the silica to 16)

I think this would make a very good all round glaze for experimentation. It could be opacified with some zircon or tin oxide, you could try 7 percent zircon or 5 percent tin oxide as a starting point and adjust to taste. Zircon and tin may raise the maturing temperature very slightly, so you would most likely need full cone 8 rather than 7.5 for the lowest temperature.

Magnesium matt or calcium matt glazes can work with some stains, but you will find that some colours work well, but others may come out quite differently to what you expect, sometimes giving a unexpected bonus, and other times rather a fright! Magnesium matts will generally give a range of purples from cobalt rather than the expected blue. Calcium can bleach iron, so may yield yellows rather than reds. Chromium based stains or chromium oxide may well give brown in a magnesium matt... and so on, all rather fun really, but it is very necessary to test rather than take anything for granted!

Good luck with the potting, and with life's adventures!


PP said...

Hi Peter

That's wonderful - I'll give that base glaze recipe a go. I love tin in a glaze too. Thank you so much. When I said I'm a glazing duffer I meant duffer with a capital D. If I'd known I'd need chemistry for a practical application later, I'd have paid more attention at school. I see you don't share my problem. I expect you want to save your energy for your own work and exploration, but I did find myself thinking that if you were to offer glazing tutorials, you'd probably get a lot of takers. I'd certainly pay for good glaze development tuition and I can't be alone in having wasted the glaze component of my ceramics education. I hope it's not too forward to mention that thought.

To answer your questions, I only have an electric kiln and I generally fire around 1260 - 1280, but I've been working with unglazed porcelain. And I'm in Devon. It's rather too rural for me, being a city person, though it's beautiful and it's also one area in the UK where they do good food (rather missing the food and coffee of Sydney). We went to Australia 21 years ago, but the Summers recently have just been too excessive, and anyway, it was going to be necessary at some stage to come back and see whether the homesickness was justified (and mostly it was not! though the seasonal changes are divine). Where were you when you were here?

Peter said...

Hi PP,
Good to hear from you. The glaze recipe should suit the 1260-1280 temperature range perfectly and I have used it with success on porcelain and stoneware. Certainly a good one to start with.

Fear not about being a "glazing duffer", a potter friend said that it was better to find one good glossy glaze, and maybe a matt glaze, and learn to use them rather than to spend months testing hundreds of glazes. I always kept that in mind... as I tested hundreds of glazes (!!). Really he was quite right. I notice that potters such as John Leach, can achieve a lovely range of work with little more than a reliable liner glaze for the inside, and no glaze at all on the outside, just the natural toasting of a wood fired kiln!

Devon is in a lovely part of the country. I fondly remember two family holidays when I was still very young that were in Dorset, not far away from where you are really.

I was born in Rye. I did most of my primary school years in Pembury in Kent. Then went North to Kirkby Londsdale and Arnside. Went to Art College in Lancaster before emigrating with my parents to NZ. So I'm a muddle of South/North and NZ!

I enjoy the lower South Island of NZ as we do have some seasonal weather here... even if it tends to be all 4 in one day! I still miss long dark winters with Christmas in the middle!

Best Wishes,

PP said...

Well that's very peripatetic of you Peter! The South Island, though, is a beautiful place to settle. I remember finding a whole forest of skeleton leaves there. I imagine you must be just getting the first signs of Spring where you are. Here we are watching the birds begin to flock and the berries begin to ripen in the hedgerows.

I think your friend is absolutely right - one (or three?) glazes is a goodly number. I'm all set to try out the first, and have assembled all the ingredients. I wonder if I could ask you two further questions? The only silica I could buy was 60 mesh - looks like everyday sand to me. In Sydney, not that I made my own glazes, 200 mesh was used. Do you think 60 will work? And the other question is about your ash glaze. We're at the end of Summer here, so no fires have been raging in the grates. We did, however, have a huge bonfire of old pine trees and leaves. I've gathered some up in a bucket and plan to google how to wash it, but thought I'd ask you first whether such material would be suitable?

Hope things are going well with you.

Sue Lloyd said...

Oh Peter Im sorry to learn about your illness, and how much it affects your energy levels. My love, thoughts and prayers go out for you. Let's hope you are able to be productive and creative in some way.
Love, Sue

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter, I am so sorry to hear of your health issues. I want you to know that your generosity, honesty, and dedication to pottery absolutely shine through in every one of your blog posts. Though we have never met in person, I consider you to be a friend. Your life as you express it in your writing and your photographs is a breath of fresh air, no question about it. Take good care and know that you have injected a great deal of goodness into many potter’s lives. You are the real deal! Cheers from Oregon, Owen

Peter said...

Hi Owen,
Thank you so much for your very kind words and for your friendship, I must confess to feeling quite emotional (in a good way) when I read what you had to say. Writing the blog has taken time and some effort, but it has also been a real joy to be able to open my studio door to others by means of the blog. I have learned a great deal from people who have commented here, or asked questions, and the support and encouragement has made life far more enjoyable and fun!
Kind Thoughts to you from us here in New Zealand,
Peter & Laura, Mr Smaug and Nigella Stopit :-)

Peter said...

Hi PP,
So sorry not to find your August 26 Comment until now. Usually I get a notification in my Email when comments come in, but I have just discovered about half a dozen comments that people have sent over the last few months that I was never notified about, all very strange!

I don't know if you will find this as it is so late now, but regarding 60 mesh silica, it really isn't a good idea for glazes. 60 is really better suited to be added to the clay body rather than to a glaze. I have tried 80 mesh before now when desperate and resorted to laboriously putting it through a finer sieve (probably 120 mesh) to get rid of some of the coarser stuff, but things do work much better if you have 200 mesh. In theory you could get 60 or 80 mesh silica to work if you had very long firings so that the silica had time to properly go into the melt.

Wood ash from old pine trees and leaves would make lovely glaze material. You can use it washed or unwashed. Washed ash makes a better behaved and more predictable glaze ingredient, unwashed preserves the soluble fluxes and can give a more interesting glaze, but the glaze will have to be used fresh as it will turn into a solid "rock" if stored!

Hi Sue,
Thanks for your comment (Like PP's comment it also disappeared somewhere without my usual email notification). I haven't been doing much potting of late, but I have been enjoying making pen and ink drawings of Spring flowers and trees.

PP said...

Hello Peter - thank you for your message. The pen and ink drawings of Spring flowers and trees that you mentioned to Sue sound like a lovely occupation and I hope they brought much satisfaction. Strange to think of Spring when Autumn is in full flow here. Mists and mellow fruitfulness and all that, except that a gale swept through yesterday and blew all the beautiful red leaves and red apples off the trees.

I'm glad to hear that you think my ash will make a good version of your glaze - I've done some washing and it's sitting in a bucket attempting to dry at the moment.

And as for the silica - I have discovered that the finer mesh is called quartz here. Who'd have thought? But I must admit that having bought all the supplies I needed I got diverted by some hand building and have somewhat abandoned my functional flurry. Though my daughter is nagging me for mugs, so I'll be onto that soon and will send pics if they work out.

I'd like to second Owen's message - your blog shines out for its generosity and honesty and I for one feel so glad to have found it. I hope you feel inspired to write more posts when the urge and energy allow. All the very best.

Peter said...

Good Morning/Evening PP,
It was so nice to check my emails first thing today and find your lovely comment waiting for me! I am so pleased that you did check back and we are able to catch up again.

Autumn gales are annoying when they destroy the beautiful display of autumn leaves and knock the fruit off the trees too! Our weather seems oddly symmetrical in that, just two days ago I was struggling against a very strong Southerly blast (from the Antarctic) that had found its way here, and I was pelted by white cherry blossom that was tossed through the air like big flakes of snow!

Silica/quartz/flint it all does get confusing when suppliers have their own interpretation of what that means! Good that you have discovered the finer mesh quartz, as you would have struggled with the 60 mesh that you mentioned previously.

You are so kind regards seconding Owen's message. I always tried to keep the blog as an extension of my workshop, and found it so much better to share and be open about practical potting things than to get all "precious" about "trade secrets". I was really helped and supported so much through the interaction with others, and I am so glad that others were helped too.

Kind Thoughts,