Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Wheel thrown and altered in obscene heat

During the past unseasonably moderate and delightfully long spring, I had a delusional idea that I would make and bisque pots on the screened-in porch all summer long. Given the heat, however, I've abandoned hope of being productive. Right now, six greenware wheel-thrown-and-altered (see below) oval boxes--my total home output since the DT-MSH/TC--are slowly warping as they half dry/half bake in the 100+oF temps outside.* I could work in the basement, where it's cooler, but it's kind of gross having ten thousand camel crickets looking over my shoulder while I'm at the wheel. Someday I'll build a four-season studio in the back yard.

Incidentally, "wheel thrown and altered" is one of my favorite pottery catch phrases. Look for it in photograph captions in select pottery books and magazines. Under an image of an elaborate pot in the shape of, say, a perfectly proportioned nautilus shell or a sassy teapot or a Tyrannosaurus Rex, the accompanying explanatory text might read (simply, mysteriously, and uselessly) "wheel thrown and altered."

I'll come clean: the boxes above were each made with three thrown components--an ovaled wall, a ribbed lid insert (all six inserts were harvested from one thrown piece), and a flange to hold the lid in place--plus a tossed slab for the bottom. Voila: wheel thrown and altered.

*It could be worse. I was at Claymakers yesterday, where the gas kiln was running and the air conditioner was broken. When I left, the 99oF outside air actually felt refreshingly cool.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Time flies

E and K have been chasing each other in circles for over seven years, and judging by their smiles, it's still as much fun today as it was in 2003. We'll call them back for another photo shoot in 2017.

Victory is mine!

It's been a long slog, and I interrupted it to read Jon Krakauer's Eiger Dreams, but I am pleased to report that, only a few decades late, I have finally finished The Fellowship of the Ring.

The Fellowship of the Ring scores points for its contrasting heroic archetypes. First there's diminutive Frodo, a kind and good hobbit. When fate thrusts the terrifying role of Ring Bearer upon him, he finds solace in duty, friendship, and perseverance. He suffers without complaint both physically and emotionally, trudging on despite wounds or weather, although--because he's a tender, sensitive type--he is likely to swoon, shiver uncontrollably, sleep fitfully, or faint before the day or night is out.

Frodo's heroic foil is Aragorn. Aragorn has a lineal suffix surname ("son of Arathorn"), but he prefers to go by "Strider" and assorted other one-word nicknames when he is out and about because he finds the accompanying anonymity useful. He bathes in invigorating streams of testosterone every morning so that he always smells of virility even when he's travel worn. He is tall, handsome, wise, knowledgeable, trained in herbal healing arts, capable of carrying hobbits through head-high snow drifts, poetic, musical, contemplative, vigilant, efficient, and modest. He looks just as good in rustic earth tones as in shimmering green elvenwear. Protector and guide, he inspires trust and is (literally) a born leader. He doesn't faint.

There are three semi-prominent female characters in the book, and all of them have names, so that's some improvement over The Hobbit. The first is the river spirit Goldberry, wife of Tom Bombadil, whose job it is to look inspiringly pretty and to laugh with a sonorous tinkle. She and Tom appear early on in the book, when Tolkien was still writing a children's story instead of a profound fantasy epic for adults. The second female is the elf Arwen, whose job it is to sit still and quietly in Rivendell and be breathtakingly beautiful. As the only quiet, unmarried, breathtakingly beautiful female in the book, she is a suitable beloved for Aragorn, who is so strong and silent that he can mention her only obliquely and only to elves. The third female is the wise elf ruler, the Lady Galadriel. She's poised, elegant, wise, and magical, not to mention inspiringly beautiful.

As for the story's action, my favorite part of the book was when arrogant Boromir tried to persuade Frodo to yield the ring; the charged dialog and plot twist were very dramatic, and they occurred only a few pages from the end of the book, which made the reading all the more rewarding. Thereafter, I immediately commenced The Two Towers and was impressed with the speed with which Tolkien dispatched Boromir. Nowhere else, not even in tragic opera, has a character so promptly kicked the bucket in payment for his sins.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Holes accomplished. Classic Koosh Ball included for scale only; will not be bisqued with Klein Bottle.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Hole hero

Tony Marsh knows how to drill holes.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cutting edge

I told myself "No More Holes." But then another voice in my head said "Aww, for old time's sake." Thus I find myself immersed in making a Double-Torus Klein Bottle with Total Hole Coverage.

Last time around, I made several Single Sized Hole/Total Coverage models (item number DT-SSH/TC in my as-yet-unwritten mail-order Klein Bottle catalog), and several Multiple Sized Hole/Partial Coverage models (DT-MSH/PC). This one's going to be the first--and I swear, the last (although really, who am I kidding?)--DT-MSH/TC model. It is going to be the 3D Klein Bottle model to end all Klein Bottle models.

Unless, of course, the weight of the in-progress bottle starts to weaken and then crush one of the toruses along its seam. In an ideal world, my clay toruses wouldn't have seams. As I make them on real-world pottery wheels, however, there's no way to avoid the join.

I know how to successfully repair cracks in leather hard clay, but I have zero experience repairing cracked and dented hole-filled toruses, particularly when I can't access the weak seam because it's on the inside surface. I did my best, levering out the dent with a wooden skewer, scoring and slipping and filling in the cracks, and re-piercing the holes, after which I turned to the internet for technical and moral support.

Cliff Stoll's company, ACME Klein Bottle, is the best online reference for anyone considering Klein Bottle manufactury, but it focuses almost exclusively on Pyrex and woolens, and the only references to repairs are for 50-year-old Friden calculators.

When it comes to repairing leather-hard clay Klein Bottles, Google's search engine failed me.

And that's when it hit me: what I'm doing isn't just a bizarre, pitiful waste of time, it's also cutting edge ceramic topological research. No one else on the planet is doing this sort of work--or if they are, they aren't blogging about it. So I shouldn't be surprised that I'm hitting the occasional bump in this never-before-traversed road (although how the road got there in the first place, if no one has ever traversed it, is an interesting question). I guess that makes my work pretty special.

It occurs to me that I haven't posted any photos from the wood firing back in June. Below are two shots of a DT-MSH/PC, a bottle now in a private collection in Wisconsin. It also occurs to me that maybe a bent paperclip is the right tool for accessing that inner seam of my wounded torus, so it's back to the grindstone for me.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

I'm not making this up

"Mama?" says E during a quiet moment, "Did you know some kids try to not do what their parents say?"

--"Yeah?" I reply.

"Yeah. But I don't think that's good. I think it's better to listen to parents."

--"Really? How come?"

"Because parents are smarter than kids. Well, not smarter, but parents know more."

I will keep journalistic distance and let this conversation speak for itself, as the gods of Mt. Parenthood frown upon hubris and will toss a thunderbolt at me if I gloat.

Fourth of July hybrid cousin cake

Today is the Fourth of July, which of course means we're celebrating S's birthday. Germany doesn't give much attention to the occasion, so S appreciates the effort the U.S. puts forth every year.

No birthday would be complete without birthday cake. For S, I usually make a hybrid of assorted cakes, yielding what you might call a cousin to the Schwarzwaelder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cherry Cake). But while the respectably admirable Schwarzwaelder Kirschtorte probably gets picked no later than third for the dodgeball team during recess, and usually lands a solid supporting role in the school musical every spring, the handsome Hybrid Cousin Cake is both team captain and the musical's protagonist, and still manages to get straight As and be so wittily gracious about it all that you have to like him even if you're a little jealous.

Today, the Hybrid Cousin is manifested as a four-layer toasted-almond sponge cake, each layer doused in rum, with raspberry jam and rum-soaked Ranier cherries atop the first and third layers, and Helen's whipped chocolate ganache atop the second layer and frosting the whole cake.

Helen is S's mom. I couldn't remember what proportions to use for the ganache, so I thought, "I'll just call Helen and ask." Of course, there's no better way to flatter and please your mother-in-law than to inquire about a recipe you want to replicate for her golden son.

My own mom did the same thing a few decades back, when she called my dad's mom, Zelda, to ask for her recipe for tongue. Personally, I think one reaps more direct benefit asking about chocolate ganache, but dietary habits have changed since the 1960s. Anyway, family lore says Bubbie Zelda's recipe was to "just put it in a pot with the ingredients" and cook it until it was done.

Helen said basically the same thing about the chocolate ganache: you just put the chocolate and the cream in a pot together and--

"How much chocolate?" I interrupted. "One of the big Milka bars, or one of the small ones?"--(the standard units of chocolate measurement in Germany)--"And how much cream?"

"Oh, I don't remember. Half a liter of cream, and then add the chocolate. Don't use chocolate with anything in it," she added, deftly evading the quantity question, "no nuts or anything like that."

So I winged the proportions: a pint and a half of heavy whipping cream from Maple View Farm in Chapel Hill, and one Swiss dark chocolate bar and two Swiss milk chocolate bars from Whole Foods. Melt, chill, whip.

Incidentally, another way to score points with your German mother-in-law is to make an impressively tall sponge torte. "My cakes never rise that much," she said a few years back, when we were visiting and I made three tortes for a party she was hosting. She nodded with approval at my egg-white-whipping-and-subsequent-gentle-folding abilities. Of course, the wise daughter-in-law knows to simply smile politely and not mention the two extra egg whites she snuck in as backup.