Friday, February 29, 2008

such fun-miniswap

Every year for the past three years Molly of the Mollycoddle blog hosts a miniswap for creative mamas and their children. I had just discovered blogs last year and looked on enviously at the fun swaps documented over at the miniswap group on flickr. This year, I signed up in time and the boy and I were paired with a lovely family, Amanda and William and baby Sasha, in Vancouver, BC. We picked up our package from the PO yesterday and were delighted by all of the goodies they made and picked out. This package was full of all of the excitement of a Chinese New Year parade (with candy, toys, lanterns, and a yoyo that big Luther dog mauled immediately), the beauty of a NW coast beach, cool recycled art materials, handmade finger puppets, and a rocking cd for the whole family to enjoy. I feel like I'm not even naming half of the gifts, but boy were we impressed.

Our package was a bit of a challenge for me. Pottery would have been fun, but I had a 4 week timetable to work with. While I love to knit, my knitting time is under two hours a week. I sew, but what to sew for boys? I finally settled on some easy appliques- an apron, because my boy loves his so, and a tiny bag full of garden seeds. I also tried out (so late to this trend) a variation of the freezer paper stencils- both boys now have matching green and blue tractor tee shirts. A book, some stickers, a rubber duckie soap for baby, and a bucket of dinosaurs rounded out our big padded envelope.

My boy loved this project so much that he wants to keep in touch with our swap partners- he "loves (my) friend William in Canada!"

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


You may already know that this little image of a bee finds its way into all of my pottery. It is either stamped into the wet or leather hard clay, or I stamp it on the bottom of each piece with underglaze. And then there are the bee-skep* inspired pieces, the honey pots and butter dishes I've already shown you. I've always loved bees- I've even been known to find bees, drunk on necter, buried up to their hind ends in flowers and very carefully stroke their velvety bodies (please don't try this with honeybees. You'll get stung. It really only works with bumblebees).
Yesterday I met with some "colleagues" (can you call us colleagues when we're vendors at the same market?) from the Memphis Farmer's Market, Richard and Rita Underhill of Peace Bee Farm. My family uses a LOT of honey- we've gone through 4 lbs since November, so I called the Underhills to see if they sold in Memphis during the winter. They happened to be coming into town from Proctor, AR, so they met me at the museum and brought me another 4lb of honey. I enjoyed visiting with them-they are truly the nicest people, have the most lovely honey, and also have wonderful handmade beeswax candles. They said that they would be at the Memphis Farmers Market beginning in April, and assuming that the Memphis Botanic Gardens opens their Wednesday Farmers Market again, I'd expect to see them there, too. Richard and Rita were featured this past October on our local PBS affiliate's "Southern Routes" program, both because of last summer's scary bee die-off, and because they are so knowledgeable and approachable.

I have an essay about bees, my love for them, and their important role in our ecosystem and our food production, but for now, suffice it to say that I love them, and what we love shows up in our lives over and over and over again. More thoughts on bees to come.

* a bee skep is a domed, straw structure that were used to house bees in gardens in England and Europe, particularly Northern Europe. They are no longer used for attracting bees (illegal for housing them, in fact), but are decorative only, because of two things. 1) no way to protect against predators/mites. 2) to harvest the honey, the entire hive had to be destroyed. Sometimes if you see a picture of a bee hive, you're really looking at the skep. The hive is what the bees made themselves inside the skep, hollow tree, or modern wooden bee boxes.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

oh, I can't keep it to myself

Here is the cup I am drooling over. The artist convo'd me on etsy and said that more were coming, and that she'd be pleased to have me feature it on my blog. Here's a photo, and here is a listing for a similar cup, because yes, I bought this one. I love her bowls, too. So I bought one. I'm going a little crazy over here- they're just so french-y meets toile but so simple in their execution. Love 'em, love 'em. I forgot to point out that this is the artists' photo, not mine.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

working through an idea

Yesterday I told you that I'd take pictures of my work in the studio, but I'm not sure about how I feel about it. Here is my stoneware version of the venerable Picardie glass. I threw several of these yesterday and cut through all but one. This one was extra thick and I cut the facets as carefully as I could. I wasn't happy that the "shudder" lines were so visible. Even though I love handmade and worn, I'm not crazy about sloppy/choppy, which is how I think this looks. Although that being said, I'm not sure how I can justify my love for my very aged kitchen table. But the shudder marks made me wince:

so I rubbed the facets with slip after they were cut and re-defined the top and bottom curves of each cut with my wet fingertips. This single cup, not including throwing, took about 20 minutes. I did have to re-throw the top to erase the wonky (I left the cup attached to the bat as I was faceting)and I used my nifty metal edging tool to redefine the lip at the base. Yesterday when I was throwing, I did about 4 cups in maybe 30-45 minutes, with minimal finishing. I cut the lip for the base and left a ridge to know where to stop my facets at the top, planning to smooth it out with the top of the lip later.

Here's my dilemma, and I'd like some feedback. If you are reading this blog you either love/like pottery or you know me, so fire away. My feelings won't be hurt. This cup will have to cost well over $15. Even when(if) I get better at making them, I would think that I would still cut through every fourth one after I've spent 10 minutes throwing it and 15 minutes faceting it- the holes always happen on the last two cuts, which is what happens with the cafe au lait bowls, even though I've been making them for a while now. Little faux-picardie cup is only 3-4" tall. I will hold less than 8oz of liquid. This one is mine mine mine and will probably be shiny cobalt blue. I'll show you when it's finished. But if you were my customer, would you want one if it were, say, $17? I found a similar one on etsy that also had a lovely drawing on the bottom, it was not thrown but molded then hand altered. A bargain at $15, and I've decided to be selfish and not share a link because I want it myself!

Tell me true, folks, I need some feedback.

*** Good question about the weight. I took a new bamboo tumbler, dry but unfired. It weighed 11.6 oz. When glazed and fired, they range from 10-12 oz. The faux picardie tumbler weighed 10.1 oz, so I'm guessing that while they will have a substantial heft, they won't feel like handweights. The tumblers was also the same height, will probably hold similar amounts.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

throwing and gifts

no photos yet, but I spent some time throwing this morning. I found a ceramic version of my favorite picardie glasses on etsy, which I'll show you when I've heard back from their maker, but I thought that the time had come to attempt my own again. I threw the right shape then tried to immediately cut the facets. Too soon, yes, and yes, it did warp the shape terribly, but I did well going around the entire little tumbler until I got to the last facet and cut through the wall. I threw a few more and will try to facet them again later this afternoon when they've had a chance to stiffen up a bit. I'll bring the camera up with me then, but a camera and wet clay don't do too well together.

I also made a memorial tile for a family who lost their beloved pup a week ago. It will look like this one that I made for our 15 year-old lab, Pete, when I had to put him down last April. Pete's was hurriedly done- I realized that his time had come, rolled out too-small a slab, and pressed his paw into the center just before we left for the vet's office. This time my struggle was getting the print- Luther (still a puppy at a year and a half- labs mature SLOWLY) refused, but thought we were playing a new game wherein dogs bite clay. I tried with him four times before giving up and calling Birdy,our 8 year old lab-airedale mix. She obliged, but was nervous (as I understand airedales are, and she always is about everything) about being in the studio. I think it turned out better than Pete's. I hope that our friends will like it once the heartbreak eases.

Monday, February 18, 2008


I love to have flowers around. Just a blossom or two. Roses, a single pansy or viola, any little bit of color and scent. G's favorite is the simple happy daisy. When we moved into our house, I was blown away by two things- the swimming-pool-sized fig tree in the backyard and the two enormous Perle d'Or roses in the garden. They bloom from early March clear through November- even at Christmas, this year. I always have a few clusters of these sweetly-scented (appley?) roses in the bedroom and bathroom while they're in bloom. Often, they are in tiny little bud vases like this one. I have at least a dozen glass, silver, and ceramic bud vases, all under 4" tall, around the house. Three or four are of my own design, two are my friend Katherine's work, and I bought two of Julie Thomas's from her etsy shop that I just LOVE. My own ceramic bud vases are canvases for my love of surface decoration: fluting or slip trailing. This one, glazed in deep celadon, is hand-carved with a dozen straight lines from mouth to base.

This time of year garden flowers are in shorter supply, but the early narcissus and daffodils are coming up, the camellias are still strong, and the lovely twiggy flowering quince and forsythia are in full swing. Yesterday I was given a cluster of lilies, liatris, and my favorite spider mums by a dear friend who provided altar flowers in memory of his family. The taller stems are in a vase together on our table, but I am especially pleased to have the smaller "filler" blossoms for my bud vases this week. During the winter, when the days are as likely to be grey as not, those spots of color can really make my day.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


I have a hard and fast rule about not letting myself complain on this blog- its purpose is exploring my thoughts about pottery, creativity, and to document how my pottery progresses over time. This week, however, I found that I didn't get in to a juried show that I'd participated in for the past five years. The rejection stung. I wondered if I wasn't accepted because of the change in format from slides to digital images, but after contacting the person who organized the jury pool in hopes of feedback, I realized that I just won't ever find out why, and why doesn't really matter in the end. One door closes, another opens. I am looking for those other doors that may open and reaching for some shows that I'd previously considered out of my league.

This teacup was part of a set I made this summer as a thank-you gift for my son's first preschool teachers. Each cup had a different fern, ginkgo, or japanese maple leaf. I call this design of a single hazle-green leaf floating on a white background my "delta zen" series, and I've been making them since 2001. When I was in graduate school I wrote a paper on Mississippi Abstract Expressionist Dusti Bonge (of Biloxi). During the course of the research I went down to visit her studio three or four times, to look at her work,read through her papers, and play with her ideas*. She was very influenced by eastern thought and the idea of "zen space**," which drew me (I was not yet a potter) to examine the role of negative space in art. I am certain Buddhist scholars would scoff at my interpretation of Zen in my pottery, but I am an Episcopalian who is almost entirely unable to "let go," so I wouldn't make a good Buddhist at all. These pieces feel calming to me, so I'm going to persist in my calling them zen.

*At the time, I painted, and inspired by her materials, I began covering my canvases with Joss paper, purchased at Vietnamese groceries, before roughing out my compositions. I no longer paint, but I did wallpaper my small hallway with hundreds of squares of Joss paper.

**I may be closer aligned to writer and designer Alexandra Stoddard's ideas of Zen than the true Eastern ideals.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


These little ladybugs always make me thing of tiny hearts- dots of love. Happy Valentines Day to you, my friends! I hope your day is special. Love, Melissa

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

new pottery on etsy

I'm working on an update for etsy later this afternoon- these cannisters are going up. They are larger versions of my bamboo tumblers, one is sugar bowl sized, the other is perhaps sugar cannister sized. I still need to get the exact dimensions and volume for them. My son's godfather, a friend dear to Gary and me since before Gary and I were even a couple, asked me last year if I would work on a cannister set for him. Fitz is quite a baker- he makes excellent pizza crust and wonderful bread. He needed cannisters for different specialty flours and grains. These were my first attempt at his fulfilling his request. I'm not sure how well these would work for flour because they are not airtight, but I was pleased with their design.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

umm, what I MEANT to show you was

not this empty styro container, which held my take-home portion of tomato aspic on leaf lettuce with homemade mayonnaise and decorative paprika sprinkle. I MEANT to show you the pretty pretty yummy aspic. But I ate it. All of it. Lettuce too, and got a piece of bread to mop up the mayonnaise and paprika.

Yesterday Gary and I had a lunch date at Calvary Episcopal Church in downtown Memphis. Every weekday during Lent they have noonday preaching and a waffle shop open for lunch. Gary had waffles with chicken hash. I have been dreaming of aspic for weeks- so I had the "salad plate," which consists of tomato aspic, shrimp mousse, chicken salad, and half a canned pear with cottage cheese, all atop lettuce, each served with a rosette of wonderful homemade mayonnaise and the aforementioned sprinkle of paprika. I also ordered and extra aspic to eat later in the week. I didn't think that meant Tuesday, but to be truthful, it was half-eaten by Monday night.

Usually, I am a whole-foods eater- pure flavors, unadulterated by extra flavors, gelatins, chemicals. This is 1950s food, but in a purer form. Nothing but getatin in here that's objectionable to me. I SO enjoyed my 50s food. My birthday is coming up in a month, and I think that I'm going to have a Calvary Salad plate to celebrate. When the Waffle Shop check-out ladies asked if we enjoyed our meal, and "how was the aspic?" I had to profess my love for it and admit that when I made the same recipe for Easter two years ago, I ate an entire 9X13 pan of the stuff over Easter week.

Intrigued? Want to call me crazy (even my mother thinks my love for aspic is odd)? Here's the recipe, adapted from the Waffle Shop Cookbook:

4 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 can tomato juice
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
celery tops
1T sugar
1T plus 2tsp Worcestershire
1/4 tsp celery salt
1/4 tsp salt
2T each cider vinegar and lemon juice.

Dissolve gelatin in tomato juice, add all ingredients but acids. Bring to a boil, turn off heat. Add acids, cool, strain, pour into pans and refrigerate. Serve with homemade mayonnaise* on a lettuce leaf

I'd give out the shrimp mousse recipe, but it makes 3 10x 18 pans!

*Duke's mayonnaise, made in South Carolina, without any sugar, is an acceptable substitute for homemade.

Monday, February 11, 2008

seconds in my garden

seconds in my garden
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
Saturday afternoon, when I was having my blissful alone time, I took some pictures of the winter garden and all of my pottery scattered around in it. I don't know about most potters, but I have a hard time pitching a platter, plate, birdhouse, whatever that looks nice except for, say, the small glaze crack the middle of it. I still like the design, I love the leaves that I used in the piece, but it is not functional, not food safe, not really nice enough to use as a display-only piece. This catalpa leaf platter is one of these pieces, so I wired it to my fence. It sits behind a wild, rangy flowering quince, next to a japanese maple bowl, next to a broken sea urchin, next to a porcelain bird's nest, next to a warped and cracked St. Francis. They are all more or less lined up on the upper portion of the fence, wired tight to the lattice, peeking out from behind twiggy bushes and wisps of Carolina Jessamine hanging down from the trees. I'm not sure if they look junky or creative, but they mostly make me happy.

I've planted oxalis and other tiny bulbs in cracked cafe au lait bowls, half-buried in flower beds, and I keep a couple of smallish bowls on my potting bench for scooping potting soil or collecting currant tomatoes in the summer. I remember when my mother was visiting at our old house she rescued some of these bowls from the yard (one in particular was turned over to provide a resting place for the toads), incredulous that I'd put them out in the dirt or filled them with birdseed. Recently, at her house, I spied one of these imperfect old bowls in her cupboard. It is her favorite guacamole bowl, she said.

Today is my desk-day. I'm working on taxes, so this post is as close as I will get to pottery until tomorrow. I hope you all have a beautiful week!

Saturday, February 9, 2008


I mentioned in my Mardi Gras post that I was taking on gratitude as a lenten discipline. The transforming power of gratitude on one's outlook on life is amazing. Of course, this fine, fine February day helps with a sunny outlook. After running errands this morning (which included picking up some easy to grow seeds for my boy and his mini-swap partner and a happy-valentines-to-me gift of a two raspberry plants- one golden!), I opened the windows to let fresh air into the house, put my new white hyacinth into a bright blue cache pot, and enjoyed the fruits of a quickie-rearrange project Gary and I worked up last night( it included a new "desk" area for little boy in the kitchen, up on flickr later).

I love living in Memphis- our winters are mild- I can keep arugula and herbs going year -round. Today is a beautiful day to get out and work in the garden. I love having a morning to myself. I love my museum job, even though it meant that most of my work in the studio this week was of the clean-up and rearrange type, and I love my home-job, because it provides me with a greater sense of self and an (paying!)outlet for my creative impulses.

The photo shows some of Gary's creativity. He makes shot-sign art- lighted pieces that typically have his fabulous photos on slide film behind each bullet hole. The "garden" sign came from a huge Liberal/Garden City Kansas highway sign. I claimed the Garden part before he could do anything else with it. He is such a nice guy, he just let me have it to hang up on our front porch.
Have a beautiful weekend!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

things I wish I could translate into clay

This is number one on my list: the French Duralex Picardie glass. I tried to throw and flute some, but they just didn't work for me. I bought a few for a quarter each at a thrift store, having long been obsessed with the form* (just like the cafe au lait bowls), was thrilled to discover their name, then dismayed to find out that they were no longer manufactured. Oh, there's still a version being made, I just don't like the "new" form. It's very square and boxy at the top, better for stacking, I think the idea was. I bought all that was left in 4,6, and 12 oz sizes at the local Williams-Sonoma outlet, but that only bought me 6 small glasses and 3 large ones. I'll be adding to the collection as I find them because they are fabulous. I dropped a 4 oz glass on the bathroom floor the other day- it bounced, didn't break. Everything breaks on 1920s tile!

I'd like to send a huge thank you to Patricia at A Little Hut for her praise and beautiful presentation of my bamboo tumbler. At my house, if you don't see a picardie glass in my hand, you'll find a bamboo tumbler. Thanks, Patricia.

*My plug for industrial design, this is. Also, as an aside, I'm teaching a sculpture unit right now at the museum. A student pulled me aside yesterday and whispered- is that really a trash can? It was an Alessi, I believe. I wish there had been time to talk about industrial design, but all I had time (and energy, due to my recovering but still present stomach flu) was a whispered-back "yes!"

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

drippy dreary mardi gras

This Mardi Gras Birdhouse* is the closest I'll get to celebrating Fat Tuesday today. The weather is rotten (70 degrees and thunderstorms, which meant that all of the local schools closed two hours early), I've had the stomach flu, so the gumbo cookoff** we'd planned to attend is off limits because I can't limit myself to french bread and white rice when there are a dozen different gumbos to try! If you're somewhere enjoying it- laissez les bons temps rouler!

*I made this birdhouse for a Mardi Gras-themed silent auction. It didn't sell, so I gave it to my neighbor Olivia, a native New Orleaner. It's been hanging in her front yard ever since, so well guarded by her cat Lao Tse, that no birds dare nest in it.

**We ended up having a basement party with our neighbors instead, hiding out from the tornadoes that hit the mid-south pretty badly. It tore through one of Memphis's malls in a neighborhood that faces more challenges than it can readily meet. North Mississippi and Northwest Tennessee, including Jackson, TN, were also badly hit. We were very blessed to only have high winds and no damage, not even a power outage. So I'm starting lent today observing the same discipline my friend Beth has taken on: gratitude.

Monday, February 4, 2008

bee skep butter dish

Green hive butter dish
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
I find myself making this from over and over again. This photo is one of the first butter dishes I made, inspired by the straw bee skeps scattered around the kitchen gardens in Old Salem, a historic district in Winston-Salem, NC, also the home of Salem College. I made the horizontal ridges with a Jepson wood profile tool just after throwing, while the piece was still wet. The top form is a bottomless cylinder, collared in at the top and closed with a finial form. I use my lid calipers to ensure a snug fit between the saucer and lid.

These come in celadon, yellow, and cobalt, in a variety of sizes and are good for covering cheeses as well as butter.

Also, I have to say thank you to Molly over at Mollycoddle for showcasing my little sea urchin, blog, and etsy store. Thank you, Molly! The blog love couldn't have come at a better time!

Friday, February 1, 2008

cafe au lait- a big bowl of comfort

cafe au lait
Originally uploaded by Bridgman Pottery
Today was my first day back at work after more than a month off. Of course, that meant that my son didn't want to get dressed for school and being Friday, my class was distracted. It is deceivingly bright and sunny- still too cold to go out without hat and gloves. Which I did. I felt sorry for myself, so after lunch I made my favorite coffee drink- a simple cafe au lait.

Some people use latte and cafe au lait interchangeably. A latte, though lovely, is made with espresso and steamed/frothed milk. The cafe au lait is much more straightforward: simply mix one part hot strong (almost double-strength) coffee with hot scaled milk. Some people prefer to use a chicory coffee like Cafe du Monde from New Orleans. We like use Community Coffee's Between Roast* when we can get it. My mother is from Louisiana, so when we visit her parents we stockpile our favorite brand of coffee. The grocery store price is $2 more per pound in the Memphis area. It is still affordable just a bit more than we want to pay for our daily grind. When we're out of the Louisiana stash, we substitute Yuban's** Dark Roast.

An afternoon cafe au lait is a "having a hard day" ritual for me. It's a nice pick me up but not so involved that I have to take extra time to make it. I hope you'll enjoy yours, and it will make you feel better when you need it, like I did this afternoon.

*You can buy Community Coffee online! Go here! When I was in college, I used to get classmates from Louisiana to bring it back for me. Wish I'd known about online coffee then- if it was even available 10 years ago!

**Yuban coffee was specified in a 1974 recipe for homemade kahlua in the Natchitoches (pronounced Nak-o-dish, not Nag-a-do-ches, as the town in Texas is pronounced), LA, Cane River Cuisine, published by the Service League of Natchitoches. It is my favorite cookbook for old fashioned regional favorites like real gumbo, old fashioned cocktails (milk punch, anyone?), and divinity.