Someday when I'm old, I will look back on my life as a potter, and know that I did a good job. After several years of applying, and many more years of ambition, I've been juried into the 2015 Smithsonian Craft Show. I've always regarded this show as the top of the craft mountain. And now Mea the old lady can say "there I was, spinning around like Maria Von Trapp."
My quest was to make gray pots in a wood kiln. It's not that my quest was so difficult, it's that I only get to wood-fire about once a year. I have always loved the brown and celadon green pots that I've gotten out of wood-firing. But as you've probably gathered by now, my aesthetic priorities are soft shades of gray. In recent years another priority has emerged, which is that I now support myself financially with nothing but pottery sales. Therefore everything I make must make sense within the line of work that I present for sale. My wood-fired pots are special to me. I do want them to stand out when I display them with the rest of my pottery, but also to look like they belong. Now, after about ten years of trying, I think I have struck the right balance.
All of my attempts to make a gray glaze for cone 10/reduction resulted in blue glazes (shudder). And sometimes I made gray pots by accident, mostly with heavy crusts of salt and/or soda. I love that look, but I need a process that is more predictable, and more food-friendly. Last year, the answers began to emerge for me. The basis of the solution is porcelain. In order to make gray, you need to start with a white background.
These pots were thrown in porcelain, then brushed with a thin layer of a gray flashing slip. I've learned this slip does not look great on stoneware, it just looks flat and brown. But the white porcelain peeking through brightens everything, creating pretty shades of gray and brown with lots of variation.
And this is the second approach I took this year ... these pots were thrown in stoneware, then brush with porcelain slip. I carved a minimal pattern through the porcelain, to reach some of the brown tones of the stoneware. Then I fired them in the salt chamber of the kiln to receive some of those gray tones of salt.
I'm really pleased that I got to wood-fire with my friends from the Greenbelt Community Center again this year. Even though I no longer work there, I was able to sign up for this workshop, which is now deftly led by Karen Arrington. And once again we had a great experience working with Jim Dugan at Baltimore Clayworks, where we always get loads of guidance and expertise.
I get a lot of nice compliments at shows. But once in a while I hear something that strikes me deeper, and really makes me feel good. Yesterday at Art on the Avenue, a woman looked around my booth for a few minutes then said, "Ceramic is such a hard material. But your glazes look so soft. It's a nice combination." I've never thought about my work like that before, but I do now.
Near the end of the day, another person walked into my booth and said, "People are talking about you up and down the avenue." That one made me a little nervous. But now that I have totaled up my sales for the day, I don't think I need to worry about it.
Mea Rhee, the potter behind Good Elephant Pottery
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