There are some great benefits to living in the Goshen area. On Saturday I experienced another shining example of this at the first installment of the Goshen Pottery Workshop Series. I’ll admit, it was my first pottery workshop so I have nothing to compare it to but the surface class I took last summer… but it was amazing. Not only did I get to spend half a day with some of Goshen’s finest potters, I got to experience 3 hours of the best demonstrations that money can buy. And it all happened practically in my backyard.
So the following is my account of this tremendous time. Disclaimer alert: this is mostly from memory so there may be a few things that I don’t remember quite right, or things that I don’t remember at all!
Hangin’ with Other Mud Slingers
It was a beautiful day for anything on Saturday, including a pottery workshop. I arrived around 12:45 and the driveway was already lined with cars. (Note to self: arrive extra early next time!) As I walked up the driveway I was immediately greeted by Todd Pletcher, the wonderful host and potter, who lives maybe 10 minutes from my house. Then Troy Bungart introduced himself. I had been following some of his work on Facebook so it was finally nice to put a face with the pots (and tools). He mentioned that he had seen some of my glaze tests which, I admit, was a little flattering. I generally keep this blog and (facebook page) more as a notebook for my own review but I’m glad that other people might be reading, possibly even enjoying it. I also noticed Troy’s Ron Philbeck rat shirt. This guy is surely a potter’s potter! (Whatever that means?) Be sure to check out his Etsy page for some top of the line tools!
After chatting a bit with Troy and a few others I signed in and received my packet and swag bag. Todd directed me around to the table of free stuff. At this workshop you received a gift from each presenter. I say “gift” but this is my first workshop and I’m not sure how pottery workshops are generally put together. Maybe you get great stuff at every workshop. And I’m sure the cost of these items were part of the registration fee but considering the quality of presentation and discussion I took in, these things felt like an added bonus.
I picked out a small wood fired cup from Dick Lehman, similar to the one I bought at his pottery sale. I also got myself a Justin Rothshank specialty; an earthenware cup with poppy decals. And to finish off the trifecta, I snagged a nice bamboo-handled brush with long squirrel tail bristles.
From there I wandered around and looked at the amazing pottery; chatted up some of the local guys: Moey Hart (of Studio 55), Troy, Justin, Todd; met Len Cockman, the ceramics teacher at NHS; and got settled in before the first presentation. It was great talking to Len. He has been teaching at Northridge for quite a while and I can tell he loves it. He was telling me how he talked the administration into getting a wood kiln for the high school (a wood kiln for a high school!) and how he got it set up. He even invited me to join the next firing in October. He also talked about a number of his students who have gone on to explore clay on their own. He really seems to be an inspiration for the budding young ceramic artists in the area and offers them some great experiences.
Justin Rothshank – Decal Presentation
Right on schedule, the presentations began. Justin Rothshank (of Justin Rothshank Ceramics) was up first. I had heard most of his spiel in last summer’s Surface Class but it was a great refresher. And I got a better understanding of the color decals. He designs custom color decals which he orders from a couple different places. There are ceramic printers which use pigments similar to china paint instead of ink or toner but they currently cost around $5000. Justin later said he is close to getting one, he just wants others to work out all the bugs first. There are also decals which are created through a screen printing process. This is how he gets the white, gold, silver and other metallic decals. The price of these depend on the colors used.
The decal presentation was great. He did a nice job clearly explaining a pretty technical process and demonstrated putting decals on everything from a tall glazed vase to a leather hard mug. (If you’d like more information you can find a lot at his website. Or watch the demonstration from the comfort of your own home with a Decal DVD!) As I explore the decal process in the future I’d like to use more full pot patterns and maybe try layering some of the decals. I don’t think I’m ready to try the color decals yet but maybe down the road. I’d also like to try some decals on bare clay.
There was a short intermission where we had a chance to have some tasty little grilled cheese sandwiches and Beach Bar-style tomato soup. I introduced myself to Bob Smoker at this time and talked with him about the Goshen Clay Guild and his experiences selling pots in the area. I’ve seen him a few times but never really had a chance to talk to him so it was nice to get that chance. He said that he does most of his work at the Guild which has around 30 members. He also said that the summer class that was scheduled for this summer didn’t have enough interest so it was canceled. I was going to sign up for it but didn’t feel like I had enough time to dedicate to it this summer. Maybe next summer.
Troy Bungart – Brush Making Presentation
Troy put on a great show. He let his sense of humor really shine through and had a handful of volunteers help him with some of his demos. His motto seems to be: you can do anything! Along the lines of: try it and see if it works, don’t just take someone else’s word that it doesn’t. Often, if you do it right, you’ll get something unique. It might not perform just like a manufactured brush but if you learn to master it’s unique attributes you can make some wonderful marks.
He had a whole collection of animal hides with him and demonstrated making brushes from hog hair, skunk, russian? fox and even a fresh? squirrel tail. You can tell just from looking at his tools (he also makes fantastic wooden ribs) that he is a master of his craft, but it was great to see the process to create them.
He also showed us a couple brushes made from Bob, his former pet chicken; the hair of his friend’s collie and even told stories of porcupine hair (danger!) and dogs of other countries being trimmed for brushes. He said he uses a lot of road kill and taxidermists often have a good supply of extra fur. He has also received horse hair from a friend. The first batch was useless because his friend had just cut the hair haphazardly. The key is to get the hair just the way it is on the animal. Apparently, every hair has a curl to it so if you just jumble it together the hair won’t come to a fine point when it is wet. Once he gets a clump of hair cut and the loose hairs are combed out he ties it together as tightly as possible with carpet thread. Then he uses super glue to lock it all in place. As he mentioned, this is a chemical reaction which was proven by the wisps of smoke coming from one recently glued bunch of hair. Once it is dry he usually sands it down with a belt sander and glues it into the ferrule with 5 minute epoxy.
The only thing I would have changed about the whole day would be a closer vantage point for Troy’s demo. He explained things well, but I’ve never made a brush so it would have been nice to be right up close viewing every detail. The whole process doesn’t sound very hard and watching Troy, it even looks pretty easy. But surely I wouldn’t be making brushes of the same quality on my first day of brush making as Troy. And I don’t imagine my wife being too excited about me scraping up road kill! So I think I’ll save that adventure for the distant future. And of course, after the last presenter, I realize that I have so much to master at the wheel that I probably don’t have time for much else anyway!
Dick Lehman – On-Wheel Alteration Presentation
I’m no expert on ceramics history or even contemporary ceramics but Dick Lehman seems to be a pretty well known name and a well regarded individual in the ceramics community. And I can see why. After talking to him for a while at his home pottery sale and carefully inspecting a good deal of his work I was beyond impressed. Then to see him form these awesome pots right in front of me was almost magical. It was a little bit like a magician revealing his secrets.
Dick is like a ceramic history textbook mixed with a culture and style documentary. He’s probably forgotten more about pottery than I have learned so far but he shares it in a humble and down to earth way. He not only showed us some great techniques and explained his thought process while making each piece but he shared stories and offered praise to the artists pioneering the techniques as well.
He started by making a few cups. Each cup started as a taller, skinnier cylinder with thicker walls than it would end up with. This allowed him to add some simple texture and used a variety of cheese cutters from Kentucky Spring to add facets. Some of the cheese cutters had wavy wires, some were straight, some had both. Then he formed the cup by putting outside pressure on the rim to keep it from expanding and applying pressure inside the cup to round it into form. Then he used a rib to add vertical or diagonal creases to add even more interest to each cup.
Then he made a small bottle in the same fashion but added a rope texture instead of facets. To this he added simple little handles made from rolled coils. Next he showed how to use the facets and texture to make a bowl similar to his series of cups. Then he talked about his bisque stamps that he had created from local vegetation. And, as I found out at his pottery sale, he has started to make stamps out of insects and fish. He has obtained some insect collections from local 4-H members which have been great stamp subjects.
He made another cup which he decorated with his sumac stamp and one press from a spider stamp. The stamp process works in a similar way to the facets. He throws a tall, thick walled cylinder which he stamps and then rounds into shape without touching the outside of the cup.
If that wasn’t enough for you, he went on to demonstrate his technique for throwing a square pot on the wheel. Yes, actually throwing a square pot, not throwing something round and then taking it off the wheel to squish the sides. He started off with a round form and then marked four equally spaced points around the pot. As the wheel head was spinning he used a rib to gradually add extra pressure when one point passed then releases the pressure as the rib got to the next point. He did this four times as the pot went around and then repeated the process a few times until the pot was more square than round. Then he added a little extra movement to the foot and rim with an extra point of pressure on each side of the pot. I bet this makes a lot more sense if you see it instead of reading my description! Dick was prepared to keep going but he ran out of time. I probably could have sat there well into the night watching him but it was time for the food!
More Pottery Talk
Before eating I got a chance to get a closeup look at Dick’s work and explore some of his stamps and tools. I also looked around at some more of the pottery for sale. I talked to Troy for a little while longer as well. He told me about some of his other tools. He explained some of the wood he uses and told me that he’s getting ready to fire his big kiln again. He has been firing a smaller gas kiln but it fires so much different than his bigger kiln. He even invited me to come check it out sometime. I met Mark Goertzen before the last presentation and talked to him for a little bit. He is scheduled to demonstrate large vessel throwing at the next edition of the Goshen Pottery Workshop Series. He said that he usually only makes them during one month of the year, usually in February when things are slow. Todd told me about his glazes. He uses Amaco glazes but fires them higher than normal. He actually holds the kiln at top temperature for a couple hours. I listened to Len and Justin talk about building kilns for a while as well.
I stuck around until there were only a handful of people left. As a whole, the workshop was one of the highlights of my summer. It was very well done and I definitely plan to make it to the rest of the workshops in the series if I can. The next one is scheduled for April 5th, 2014. Presenters include Mark Goertzen, Jayson Lawfer and Israel Davis.
And that might be the longest post of my blogging career! A little wordy, but it will be nice to have for future reference. I also shot a bunch of video that will be a great resource and inspiration in the future. I’m putting the finishing touches on a short highlight video with a clip from each presentation. Mostly to practice my video editing skills. Look for that in a couple days. And don’t forget the Michiana Pottery Tour coming this fall!
Thanks for reading!