Monday, August 30, 2010

TJ's German Adventure Part 3

When Susanne and I returned from Höer-Grenzhausin, after unloading the new clay, our work began to make the last new pieces for the firing. We shuffled pots in and out of the studio to let them quickly dry in the sparse sunshine (she assures me that this cold and rainy weather is not typical German summer). Pots were progressing through the process, and we were almost ready to switch the studio from wet work to glaze work, when Fritz arrived again...on his way to deliver some 200 liter jars for homeopathic medicine to Switzerland, on the shore of Lake Constance. With all the prep work to be done it was no easy task to abandon ship the next day. But, hey when else would I get to see that on this trip, right? 

Well I again was reminded how small Europe can be, and two hours later we were at the port of entry. Border control is not so stringent and there was not even the mention to look at passports, so now I will have to go back if only to get a stamp. The company the pots were being delivered to was closed for the mid-day meal and with no better alternative we were forced to walk around Lake Constance and hang out on the beach for a while. It was difficult, as I am sure you can imagine, but somehow I was able to survive. It was really wonderful and picturesque, the sailboats drifted by on a lazy breeze, while dense forest sprinkled with rooftops provided the backdrop, and a blimp glided along in contrast to the clouds. A couple hours later we were reminded of our purpose and headed back to the heavy laden vehicle to finish the delivery and continue on our route. It was a short stay, and gladly border control was equally forgiving on the way back, not even a question just a wave from the guard. We stopped on the German side of the lake for a time and it was slightly more breathtaking as we could see the Swiss Alps in the background this time. 

When we got back to the Mörsingen, I was surprised that Susanne had glazed most of the work to go into the kiln, even more surprised that she used the test flashing slips on the majority of the work. Fortune favors the brave? The last firing she had undesirable effects from the slip she uses predominantly and because that is her staple color it is easy to see the problem. There was not much of my work going into this firing, so it was quick work to do my tests and start making wads for the following day(s).

It took two days of loading, but that kiln was well packed. (side note: Susanne has a small anagama style kiln, with an Olsen Fast Fire salt chamber. The salt chamber is what we will be firing on this adventure) Thankfully our two days of loading were relatively stress free. We had some visitors, my first in Germany. The person who helped me through the application process for the Stipend, and found my placement was visiting family and decided to drop by. It is a very nice feeling to not be rushed to get the firing going. And pleasant conversation is a welcome break at almost any time. With the kiln packed and both of the doors (outer and inner) in place, we retired to the fireside where, Fritz's son and his friend were graciously burning sausages for us. Earlier in the day they made torches for all of us. When our meal was finished we lit them and went on a country side walk by fire light. 

Early to bed, fire when we rise. Six o'clock comes early, thankfully Susanne wanted that shift by herself. When eight rolled around so did I. We preheated with a gas burner to about 100° C, our goal was to continue climbing at a rate of 100° C/hour 'til 600° C, at that point we open the second firebox and keep it slow til body reduction. 

We tried to hold the reins up to 1000° and after that point we had to fight to get to 1100°. All in all we managed to start salting around 20:00 (8:00 pm). Salt, get the temperature back up hold, repeat. We finished salting at 22:00 and held the temperature for 2 hours. Then the real excitement came, pulling the grates from the firebox. Battling the heat, smoke, exhaustion, trying to not let my pants catch fire as we scramble to close the firebox. And rushing around the kiln to plug any and all areas where orange and yellow could be seen. What a rush. Cold shower. Sleep over rules. 

And at 7:00 the the next morning, we have a quick breakfast and hit the road to teach children how to make sculpture. Two workshops: one with ages 7-10 making a magic mountain where their creatures can live, the other ages 3-6 making gnomes. Both of the workshops were 3 hours long. The time frame was perfect for the first, but way too long for the little ones. After the story, the first gnomes, a snack and the first potty break, we were only half way there. Hide and seek is a difficult game played in a foreign language, but Susanne was happy to have the help, and it is hard not to enjoy laughing kids.

Back at home. A few hours of regrouping, now we have to pack pots and load the van. There is a market tomorrow, it is only a twenty minute drive but still needs preparation. It is the First Annual Local Products Festival (it sounds much better in German), specifically for food and hosted by the local Brauhaus. It is always fun to see local events, they bring the best people watching. This is no exception, one of my favorite things about this event, all of the vendors were asked to create a quiz for the public to answer to win a prize valued at 20€. Watching people carrying bright green pieces of paper from booth to booth, trying to convince the vendors to reveal the answers. It was a good way to start a dialogue with the customers

We started setting up at 13:00, the market started at 16:00, the weather held until we started packing at 22:30. I am very glad to have had a jacket, the rain got heavier and colder as the pots went back in the van, followed by the rest of the stand. We promised ourselves a Sunday off, like children promise to not wake up before noon on Christmas morning.

We don't allow ourselves to open the kiln before it cools to 100°C, and that happened Sunday morning. We uncased the outer door, then unpacked the van and rearranged everything in the show room. Carefully we remove the top layer of bricks on the inner door, still too hot, but we crane our necks to peer inside and catch a fleeting glimpse, of our pony or our socks? We force ourselves to have some coffee, both of us relying on the strong will of the other to prevent us from un-bricking the whole door. Another hour manages to finally pass, and we briskly stroll to unveil our prize. 

As many potters I know, myself included, the first response is not always the most accurate, and it is sometimes too easy to find fault with one's own work. "Too much reduction the pots are too dark," and "we fired too hot, the mussels have melted too far into the dishes." After is all said and done and everything is laid out for viewing, it was a bit hot (cone 11 flat and just starting to lose its shape), but the colors are actually quite stunning. That whole 'Fortune favors the brave' thing paid off in spades this time. The shells we used did melt a bit too deep, but they are, after all, process marks. The small pieces I put in turned out very well, and I will be able to use one of the big ones for the exhibition at the woodfire conference. Our relaxing Sunday off turned into unloading and cleaning wares for the next market, but the holiday (in terms of unloading kilns) comes more frequently for some potters, and with it comes cleaning up after the party.

The weather has been absolute crap for any work outside, the shelves, the rest of the wood prep, the dirty kiln will all have to remain as such until the sun returns. In the meantime, we are back on the wheels, making new future ponies or maybe socks. Thinking about the next firing in two weeks, right before the conference, the extra (three day) market that came up unexpectedly, and the Open Studio just a few days before I leave Germany. It is hard to believe this is the half way point.

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