This past summer I had the opportunity to attend the Handle with Care Workshop featuring three top notch potters. It took place just down the road in Goshen on June 24th and 25th. Though it happened 6 months ago, I still recall many of the tips, techniques and conversations from this workshop.
Todd was the host and did a fantastic job pulling off this great experience. Unfortunately for the Michiana pottery community, it was also like a big going away party because Todd and his family moved to the other side of the world soon after it was over. The most noticeable thing about Todd’s work is probably his wavy rims. He showed us how he created those rims and some of his different handle styles, among other things.
Eric runs the Companion Gallery and makes his own pottery in Humboldt, Tennessee. He is known for his ‘scragglers’ which are highly altered, textured wheel thrown pieces. It was great watching him use simple tools to make such complex surfaces.
Matt made the trip from St. Petersburg, Florida to help fire the train kiln and demonstrate his making techniques. Matt is a second generation potter making functional, mostly wood fired work. He also helps run the Morean Center for Clay.
Handle With Care Workshop
There were so many things covered by Todd, Eric and Matt that it would be nearly impossible to explain everything here. And since I’m writing about it 6 months later, you’ll be lucky if I remember half. So I’ll stick with mostly what I wrote down in my notebook.
The workshop was called Handle with Care. There was a focus on handles but the overall theme seemed to be about caring enough about details to make your work better. All three acknowledged the time it took to focus on details but that is what makes their work “theirs” and the reason it stands out from other potters’ work.
You can always control how hard you work.
Matt hates trimming. After he throws the form he pushes extra clay at the bottom down to the wheel head with a wooden tool or rib and cuts it away.
This was a small revelation. I don’t mind trimming, but even getting rid of excess clay will save some time when I trim later. Eric doesn’t trim much of the bigger pots he makes. He trims the rest on a chuck.
Eric said that it is always good to use your own work.
I’m always asking myself, “What’s wrong with this? How could this be better?”
Todd showed us a couple different styles of handles that he makes. He weighs out the clay for each handle on a scale and attaches and then pulls the handle from the pot. There was a lot of good discussion about handles from all three guys.
The video of Pete Pinnell’s thoughts on cups was mentioned:
Matt adds texture to his plates and then pulls clay at the edge up and folds it over inside to create a smooth rim.
Eric explained some things about his pitchers as he transformed one right before our eyes. He uses the rim as a template for the lower line about 2 inches below. The ‘adam’s apple’ came from Don Reitz. The spout is almost straight up and is sharp but not thin enough to make it brittle. It was awesome to see him cut, dart, fold, alter and add texture to many different kinds of pots.
Matt’s father was a potter and his undergrad professor so of course that is a big influence. He also mentioned Don Reitz, Matt Long and Yoshi Fujii. He also likes Tara Wilson’s use of clean forms in a wood fire and Ben Carter’s work ethic and contribution to the clay community.
Todd mentioned Greg Stahley for his use of lines. Dick Lehman and Mark Goertzen, a pair of Goshen potters, also had a big impact on Todd and his work, especially while he worked for them. He said that he has a new set of influences which are mostly female, including Deb Schwartzkopf.
One of Eric’s biggest influences is Kristen Keiffer.
Speaking of influences, I can see the influence of these three guys and the workshop in my work over the past few months. Some of the techniques or design elements may have been present before the workshop but they are more refined now. My handles have improved incrementally each time I’ve made them since the workshop. I also feel a little bit better about taking time to get details right or explore new forms or ideas.
Matt talked a little bit about critiques and was even kind enough to give some of us a personal mini critique if we had our pots with us. He has his students come with at least five questions they want answered. For some critiques, the person being critiqued doesn’t get to talk for the first five minutes. It’s good to hear other thoughts about your pots because it can spark new ideas or refine some of the details.
Eric and Matt both agreed that the weight of a pot should match the perception of the pot.
I asked them about signing or stamping their work. Todd likes his handmade stamp and stamps everything with his mark. Matt and Eric said that some customers or collectors want the pot to be signed. Eric signs the bottom but said that you should be able to tell who’s pot it is from across the room. Matt has a little four-square stamp signifying a window that he worked under but is still trying to come up with a better idea.
As it turns out, pottery is a lot like life:
You’ve got to meet the external pressure with equal or greater internal pressure.
Firing the Train Kiln
I tried to be at Todd’s as much as I could to get to know the guys and soak up all the knowledge I could. It was a lot easier since I was on summer break. I met a few new people and got to talk to Matt, Eric and Todd quite a bit. There were a lot of good conversations about pots, politics and life experiences.
According to my photos, the kiln was loaded on Monday before the workshop and fired Monday and Tuesday until about midnight. It cooled down for a few days and we got to open it up during the workshop.
Matt brought a large amount of wood firing experience and made some alterations to the stoking. This paid off in a pretty even firing which reached temp sooner than previous firings in Todd’s kiln. In fact the front of the kiln got too hot and some pieces were lost. But to make up for that, the middle and back came out with fantastic results.
Thanks for reading! You can see loads more photos here: https://goo.gl/photos/dMYpYRSan2z6hWnf8