Wednesday, October 22, 2014

October 22, 2014: Day 22

Where did the month of October go?

It is finally getting "seasonably" cool on the hill, and I am sitting here listening to a classic Maine Nor'easter beating away at my walls. The house isn't buttoned up for winter just yet and I will again be a bit late getting it done. The pottery move is but one reason but at least this year plain old fashioned laziness will not be on that list.

I am tired, achy, cranky and a bit overwhelmed. I have lost precious sleep on many occasions and wondered where all of this is going.. But I keep coming back to the same sense of adventure and a feeling that it is heading in a good direction. Somehow, this is all going to work out for the better.
That's so unlike me that it has to be true.

The building is getting more and more empty with each passing day. Now I am down to the bric-a-brac and tiny bits that manage to fill up box after box. I'm talking about Scotch tape, pencils, staplers, yardsticks, rulers, brushes, box cutters, office supplies and a few odds and ends of pottery that I forgot I had. Some of this stuff has had over 80 years to get distributed around the place and has used its time well. Some gets tossed into boxes that I'll have to find a home for and some of it is getting left right where it is. I can't take it all.

But sometimes it feels as though I'm at an animal shelter trying to decide which pet to take home with me. Selecting one makes me feel like I'm abandoning all the others. I can't stand it. So I bit my lower lip and make some decisions.

I can't take it all. And I don't really want to.

I'm spending a lot of time cleaning up after myself, but only in the larger sense. There is a fair amount of dry clay on the floor here and there, but after all, the building is slated to be torn down. There's no need to go through the place with a vacuum cleaner.

I brought all of the glaze buckets home yesterday. Somehow, I managed to find an out-of-the -way spot for them. They now line the wall under the bathroom window. That has led to the most recent change int he atmosphere on Union Street.

Remember this?

Well, now it looks like this:


Day 22 down, 3 to go. I think I'll make it.

Monday, October 20, 2014

October 20, 2014: Day 20

Well, that went well.

The big move was held this past Saturday, and if you're wondering why no daily dispatch for the last couple of days, it's a combination of factors. For starters, it has taken this long for my fingers to stop aching enough to type, and you can follow that up with the sudden need to sleep most of the time.
I figured you'd forgive me the absence. Hope I was right.

In any case, the big moving day went very well. Most of the pottery is now in storage The only items remaining are some small tools and a fair amount of cleanup work. A couple runs to the dump should take care of that.

Saturday started out a little weepy. The sky couldn't decide whether to rain, fog or just clear out. It was well on its way to a misty compromise when I pulled into the truck rental place and picked up the 16 footer I had reserved. I waited there for my helper to arrive, but didn't have to wait long. If you recall, I was in a bit of a panic as I had found help a little hard to come by. Then the truck itself fell out from underneath me. It was a time to try the soul, but in the end, I found both a truck and a helper.
The helper came in the form of a 15 year-old named Hunter. His mom is a coworker of mine and she said he would be more than happy for a days work at a decent wage. I had no inclination to argue and accepted the offer. The two of us got into the truck and away we went.

There were two other friends at the pottery waiting to help load the truck, and we got it loaded in jig time. We used up every square foot of that 16 foot truck. We first loaded the bisque ware, followed by the finished products, then the heavy equipment (wheel, kiln, pug mill and evaporating table - more on that later), and finally the 2,300 pounds of clay. Sweaty and hoping things would unload as easily, I started to climb into the truck when Hunter asked what the stuff in the barn was.

Oh yeah. The packing and shipping supplies.

Open the back of the truck and start tossing stuff in again. There were rolls (HUGE rolls) of bubble wrap and micro foam, boxes measuring anywhere from 6 to 18 inches in all directions, tissue paper, and a box of Tyvek suits (don't ask). Not all of it went into the truck, but I took everything that wouldn't fit into my Toyota Corolla anyway. Then off we lumbered.

Stop number one was my brother's house in Hermon. This was where the clay will be stored. The clay can't be allowed to freeze and I didn't have the resources to pay for heated storage. My brother has a roomy garage at his home that is only half used and remains above freezing all winter. Score! We got the clay unloaded and stacked neatly on a pallet and then headed off for Ellsworth.

We stopped at Dysart's in Hermon for lunch. Dysart's is a difficult place to pass up if it's mealtime, you're hungry and you're passing right by. Hunter and I had a great lunch and headed out again fueled and ready for more.

We got to the storage facility about 45 minutes later and the unloading began again. We took off the heavy equipment and Hunter started unloading the boxes of pottery while I put some shelving units together. Those units snap together pretty easily and don't take long to put up, but in the time it took me to do it, Hunter had unloaded almost the entire truck. Three boxes still remained on board, and those came off before I mentioned it. The two of us commiserated on the best way to get things stashed most efficiently and then put it all into practice. We had to adjust here and there, but in the end, everything fit.
The only hitch in all this was the evaporating table. I had qualms about bothering with it. It's a large wooden base that holds a larger plaster "bowl." I would guess it weighs at least as much as a refrigerator. Well, I decided to take it with me. Hunter and I tipped it up on end and moved it with an appliance dolly (with no small amount of struggle) only to discover that we could not put it back on all four legs without snapping two of them off like twigs. So there it stands - on end and wondering if it will ever be normal again And here I am wondering why I didn't break it up with a sledge hammer and cart it to the dump. Plaster is cheap, after all. I could always make another.

Oh well.

We finished unloading and storing everything just as we lost daylight. Hunter's mom called to see how we were doing and I told her she could pick him up in about half an hour. We went back to the truck rental place where I put the key in the return slot and locked up the truck.

Then I remembered my camera. It was still in the cab of the now locked truck.

Well, I guess something had to go at least mildly wrong. Fear not, I have since retrieved the camera. Not that I remembered to take many pictures, of course. But here are a few before and after pics for your consideration.

Remember this?

Now it looks like this:

Remember this?

Now it looks like this:

And this,

is now this:

And so it goes, dear reader. This story is not yet over, and even when it is, the next chapter will begin. Stay with me. The journey is far from over.

Day 20 down, 5 to go.

Friday, October 17, 2014

October 17, 2014: Day 17

It's hard to believe that October is more than half over. Lately it has felt more like June. I am not complaining about that; I'd be perfectly happy if it felt this way in January although I know that would be catastrophic for our planet - and by extension, us.

But the warm weather has served to make a difficult task just a little bit easier. I have reprocessed all of the clay that I could, leaving only one 5-gallon bucket of liquid clay that has to be protected from freezing. I now have about 2,300 pounds of clay to store. That will give me a huge boost when production starts again. I will not need to buy clay for at least a year.

Everything I intend to sell at some point is packed and ready to go. All of the bisque likewise. And today I did something that proved as cathartic as it was sad. I took a hammer and smashed every second and irregular piece on the shelves with a small number of exceptions. "Why?!" you may ask. Well it's pretty simple.

I keep the seconds and irregular items to sell for half price. They made for my largest single sales day this year, although I do believe the 30% sale on top quality items did it's share as well. But a large number of the seconds have been sitting on those shelves for five years not getting sold. When something sits on your shelf for that long, it's not making you any money. It's costing you money. Why would I want to pack all of that stuff up and lug it around when it has a proven track record of not selling?

Nope. Smash. So now I have 8 boxes of shards to take to the demo pile as soon as possible. I'd say one pickup truck load of trash and I'll be pretty much done. That feels good.

I plan to take Sunday off and spend as much of it lounging about in bed as I can. Then I will rise, go to breakfast (I eat breakfast out on Sunday morning) and then go back to bed when I get home. It will be bliss for one day.

Monday the remainder of stuff at the pottery will be redistributed. The glaze buckets will come home so I can use their contents over the winter. I'm still looking for someone with a kiln, but truth be told, I haven't really started searching yet. Too much else to do right now. First things first.

I'll report on the events of tomorrow when all is said and done.

Day 17 down, 8 to go.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

October 16, 2014: Day 16

Sometimes getting out of bed is not the best of ideas. But I guess you have to do it no matter what.

Today was not the best of days. I know bumps are a major factor in any road, particularly in those roads that lead to unknown destinations. While no road is altogether smooth even at the best of times, Today's could have come a whole lot closer without losing its entertainment value, I'm sure.
Earlier this week I made a commitment to rent a truck. The big moving day is Saturday. Not only did I make the arrangement, but I poured over inventory and equipment coming up with the best way to load the thing given the itinerary I have planned. Yup, it was all there. Until it wasn't.

Today I came to the understanding that every candidate I had in mind for a helper wasn't going to be available. One after another told me that they couldn't help. An offer broadcast widely on Facebook - along with an offer to pay well - also yielded nothing.

Then I got a call from U Haul telling me that I would have to drive 36 miles to pick up the truck I had reserved only 15 miles away from Blue Hill. They charge you for each and every mile you drive those things, so I didn't see the economic sense in driving about 72 miles in an empty truck if I didn't have to. Reservation cancelled.

Now I really had nothing to work with. And I have a suspicion that everyone around me knew things weren't going well. I don't do a great job of keeping that sort of thing a secret, I must confess.

Fortunately for all of us, both ambulances were busy all day, so I had the whole office to myself to stew in.

In the end, I drove to the Penske place and found it quite easy to reserve a truck that would be available at that site,, one hour earlier than U Haul, and rather less expensive. Should have tried them out first.

Later in the afternoon, I got a text telling me that I had a solid prospect for assistance. Details to be discussed tomorrow.

So that's a relief. But I'll be even more relieved when Sunday dawns and I can sleep in for the first time since early July. I need some extra sleep time. Really, I do.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

October 14, 2014: Day 14

Yup. I missed posting yesterday. By the time I was finished with everything it was about 10:00 p.m. and I was finally too exhausted to do anything but go to bed. I figured one day without a post won't hurt. And nothing much happened anyway outside of the normal packing. There wasn't a lot of that anyway since I was working a 12 hour truck shift.

Today was a little different. I got a lot accomplished, but if you have ever packed to move, you will understand how it goes. I am up to 43 boxes full of stock. I looked out on the empty sales room and saw...more pottery. Yup. There was a bunch of little stuff.

No matter how much you stuff into boxes, there always seem to be odds and ends hanging around looking like they're waiting for a streetcar. A small box should take care of it, but by that moment it was time to leave for the evening.

The plastic totes in the picture are packed with stock intended for craft fairs. The rest of it will go to the storage unit. I have reserved a rental truck for this weekend and, with any luck at all, the vast majority of Lowell Hill Pottery will be out of the building for good. No doubt there will be lots of little stuff tagging along after that, but small stuff I don't sweat.

Day 14 down, 11 to go.

Monday, October 13, 2014

October 12, 2014: Day 12

I probably made more progress today than any day so far. At long last all stock that is headed for the storage unit is boxed and ready to go. It's all inventoried, organized and recorded as well. There were 33 boxes in all, most of them full to the brim. I will post a picture of them tomorrow. I forgot my camera today.

Tomorrow I will start packing up the stock intended for fair sales and other such events. I'm planning on doing some craft fairs (the sort you have to pass a jury to get into, that is), and generally circulating anywhere I have an opportunity. So there is still a fair amount of stock left to pack. Most of it will load up pretty quickly, though.

After that, the bisque will need to be boxed up. That won't take very long because 1. there isn't a whole lot and, 2. I don't have to pack it quite as carefully as the finished work.

Yesterday I managed to process a couple hundred pounds of clay. I have one more barrel to get through and that is the only part of this little adventure that has me concerned. I may be packing unprocessed clay into smaller buckets and storing it if I can't get all of it done, but that's not a big deal. I just don't want to toss out or leave behind any clay I can make use of. The stuff costs way too much for that kind of waste.

Next weekend I'm planning on doing the truck rental thing. Then it will be moving day in earnest. I expect I'll have the thing for a couple of days and if I'm lucky, I can get a couple people to help me with the heavy stuff.

After that, it will be clean-up time. All of the seconds and irregulars that I have had in the showroom will be smashed and hauled to the dump. They're not top quality, they take up a lot of space that I don't have in the storage unit, and I have no desire to haul them around. I'm sure a new collection of toss offs will eventually emerge.

I'm recalibrating my countdown because I will be leaving for South Carolina to visit with my dad on October 28. I need to be done before that. I have an appointment with a client on the 25th during which they will pick up their new dinnerware set. I would like to think that when I turn the key in the door after that appointment, it will be the last time I set foot in the place. Sad, but we must all evolve. So...

Day 12 down, 13 to go.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

October 11, 2014: Day 11

This will be a short entry. Pack, pack, pack. Pug, pug, pug, box, box, box. Lug, lug, lug.

Tomorrow it's off to the storage unit. Next week, I will rent a truck and finish this. In the meantime, it's after midnight again.


Day 11 down, 20 to go.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

October 10, 2014: Day 10

Big efforts sometimes result in small gifts.

I left the full-time job early today so that I could really make some serious progress in the packing up department - not to mention the clay processing department.

It may not seem like I accomplished much if I tell you that I packed up five boxes of pottery, but when those five boxes contain over 240 pieces that needed to be individually wrapped and carefully arranged to avoid damage, well, that may put things into perspective. One of the boxes took two hours to pack. It was like putting a puzzle together - of the jigsaw variety. But I figure more time spent at this end will make for less time when I need to retrieve something later on. Right now, all of the jam jars are packed, along with all of the creamers, sugar bowls and demitasse sets. The shelves in the showroom are starting to look a tad empty.

I am planning to sell at a few craft fairs in the near future if I can get into them. For that reason some of the pottery, rather than being packed up with the rest, is being kept aside to be packed into totes.
What dinnerware I have will get packed up next and I'll top it all off with the more bulky ovenware, teapots and other such items.

On top of all this, I reprocessed several boxes of clay. At long last, I have hit upon a relatively efficient way of getting that job done and it's working pretty well. I think I can get the rest of the clay processed within the week doing it this way.

And that is where the gift comes in. Many weeks ago, I lost a finger ring that I particularly treasure. it's nothing terribly special, but I like it. It has the Lord's Prayer inscribed on it, but it's written in Tengwar script, making it look like Sauron's ring of power. Those of you who know me well will sense the many levels of irony in that, which is why I bought the ring in the first place. But it disappeared some time ago, possibly abandoning me in hopes of finding a passing Hobbit. When no such luck befell it, it chose this evening to return to me. When I'm doing clay work that is characteristically messy and sloppy (like reprocessing clay), I wear a cover-all to keep as much mud off of my clothing as possible. Apparently the last time I wore it, I took the ring off and put it in the pocket. Then I promptly forgot about it.

Tonight I discovered what I had in my pocketses! The One Ring now resides on my finger where it rightly belongs.

I would say that I am now off to read the Silmarillion, but I've attempted that one three times now without success. I think sleep is the far better idea. Tomorrow is another busy day. My goal is to get the rest of the stock packed up and then start on the bisque ware. Oof!

Day 10 down, 21 to go.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

October 9, 2014: Day 9

Fate is capable of many things. Good timing is not among them, apparently.

Today was devoted entirely to packing pottery for transport. Of course, I didn't get started on that until after my day job, but I worked at it until about 7:00 this evening. I got all of the mugs done and then moved on to small teapots, petal cups and small sugar bowls. In all, I packed seven boxes that, added to the ones already packed, brings the total so far to fourteen boxes. I bought fifty of them so I think I'm in good shape. Of course, the larger, bulkier items have yet to weigh in. Bean pots don't like to share space so it will be interesting.

Here's a fun detail about this picture. The big red box in the background is the old Rowantrees kiln. It was designed and built in 1976 and was used for 32 years. It had a 100 cubic foot capacity (compared to the 6.6 cubic feet in my kiln). They named it Theodore and the total cost of construction was $13,000. Today you can't touch a kiln of that magnitude for less than $50,000. The yellow target on the front was painted by me. The kiln was originally yellow in color, but one day Sheila Varnum decided she wanted something a bit more striking. Besides, none of us really liked yellow and let's face it, this thing took up a large amount of space. Once we finished painting it, I added the kiln's name across the top (not pictured) and the target. See, the glazer and I had this little suction cup dart gun...

So, the timing thing. Well, family issues have arisen that will require my attention soon. I'll need to travel some distance to do my part in helping out my dad who will be undergoing heart surgery soon. The surgery has already been postponed twice, so my siblings and I are rearranging schedules to try and get things figured out. It's difficult when nobody knows exactly what is happening and when, and all we can do is wait and react when we find out.

So my deadline for being out of the pottery building has moved from the end of this month to As Soon As Possible. Like in less than two weeks. And one would be most preferable.

I see some long days and late nights in my immediate future.

Day 9 down, not sure how many left to go, but let's still say 22.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

October 8, 2014: Day 8

The Packing boxes arrived today and I set about packing up mugs even as I was pugging batches of recycled clay. There is still a whole lot of that to get processed and boxed up, but it should be finished within the next couple of weeks.
But boxing up pottery also became an order of the day. I packed up a lot of mugs and got them ready to go to storage. I'm keeping a careful record of exactly what goes into each box and the boxes are numbered. I have an inventory sheet for each box and a master spreadsheet that tells me what items in which colors can be found in which box. The idea is to be able to find what I want (read 'what a customer wants') very quickly.

Regardless what happens in the coming months, the website will remain up and in business. I will be putting some serious time into the site as I want to start using stock control features that will allow me to display only items that I have in stock. Items will also have an inventory count that will be automatically adjusted when items are sold. If I should sell out of an item, it will disappear from the website.

But that is a matter for a few weeks from now. Right now, it's still moving time. Tomorrow will be spent packing up stock and traveling to the storage unit. Five boxes packed so far. It hardly looks as though I've scratched the surface.

Day 8 down, 23 to go.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

October 7, 2014: Day 7

Today I dismantled my kiln, moved some more raw materials and processed some clay. I didn't get to work at the pottery for more than three hours, but I used the time well.

The packing boxes should be arriving soon as they got to the supplier sooner than expected. That means I may be packing bisque and stock as soon as this weekend. I'm really itching to get to that part of things, but the truth is there are a lot of little things that need gathering up. Everywhere I look there are small items. Normally they are scattered strategically around the place so that they are always at hand when something needs doing. But when you want to get them collected together, they seem to defy your efforts. They will ultimately lose that battle.

I have changed my mind about some things. At one point, I wanted to take just about everything in the place with me. Now, one by one, they are going to get left behind. In all likelihood that was always to be the case, but ambition gets the better of you before rubber hits road. I always knew I'd be leaving the spray booth behind but I wasn't so sure about the dust collector. I thought I'd take it with me. Now, however, it will be staying put. Taking it would mean too much to deal with now. Besides, I can get a brand new spray booth with its own dust filtration system for a decent price.

Looking at the picture, I know it doesn't look like there's much in that storage unit, but believe me, looks are deceiving. The unit is 15 feet deep and I have packed stuff in as tightly as possible, A lot of rearranging will be needed soon. I will be moving some display shelving in that I built in 2012 and used up until this year. That will give me a little vertical space to the back and take some of the pressure off the wire racks.

That machine you see on the shelf is a ball mill, which is used to grind and mix glazes. It's a homemade job that Rowantrees used throughout its history. There was a second one, but I've only ever used this one. Still trying to decide whether to stay at one or take the other one as well. Still not sure. They cost a fortune to buy new. I shall think on.

Day seven down, 24 to go.

Monday, October 6, 2014

October 6, 2014: Day 6

Another "off" day. Here's the thing; when you work at a business all day (no matter which one), you can put in all the hours you want lifting and carrying stuff. But when the day is done, you still have the bookkeeping and other associated paperwork tasks to complete. Yesterday I worked at the move until sundown. It was dark by the time I got to the restaurant and pooched my tire in the process (yes, it's toast and beyond repair).

So by the time I sat down to work on the more clerical duties, it was pretty late. Result: I didn't get to bed until well after midnight. That doesn't bode well for the following day. Sure enough, I was snoring in my office chair shortly after lunch today.

So this afternoon I basically gave myself a day off. Not entirely, but mostly. I finished up the pottery that came out of the last kiln (the bowl in the picture came out of that final firing) and got it onto the stock shelves. Then I took the last of the ware boards and a few small items over to the storage unit. I also threw out some trash. Not a particularly inspiring set of tasks accomplished, but I'll go to be at a decent hour tonight. That will make tomorrow a better day all around.

And it needs to be. I swear the stuff I need to move is breeding. The more I remove, the more there is!

Day 6 down, 25 to go.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

October 5, 2014: Day 5

Oh, the places I have gone and the things I have done. Really, that's a bit overstated, but why not? It's after midnight and I'm a but punchy.

I spent a lot of this day in the storage unit putting up shelving (4 shelving units from Home Depot at $100 each reduced to about $360 thanks to a gift card I had in my wallet) and generally rearranging things. Then it was back to the pottery to unload that final firing and load the first bunch of raw glaze materials into the car for a trip back to the storage unit. I meant to get a picture of the thing, but someone forgot the camera. Oh well, tomorrow (today?) will be another day.

After the final trip, I decided to get some Thai takeout for dinner. From that decision came the only bad event of the day. As I turned into the parking lot of the restaurant, I misjudged the turn and drove over a curb with a BANG. No body damage to the car, but the right front tire was toast. I changed the tire and will have the mechanic look at it tomorrow (today?). Hopefully it just needs to be put back on the rim and will be fine. I really don't want to be buying tires right now. Really I don't.

Day 5 down, 26 to go.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

October 4, 2014: Day 4

Clay reclaiming started in earnest today. I have a lot of it to process and it will take some time. Luckily, I can do other things while a batch is mixing. I'm trying to make these batches somewhat softer than the clay I usually use because I have noticed that this particular clay tends to stiffen as it ages. If it sits in one spot and doesn't move until used, the water content tends to surrender to gravity and work its way to the bottom of the box, leaving the clay at the top too hard to work easily.

Remixing the clay is labor intensive and time consuming, which is why I use a pug mill. The pug mill will be in storage at least until I can't stand being without it any longer, so I decided to start this clay off on the soft side. Let it stiffen if it wants.

I also started packing up the stockroom. I can fit exactly one gross of petal cups into a 1.5 cubic foot box. This I learned today!

Raw materials are almost all packed into containers. The labeling is an ongoing project that I hope to finish tomorrow. I intend to pick up some shelving units at Home Depot tomorrow and get them to the storage unit where I can set them up. Then I can start moving bisque and stock to storage. It will all get messier before it gets better organized, but at least I have a vision of where things should be at the end of it all.

Day 4 down, 27 to go.

Friday, October 3, 2014

October 3, 2014: Day 3

Well, I guess you can call this progress. As promised, the kiln was unloaded and its contents finished and stocked. Mostly yellow mugs, but some green and one large Duckshead flaring bowl.

Unfortunately, that flaring bowl ended up in the seconds pile. I'll probably take that one home for myself. There was a small glaze blowout on the inside that makes it unsalable. Oh well. Most of the rest was just fine.

I stacked the last kiln and set it to firing. Right about now it should be finishing up with the preheat and getting on with business. It will fire tomorrow and get unloaded on Sunday. Then the kiln will be decommissioned until I find it a new home. **sigh**

After that was done, I set to work packaging up the raw materials. It's another bucket dance as I put dry powders into shiny new buckets to be transported to storage. Some unopened bags will go into plastic bags, but there aren't many of those.

And of course, everything has to be properly and legally labeled. I have set about the task of getting that taken care of. I have always been pretty meticulous about my material safety data sheets, and I have a program of my own design that will print out labels in OSHA-compliant format. What labels I don't already have will be done and applied by Sunday afternoon.

Tomorrow is clay day. I will spend as much time as I can recycling clay and packaging it up for transport to heated storage. Lord, I'm going to have a lot of that by the time I'm finished. that's a good thing because I won't need to buy clay in for quite some time. It's an expense I don't need in the coming year. For now, though, it's called sweat equity.

Day three down, 28 to go.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

October 2, 2014: Day 2

Today was a little "off." I had truck duty at my full-time job, which is unusual for me. After over 26 years as an EMT and then paramedic, I have shifted into mostly administrative work and spend most of my time doing compliance, policy and financial stuff. But today I donned a uniform and prepared for whatever might come.

Nothing came. Now, here's the thing. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it is far more exhausting to spend a day in an ambulance station waiting for the call that never comes than it is to be running calls back to back all day. The stress factor of waiting around is far greater than diving in and using those skills you spent so many years sharpening.

So it was no surprise to me that by 3:00 p.m. I could not keep my eyes open. And yet, I needed to head out and tackle stuff at the pottery. I changed clothes at the station and dragged my weary body up the hill with no real enthusiasm.

Once I got there things changed a bit. But the work I needed to do was not something I particularly enjoyed; dismantling things. Yup, I gotta face the fact all over again that it's moving out time. It's just inertia, really, and it can be overcome.

The kiln I unloaded yesterday was waiting to be finished up and put onto the stock shelves, so I did that first thing. The kiln I fired today was cooling off. That will be opened tomorrow on my way to work. It's mostly yellow just as the last firing was mostly green. Tomorrow afternoon, I will stack one more kiln and that will be it for production.

The next item on the agenda was to dismantle the glazing equipment. I packed up air hoses, spatulas, "chucks" (items used to hold pottery while glazing it), bowls, pitchers, and various other bits and pieces. The spray gun came home with me and the rest of it went to the storage unit. It all went far smoother than I anticipated, which leaves me wondering what I forgot.

Tomorrow I will at least start packing up the raw glaze materials. Some will go to storage, some will go home. Keeping my head focused on which is which will be a challenge, but the way I'm storing things, they can all be reconfigured as needed.

Day two down, 29 to go.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Moving On

Today is October first, and although I have been given until November 15 to vacate the old Rowantrees building, I have agreed to try and be cleared out by October 31. Starting tonight, I will be chronicling my daily progress as I finish what work remains to be finished and pack up everything that needs to be moved.

Tonight I finished the last of my glazing and stacked what will be the penultimate kiln firing. There will be one more firing and then everything will be finished. At least, everything I glazed will be finished. I still have a whole lot of bisque ware, but that will be boxed up and put into storage. Once I have relocated, it will take little time to complete that work.

It was a melancholy moment glazing that last pot. It was a ramekin in yellow. I looked at it for a moment and told it that it would be the last piece to be glazed in that building after 80 continuous years. It should feel honored. I felt sad.

Day one down, 30 left to go.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

What Disaster Can Tell You

It makes no difference how much experience I garner, every now and then I will do something monumentally stupid. Several weeks ago, I had a ware board full of ramekins. I placed the board on a shelf with about half of the board extended out over the edge of the shelf. Then I set to work unloading the board.
Starting at the wrong end.
Almost immediately, the ware board with all those beautiful ramekins began tipping like an insane seesaw causing several ramekins to "introduce" them selves to the floor. Sancho Panza put it best when he said, "...whether the stone hits the pitcher or the pitcher hits the stone, it's going to be bad for the pitcher."
I lost four ramekins to that little act of idiocy, but it's interesting what such a disaster can tell you. Not so much about my working methods, but about the product I make.
Many years ago (actually, it was decades ago), I was working in the pottery studio of a private school. I actually worked in the kitchen of that school, but they allowed me to putter about in the pottery studio when I was not at work. It kept body and soul together for the few months I was there. The students were aghast at my habit of cutting pots I had just thrown in half so that I could see how the wall of the pot looked. I can remember the teacher telling them, "You guys should be doing that more often."
I rarely cut pots in half these days. I don't really need to as the lesson of an even wall has been well learned. Still, it's always interesting to look at the profile of a pot when it meets an untimely end. And truth be told, I have actually broken pots on purpose to get the sort of information the little beauty in the picture above revealed.
So what can I tell from what I see? Three things.
First, I can see that the wall is nice and even. No surprise there. You may also notice the slightly thicker rim. That makes the pot less prone to warping during manufacture and chipping during use.
Second, I see that the pot only broke into about four pieces - most of them quite large. That means that the pot is extremely strong. A weaker vessel would shatter into a lot of small pieces.
Third, I see that the glaze perfectly follows the same break pattern as the clay. That means the glaze fit is exceptionally good. I knew that, given the tests I put the glazes through. But it's good to see it up close.
Most people don't realize it, but a glaze has to fit the clay it's applied to perfectly. The critical measurement is what happens when the pots cool in the kiln. Everything expands while heating and contracts while cooling. If the glaze contracts more than the clay does, it will be under a lot of tension. In a case like that, something has to give, and the glaze will form a fine network of stress cracks. Potters call this crazing. Crazing weakens a pot and will inevitably shorten its life. Some glazes are specially formulated to produce the same crackle pattern seen in crazing without causing problems for the pot, but crazing as a gaze flaw is something to be avoided.
If the clay shrinks more than the glaze, then the glaze can pop off, resulting in tiny, razor sharp pieces of glass that can end up in the food or beverage the pot was holding. This problem is called shivering and it is one issue that can keep a potter up at night.
Ideally, a glaze should shrink slightly less than the clay, but not enough to cause shivering. That assures that the pot will be the strong and last a good long time in normal use.
And the best way to prove the strength of a pot is to break it on purpose - or, in this case, by accident - and see how many or few pieces it breaks into. The fewer the pieces, the stronger the pot. If the glaze margins align perfectly with the edges of the broken clay, the glaze fit is perfect.
I make high quality pottery. The picture proves it.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Bucket Dance

Like a lot of potters, glazing isn't my favorite thing to do. I like being behind my wheel throwing pots and getting my hands muddy. But if you are a potter, you probably spend the least of your time throwing and trimming pots.

The fact is, nothing I make is finished without its outer coating of colored glass. So glazing is a necessity and needs to be done with great care. Gazes are fussy creatures. Each wants to be applied in its own way and its own proper thickness. Each wants it's own special spot in the kiln where the temperature and heat work are just so.

Really fussy customers, glazes.

It starts with the chemistry. If you have read my blog for any length of time, you know something about those tribulations. Trying to figure out what that bucket full of liquid mud will look like when it's fired is a mixture of educated guess, scientific calculation, trial and error and pure luck. And your first guess is usually dead wrong. The second usually is as well.

So when you have a glaze that works for you, you keep to it. I have eight of them.

So now that I am moving out of the old studio, I am feverishly mixing large quantities of them. You see, I have this idea of continuing to produce at least some of my smaller items. I have my kitchen studio with its own wheel and can make small items if I can find a kiln to fire them in. That search will be job one soon. But I won't have the ability to mix new batches of glaze once everything is in storage.

That means five gallon buckets. Eight of them full of glaze. Never mind the space considerations, I need a lot of the stuff to carry this plan out.

So now begins what I call the bucket dance. There are big buckets and little buckets. Little buckets contain the glazes and each glaze has its own bucket with its name on it. Big buckets contain wash water, and again, each glaze has its own. That way, I can recycle glaze that I wash off of my tools and equipment. I end up with a big bucket full of watery glaze that can then be used to make more glaze. Less waste, lower cost and far more environmentally friendly.

But now the glaze needs to go into the big buckets and the wash water in the little buckets. So it takes two little buckets, one ball mill and one big bucket to make the transition. But of course, nothing is that simple. You see, the ball mill can't hold all the glaze in a little bucket. So it takes three ball mill jars to grind and mix all the glaze in two little buckets so that they can be poured into one big bucket. When the process is finished, I should have one big bucket and one little bucket with the name of a glaze on it.

A few days ago, I did this with the turquoise glaze. I have one big bucket full of glaze and one little bucket with nothing in it that says "White" on the outside. No, I don't know how I managed that, but not to worry. They didn't get mixed in together. I'm just grabbing clean empty buckets to make this happen.

I have been boxing up all of the throwing supplies and tools. A couple days ago I brought a pallet in and started stacking things up on it. I now have all the tools, bats and pads packed away.
Progress comes in some odd shapes and sizes. But progress is progress. One step at a time.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Moving On

Last year I wrote about needing to move out of the space I have been using and said I had to be out by the end of the year. Then I updated that to state that I had been reprieved and could stay for the foreseeable future.

In June of this year I was told that the property was being put up for sale but that nothing would be happening for at least a year. No panic. That would give me plenty of time to make some plans and let people know what is happening.

In July, I was told that things might be going a bit faster than expected, and next April would probably be the deadline to consider. Well, that's not far off from a year from now, so still, no panic.

In early August, I got a letter via certified mail informing me that I would need to be out of the building by September 15.

Time to panic. But still, I didn't. I just started making plans. What else do you do?

A few days later, I got a phone call telling me that I had until November 15.

The emotional roller coaster ride is over for me. If someone told me that I could stay at the Rowantrees building for another year at this point, I would still be moving out. There comes a time when you just have to step out and figure your way from here.

So what is my way going forward?

Shortly after getting the first notice, I stopped throwing new pots. From wheel to glaze firing, it can take several weeks to finish a pot, so there isn't much point in starting new ones. As of this writing, my wheel and all of my throwing tools are packed up and ready to go into storage.

Right now I am glazing for all I'm worth. I have a lot of bisque ware just waiting to be turned into finished product and I'll get as much of it done as I can.

As I finish each part of the process, the tools and equipment used for that part are getting packed up and ready to move to storage. The finished inventory will be the last to move.

Don't misunderstand me. I am NOT going out of business. Everything I have will be reflected on the website and will be available for purchase. For all intents and purposes, the coming cold season will be just like the last four. After everything is in storage, I will turn my attention to the Kickstarter campaign. I will need to raise $175,000 to build the new studio space.

Believe me, you will hear from me when the time comes!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

29 and Counting

Countdown to move: 29 days to go. I stopped in at the pottery today mostly because I was firing a glaze kiln and it's always a good idea to be present when the kiln should be shutting off. I did a little bit of glazing, but that wasn't part of my plan so I stopped and turned my attention elsewhere.

I had some customers stop in despite not being open (I never refuse people entrance if I am there). It resulted in a nice sale, so no regrets there.

Then I started packing up the greenware area. I finished trimming two large flaring bowls and four small urns - one of which will hold the ashes of my kitty Sophie, who passed away in March. Then I cleaned up the wheel and throwing tools, packed everything in boxes and unplugged the wheel.

That proved an oddly emotional moment. I didn't get teary-eyed or anything, but pulling that plug seemed a whole lot more profound than, say, pulling the plug on my vacuum cleaner. The wheel and all the throwing tools now sit out in the middle of the floor awaiting further marching orders.

Speaking of orders, I went over my order book again to make sure every current project is on track to be completed in the time I have left. It's going to be tight, but I will finish what I have started.

It looks like I may have a home for the ton of clay that needs to be kept from freezing. Now to call storage facilities to see what I can round up for the equipment and inventory. That's tomorrow's task.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

30 Days and Counting

Countdown to move; 30 days to go. I have finished any throwing I needed to do (I insist on making an urn for my kitty's ashes) and will trim those pieces early next week. A bisque kiln comes out today to be immediately replaced with a glaze firing - which will be followed immediately by either another glaze firing or another bisque.

I'm also starting to rearrange the house to find space for 27 50-pound boxes of clay. I have space in my kitchen workshop (there's a reason I'm single), but all that clay in one spot won't be good on the sills. Time to jettison some furniture I'm not using.

Spoke to the local paper about this yesterday. No ire, no complaining. Nothing but thanks for the property owner who, after all, has allowed me to use this space for five summers rent-free. As much as I wish I could have had better notice, I can't be mad at her. We both knew this day would come.

Just wish it hadn't been so sudden. Now, off to the pottery. I have a busy day ahead.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ready or Not

My how things change - and not always for the better.

I have been given less than one month to vacate the building in which I have been operating since 2010 when I first opened my doors. I will be finishing up any projects that are currently in the works and will cease production until I can find or build new facilities. I guess the time for the Kickstarter campaign has come, if a bit sooner than expected.

For now, I am in dire need of storage space. Any assistance and ideas would be greatly appreciated. Once that is taken care of, what stock I have will continue to be available online or by phone. But I will not be able to accept orders for items I do not have until further notice.

There will be further notice.

Wow. Just as things were really starting to warm up.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Gearing Up

Well, I think it's trying to be Spring. I'm not sure about that. Day after cold day of clouds and rain can keep the perspective in limbo, but the last time I checked the calendar, it was late April. Someone needs to bring the date up with the Powers That Be and tell them that the thermostat is long overdue for a cranking.

We had a long and very cold winter here in the hinterlands. You come to expect that when you live in Maine. All the same, it gets old by mid-February. And when March comes along, people start looking forward to the return of warmth and light. I think the colder the Winter, the greater the expectation of Spring's relief.

It doesn't work that way, though. We forget that April tends to be pretty chilly - and that it snows at least once in April (we've had that this year, so I think it's over). Actually, I remember once in my teenage years when I was mowing the lawn in May and suddenly found myself in the midst of a snowstorm. It didn't last very long, but you can imagine the emotional trauma.

The point is, Winter doesn't let go easily here. We tend to forget that as March turns to April, but as Garrison Keillor once noted, that April, May or early June blizzard comes along to teach us all that lesson we have learned so often. Winter leaves when it's good and ready.

Personally, I think we have earned a nice long Summer season. I would really like to collect on that even though experience says it may be warm - even hot on occasion - but it's not likely to be long. Even as the days grow longer, they seem to go by faster. Still, I can hope.

Oh yes...pottery. There is news along those lines.

The water finally got turned on last week and I have been in the pottery doing some cleanup. There is a lot to do before I can start production again, but things are pretty much where they are at this time of the year. It is cold in the building, of course, and that will need to change. I'm waiting for a couple nice warm days so that I can open the doors and windows and heat the place up. For now, I'm pretty much restricted to cleaning and straightening things up. Good enough.

The tile project continues to move forward slowly. Nothing like this ever moves quickly and I think that's just fine. I'm in no hurry. But early indications are that there will be tiles this season. Not bad since I first thought I'd have tiles in Summer of 2012.

I am looking forward to working in the glaze lab as well. Goals there include developing an improved clear glaze (I like the one I have but it's tricky to use in the raw state), finishing development of the new Seagull Gray, tweaking both the Evergreen and the Duckshead glazes and who knows what else?

The Kickstarter project is still in the works. Like any other creative work, it takes time to do well. I can't thank my friend Evan Jones at RBY Productions for his help in producing my "ask" video. I hope the project will be up and running very soon, but it won't go up until I think it's ready. Please keep an eye out for it. I need a new studio space that I can use year round. Right now, I'm focused on producing as many of the premium items as I can so that they will be ready for delivery when the project starts. That's a whole lot of mugs! And dinnerware! And vases!

But for now, the cold wind and rain are whipping at my windows. It's dinnertime and I'm hungry. Check back for more news soon!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Some time ago I started working on a tile project. I was inspired by a visit to the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works in Doylestown, PA a few years ago and decided to teach myself a process for making different types of tiles. I blogged about it in December 2010 and January 2011 - four posts in all.

At the time, I was working on tiles with a mosaic look. I am still working on that idea, but it has been modified. The tiles are now taking the form of three-dimensional sculptural pieces. The metamorphosis was sudden, following as it did, a visit to the now closed Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, MA. There I saw a collection of armor and arms that was quite impressive. But more importantly, I saw heraldic animals and crests that gave me new ideas. I stopped in at the museum's gift shop and found several books of designs including mythological animals found in architecture the world over. One appealed to me and I started working on it.
I modified this and started a rough cut. It became clear that I would need a combination of addition and subtraction to make this creature come alive. Here is the first rough cut:
Like a quilter, I quickly figured out that there was too much detail for this to work, and I also needed finer tools for the detail I would keep. I ordered a set of dentist's tools and kept at it. :After carving and adding clay, the tile looked like this:
The feet...yeah, I know. The idea was to start big and carve them out. They went on and came off several times before I figured out that the whole creature was pretty goofy, so goofy feet wouldn't really matter that much. A little while after I drew that conclusion, I also decided that carving the feet wasn't going to work and I started sculpting them instead. That resulted in:
Snowshoes! Well, this was a learning curve, and at least I was moving forward. With a little more perseverance, I managed a pair of acceptable feet:
Then the process of casting a mold could begin. Plaster is not a medium I have a lot of trouble with, so this was pretty easy. Of course, it did mean destroying the original because I cast with a moist clay original. It has everything to do with the way clay shrinks and my lack of desire to do the appropriate math. But once you have a single mold that works, you can cast as many originals and make as many more molds as you wish. Here is the result of my first casting in the new mold:
Note the bits of plaster around the edges. The border was a bit off as well. More castings needed to be made before I got some good, clean tiles. Once I had them, I was free to make more molds!
These five are currently drying over a heating vent and should be ready to go into production in about one week. Then there will be tiles! In time, I will use a press to make these (for now, I'm using a rolling pin). The process of getting a press made that will do this has also been one of discovery, I started with a homemade one-armed bandit that had no mechanical advantage and was impossible to operate without hanging from it like a crazed monkey:
I'm no engineer as this picture illustrates (although I must say I was pretty proud of my work here). From this humble beginning, I looked to make improvements. Books were read, websites were Googled, lots of research was conducted. And finally, I found this great idea:
It's a 12-ton shop press that I will be modifying into a tile press. There will still be a learning curve. I'll have to figure out how much pressure to apply to make a tile in a press mold without turning the plaster mold into dust. I probably better make more molds...