Friday, December 22, 2006

Holiday Wishes


I made this photo during a past ice storm and would like to share its beauty with you.

Old Canal Pottery would like to thank all of you who have supported the pottery through purchases, donations of materials or labor. It has been an exciting past year! As recently as the past two weeks, alterations have been made to the kiln using materials donated by supporters. These improvements would have been financially prohibitive without the generousity and efforts of the Augusta Canal Authority, Modern Welding Company and Thermal Ceramics Corporation.

The improvements consist of two steel chimney extensions with heavy plate dampers and an additional 4 inches of ceramic fiber insulation on the kiln arch. These will greatly affect kiln handling and reduce fuel consumption. The kiln is loaded and we are awaiting better weather to try out the new modifications.

I would ask you to think of those in this world with the least and remember them in your thoughts and prayers. As you settle comfortably in for the Holidays with your loved ones, try to keep in mind those who are sick, hungry or homeless
. Make a promise to make a change the course of this world or someone's fate by simply caring and putting forth some effort.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Bits n' Pieces

Digging some good stoneware clay!

Gene loads balls of clay.
There's plenty of clay!

"Sweet Georgia Brown" mixed into a slurry and ready to dry out some.

It has been a while since I posted. I have been busy making the next kiln full of pots. It has also been very busy digging and processing clay. We are trying to switch over to all native clays. This area is blessed with some mighty fine stoneware clays which is why the Old Edgefield District potteries were located here( link). I've fired numerous samples and have found two that work well. The other day had me checking for some clay deposits along the fall line. I became distracted by this old shack that had collapsed in a remote area. I went to look at the old foundation and was standing there taking it all in when I heard this Z-Z-Z-Z-Z-ZZZZZ noise. I focused for less than a second before my body was airborne, realizing that a HUGE canebreak rattlesnake was about to send me to my reward! This animal obviously knows where the good clay is found, heh-heh! Thankfully, it was a cold morning and he was a bit sluggish and therefore decided to let foolish me live a bit longer.

At any rate, the clays are looking promising and I'm already turning some pieces out of it. I thought I'd put a few photos up of some pots from the last few firings. All are ash glazed. My next firing should be in another 1-2 weeks and the wood has been cut and laid in. I was lucky enough to have come across a large batch of 100 year old heart pine scraps to burn so it should be a hot fire, if nothing else. If you are new to collecting southern pottery or would like to learn more about this fascinating art form, follow this link.
This is the mark I stamp most work with

A slip decorated storage jar

This pitcher shows some profound coloring due to the mineral rutile being present in the glaze. The side facing the fire is almost blue.

A milk pan

Lidded storage jar or ginger jar

Jug with a few ash runs

Iron slip decoration

Candle holder with blue rutile markings

Friday, October 13, 2006

A Hard Firing....

Another firing was accomplished over a two day period in the groundhog kiln. As firings go, it was a little more difficult and protracted than usual. Cooler weather was called for by the weather guy, but I swear I didn't feel it. I did feel the 30% chance of rain all night and into the next day. It blew under the shed and dampened the wood a bit, slowing down the process and making things real uncomfortable. Above is a photo of some folk art that came out of the firing. It is based on the Petersburg boats which hauled bales of cotton down the Savannah River to the cotton mills in Augusta, GA.
Me, being the trooper that I am, just kept on chunking wood. I stopped and stirred the coals frequently as the wood was not burning as efficiently as usual, probably due to some dampness.
Things finally got roaring pretty good at the 18 hour mark, about 4:00 a.m. In the photo above, the kiln is starting to be blasted. The flame runs from one end of the kiln to the other and then up about 12 feet of chimney! In other words, the flame travels about 32 linear feet! I'm bent over poking and kicking in all of the wood I can get in at once. The flame is allowed to burn back down and then the stoking cycle is repeated. It goes on like this for a couple of hours. Hopefully, I stop in time and don't melt down the pots in the front row.
Well, you'll never guess what happened! You know all of that black smoke in the previous photo? It brought us some company in the early morning hours! Yes, a whole great big ladder truck with a fire crew came rolling up to the kiln. We had quite an exchange as they tried to figure out what I was doing. They thought I might be adding a little accelerant to my fire, which I assured them I hadn't. I thought we finally came to some sort of understanding....
I cranked it back up again, making up for lost time that the fire guys cost me. Here, the flames race up the chimney. This is a view from the rear. Some bricks have been removed from the opening in the chimney to act as a passive damper which slows down the draw of the chimney. A few hours later as I was just about to finish, the fire truck rolled in again. This time, some of the fire guys were real angry. I tried to talk about the understanding we had reached 2 hours earlier, but they seemed to have forgotten about it. They were intent on revealing the operating costs of the giant machine and crew. We exchanged phone numbers and addresses. They probably want to send a Christmas card or something!
This is exactly my expression! You could'a knocked me over with a feather. I was real tired at the end of it all, which was about 28 hours straight.

Here's some of the pots as they were unloaded a few days later. I put just a smidge of rutile in the glaze batch and it sure went a long way! You can see it in the form of bluish highlites here and there. I can't wait until the next firing!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Summer Fades...

I thought I'd share some thoughts and photos while I talk of pottery. I guess it's all related.
I took this photo in July on a typical sweltering 99 degree day. It is titled Boy and Dog. I love it for the pure, unbridled joy that both creations are sharing in unison. It is the total essence of July in the city here in the southern USA as a municipal fountain unleashes torrents of relief. This was awarded by the Smithsonian Institution in a photo contest last year. I was so lucky to be near at this precise moment with a telephoto lens!
Well, summer is retreating. Here in Dixie that means COTTON! I captured this typical field just outside of town. Cotton is such an exquisite plant and it crys the word "home" to my heart! I drew my first breath only a mile or so from a cotton field and hope to draw my last very close to the snowy plant. Inspite of the toxins associated with it's growing and the intense human suffering it brought to the millions who were enslaved to cultivate it in years past, the plant moves me.

I feel in quite a festive, party mood for tomorrow's firing. Maybe I should wear purple and don a red hat. No, I'm not feeling that festive! There is a show running in the events center next to the kiln of exquisite Oriental carpets. Most are antique and priceless. There will be many visitors milling around as well as friends who've promised to drop by and relieve some of the tediom of the early phase of firing with wood. I'll scarcely sleep tonight thinking of all that must be mentally recalled and put in order to have a successful firing tomorrow.

The groundhog kiln is ready to fire tomorrow. Lots of wicked small heartwood from long-leaf pine stacked and ready to pour out the BTU's it has locked within. The cooler weather moving in is a welcome relief from the sweltering days of the past months. The kiln was fired around the Fourth of July with daytime temps going to 101 degrees F! This firing will be pleasant, indeed, with temps of 73 degrees F!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Another Week...

I've spent the past week turning pots and other assorted chores with hopes of firing another load of pots in a week or two. Pretty ambitious! The museum at the Augusta Canal Authority will be getting many of the pots from the last firing to re-sell so I must replenish my stock. With a wood-fired kiln, the wood cutting/gathering/stacking is an ongoing chore. It never stops! Pictured below is a pallet factory waste pile. It is full of mostly thin hardwood that burns hot and fast.
I use 100% scrap wood from various sources to fire the kiln. Resinous pine scrap is prefered. No matter what species, it must be dry. Wood is spot checked with a moisture meter.

This next photo is of some Oxacan-style pots I made. I burnished them with a spoon to give them a shine, scratched designs on the surface, then fired them in a brush pile in a can of sawdust to heavily reduce or blacken them. It's fun to play!

Below is a piece I like alot that is now in a private collection. I call it the Lawyer. He's objecting politely.

I'm the originator of the dog jug or in Georgia, "dawg" jug. These have a lot of character! They're time-consuming to make but a favorite of mine and popular in collections.

Here's one of my chickens. They tend to vary a lot but are quite different from other folk potters. They have quite a bit of detail, including feathers.
This next piece goes beyond unusual! It is based on the old slave face jugs made at some of the Old Edgefield District potteries that were located around here in the 1800's. Yes, yes, I know, he's creepy! This form is actually a wigstand or wig holder and has a bonifide purpose. Unfortunately, a full head of hair doesn't help the poor thing a bit!

I thought I'd share a few unusual forms I make periodically with you and will post more as time permits.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Groundhog kiln fires first load of pottery!

After one and a half years of construction and trials, the groundhog kiln at Enterprise Mill in Augusta, GA has produced its first successful firing! Old Canal Pottery has seemed more of a dream than any business that would ever materialize. You can't imagine the joy felt after such a long journey filled with every imagineable obstacle and countless hours of hard toil! My partner, Gene Gilbert and I, Gary Dexter would like to thank the many individuals and businesses who've helped us get to this exciting start...without their help, it would have been even more difficult or impossible.

We are compiling a mailing list for all of the lovers of southern alkaline or "ash" glazed pottery. If you would like advanced notice to attend our kiln openings and have first pick of the pots as we take them out of the kiln, then email us at and we'll put you on the list.

Though the kiln has now been fired and adusted 3 times, the fourth firing took us to where we wanted to be. The pots took one day to set in the kiln. A small fire was started at 11:00 am on Saturday September 9, 2006. It was slowly increased in size and intenisty over the next 9 hours where upon it resembled a large campfire in size. Sarah Barton then came on-board to help me with taking it to the finishing temeratures. The kiln climbed smoothly over the next hours with the #11 cone dropping at about 4:00 am the following day. The kiln maintained a steady climb and stayed in perfect balance exhibiting rapid pulsing or puffing around the firebox door.

After the #11 cone had dropped, the kiln was blasted off for another hour and a half to ensure the back reached at least a cone 7. With the help of some remarkable old heart pine wood scrap, the entire firing was complete in under 20 hours.I'm posting some other photos of the firing as well as some constuction pics.
I'm stoking and carefully standing behind the door. The heat is incredible anytime the door is open and will render your legs hairless and as smooth as a baby's bottom!

Some rolling fire working magic on pots.

Another view through the door. The split oak logs are used for preheating and bringing the kiln up to a bright orange heat.

This is a left-hand side view of the kiln showing some of the primo heart pine scrap used for blasting the kiln to the final temperature. It's truly wicked stuff! Thanks to Benny Christian from Christian Millwork!

This is a vat of the ash glaze used on the raw pots. It's ash content makes it very caustic and hard on the hands! Jergens just go on home.

Sarah was checking the rear of the kiln to see what color the flames were as they came into the chimney.

Starting a small fire at 11:00 am. It has to be a long, slow climb from this or pots will explode and other woes will creep in.

Inside studio. One of the drying racks is in the background and my workbench is in the foreground. Check out Gene's beautiful orchid!

On the way to kiln. I love these little carts! I think I'll spiff it up with some dividers and sides as well as some period colors on the cast iron fittings and wheels.

Gene looking out studio door.

Heavy smoke from blasting off kiln. Actually, the smoke is just starting. It forms huge clouds of thick, black, tar-like smoke for a miute or two followed by an orange flame that shoots up and out of chimney. These blasting cycles go on for an hour and a half, typically.

Setting the kiln. This takes two persons. Usually, someone is on the outside placing pots on a long plank that is slid in to me on the inside to set. The buttocks and hamstrings get incredibly sore for a day or two after crawling around.

Pots cooling down after dropping cone 11. You can see the cone plaque with numbers 8-10-11 laying flat. It was blasted some good licks after the 11 cone fell to ensure the rear of the kiln reached a suitable temp.

Late night shot of the business end of kiln at full heat. This scene gets real mesmerizing after 7 or 8 hours of staring at the bright light in the darkness of night. You stumble like a crazed zombie looking for the next chunk of wood to throw in.

Stan hauls some pots to kiln. Thanks! Notice the railroad tracks that run by the studio to the kiln. This is where some of the world's finest cotton cloth was shipped out from Enterprise Mill in its former life.

Here is a view of the pots after firing

Here I am peeking out. Now you see why it's called a groundhog kiln.

Some of the fired pots back in the studio.