ceramics

The Season's First Firing! by Elizabeth Phelps Meyer

Snow was deep on the mountain in Cold Spring at Tony Moore's noborigama kiln, during our pre-load-in glazing days in mid-March. Today, at the unload, I noticed only a couple diminishing piles roadside and the earth was sprinkled with blossoms from flowering spring bulbs. Some of the stoking shifts had very chilly weather, as winter has been hanging on long and late this year. Last year, there was a similarly chilly weather for the inaugural firing at Tony's kiln, and just like that firing, this one had some luscious amounts of carbon trapping! I'm wondering, could the chilly air outside lead to more trapped gasses in the kiln atmosphere and carbon trapping in the glazes? In any case, the kiln gods were smiling on us this time. There were beautiful results all around.

In this firing I tried out 13 different shinos on my cups for the Each Day, Water exhibition in October. I'm really pleased with many of the results! Clay body is grolleg porcelain (Laguna 550). The glaze was mixed and applied the same day. It was blended with a high-speed electric hand-blender, but not put through a mesh. The glazing took place three weeks before the firing started, so the soda ash crystals had a LONG time to form. Some of my favorite new shinos include:

Dresang Shino
Neph Sy: 13.7
F4 Feldspar: 44.4
Spodumene: 29.4
OM4: 3.9
EPK: 9.8
Soda Ash: 7.8

Porcelain Shino (some trickster had fun making this recipe)
Neph Sy: 39.39
Spodumene: 30.3
OM4: 17.17
EPK: 5.05
Soda Ash: 8.08

Moon Rocks Shino
Custer Feldspar: 45.7
Spodumene: 38
EPK: 6.3
Soda Ash: 10

Roach Trap Shino
Neph Sy: 23
F4 Feldspar: 23
Spodumene: 38
EPK: 6
Soda Ash: 10

Napster Shino
Neph Sy: 40
Spodumene: 25
OM4: 17
EPK: 10
Soda Ash: 8

Project Grant Award! Woo! by Elizabeth Phelps Meyer

I'm grateful to announce receipt of an $2,000 Project Grant through Arts Mid-Hudson 2018 NY State Decentralization Arts Grant Program for my upcoming exhibition at Art Centro, in Poughkeepsie, NY, in October, 2018: Each Day, Water. These funds will go toward the costs of building the display units to exhibit the water-filled vessels, and to bringing indigenous Water Protectors to lead weekend events at Art Centro such as music and ceremony. The grant award is garnered from tax-payer dollars, and I feel humbled and honored to receive this public assistance in presenting this work. I'll be doing some other fundraising in the coming months, as exhibition costs will exceed this grant award, but this is real boost and boon! I really look forward to participating in the community this exhibition will help galvanize and serve.

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Cracked Cup the Squirrel, Kintsugi, Grappling with questions of appropriation, and Ongoing prayers for the Water Protectors by Elizabeth Phelps Meyer

"If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." -Aboriginal activist Lilla Watson

On my dining room side-table is a sharp landscape of cracked cups, the result of a squirrel break-in Christmas week. As he struggled to escape my cat, the squirrel scaled the windowsills knocking down several dozen of my favorite wood-fired vessels for my project Each Day, Water. The squirrel did escape with his life. And in the after-math was the silence of porcelain rubble and shards. I spent an entire night sorting the little broken pieces, which now nestle inside the jagged hollows of their parents. On their way to me in the mail from Japan are special resins and precious metal powders. I will make kintsugi (literally, “golden rejoining”) of some of these vessels. The aesthetic power of kintsugi relies upon the fact that there is more beauty when we can perceive the patterns of separation and breakage (fragility) intrinsic to the material of which something is made. I am aware of the significance of taking this medieval wabi-sabi Japanese art process and applying it to a project about indigenous peoples' rights, broken Treaties, and a Native-led environmental and spiritual movement, and part of me thinks: not only am I mixing my metaphors, I am walking on thin ice regarding cultural appropriation. Not only do I not want to appropriate a Native struggle and Movement as my own, but now, something from Japanese culture too?
And then I think: I could just stop there. Let be. Avoid these risks. Yet I can't. My consciousness is wrapped up in all of this. Kintsugi used to happen only in Japan but now it is commonplace; you can order supplies with a credit card and learn it on the internet. There are upcoming workshops in Sarasota, FL. I learned a bit about it last year at my clay studio (with proxy materials); enough to repair a lidded jar. This is America, the kaleidoscope: turn it, and the context changes; what used to be over there is now in a new place, in a new relationship. For better and for worse, using kintsugi for Each Day, Water is both out-of-context and in-context in our polyglot and scarred society. An aesthetic mode can evoke a real problem, however, it can also dangerously aestheticize it and anesthetize us to its gravity.
Significantly –  I recall the seams of gold and other precious metals inside the Black Hills (Ke’ Sapa) of South Dakota/ Wyoming: the origin-place of the people of Oceti Sakowin (the Seven Councils of the Great Sioux Nation). Those very seams of precious metals are what drove the 19th-century colonial conquest of the Black Hills, and the disregard since for their primary and sacred value to the Sioux people. Among the scores of broken Treaties is the way the U.S. Federal government has dealt with the Sioux over the issue of land "ownership" of the Black Hills, who by Treaty rights claim this land as their sovereign territory. Despite the Treaty, the Black Hills Land Claim dispute continues.
So, is it cultural appropriation for me to make art about such broken Treaties, such as the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868), and the Native-led Water Protector movement? My answer: maybe, but I really hope not. I guess it is a risk I am taking because my heart has been unrelentingly wrapped up in the profundity of the indigenous struggle for environmental justice, and in appreciating the resilience and power of indigenous communities, since I saw the raw, shocking footage from Standing Rock and have done my best to learn and be informed since about instances of abuse toward indigenous communities worldwide. In this country, the broken Treaties are as a much a "colonizer" problem as they are a Native issue as they describe a relationship problem, in which those holding legislative power (the colonizers) have clearly been abusive, and the general population of this country has not expressed enough concern and outrage over this to stop or reverse explicitly exploitative, greedy, racist policies. The Water Protector movement is indigenous-led, and it has galvanized solidarity and gathered ally-participants worldwide. The "environmental movement" is perhaps closer to my cultural inheritance, but the reason I'm not making this art piece about that movement is because 1. Science has enough defenders and advocates within my culture, and ceremony rooted in a sense of the sacredness of the earth does not and 2. Groups of "cultural mainstream" environmental/ activists are not (yet) getting shot at with chemical-laced water cannons in below-freezing weather, shot at with rubber bullets, physically dragged and beaten, sprayed with teargas, arrested, locked up in dog cages, and legally prosecuted as they conduct their work and campaigns. 3. These extreme measures taken by the industrial-military-legal complex to suppress the Water Protectors speak volumes about the critical importance of their protest. 4. Activists in the mainstream environmental movement have a lot to learn from the example set by how the Water Protectors of Standing Rock organized and conducted themselves under the harshest of conditions. 5. Environmental as well as other forms of systemic racism must end. Racism flourishes in conditions of separation, segregation, and ignorance. I make this work to try to help counter these separating forces, and further develop the existing alliances between non-Natives and Natives resisting further destruction of the earth, as well as further destruction of good will existing between our respective communities.
But it would be inappropriate if I frame myself as a hero; anti-racist work by people like me who have benefited from "white privilege" is not heroic, but it is necessary. It would also be wrong if I did not invite involvement of indigenous Water Protectors in the process of developing and presenting this project, that those interested and willing might offer. Yet making requests of an already-stressed group is suspect. I go forward, knowing that I might be ignored for any number of valid reasons, but hoping to find connections with Water Protectors who might find connection with the creative projects I'm doing, and who might want to talk with me or contribute in some way. I am working as an ally to Water Protectors, to raise awareness of what I perceive, since Standing Rock, to be one of the most crucial issues of our current society. A current problem, grounded in centuries of prior cruelty. Is it appropriate for me to do so? I hope so. Is it appropriation? I hope not. As I ask Water Protectors how they feel about my efforts, I generally get a positive feeling, but I intend to keep deepening this dialogue. To act as an ally in the specific struggle of the Water Protectors is a chance to do something right where there has been wrong after wrong after wrong.
The pipelines that transport fracked oil and gas that have been (and are being) constructed all across our country pose a real threat not only to Native communities but to all of us. In this context, the sentiment expressed above by Lilla Watson rings clear and true. How free will any of us be within a carbon-baked world and without certain access to clean water? In this sense, the indigenous people occupying "reserve" lands crossed by or proximal to pipelines (or uranium mining sites, and so on) are the canaries in the coal mine. And it should not be denied that this is an utterly unfair role to play, particularly on sovereign Tribal lands. Yet communities of indigenous people have been in this position for far too long. It is environmental racism when people of a racial/ ethnic/ cultural group are forced to live, against their will and not due to their own influence, under toxic conditions. These conditions are then either kept invisible (or obfuscated in some way) and/ or responsibility is shirked by those who created them.  Before they were even called this name, indigenous Water Protectors have both endured and fought against such toxic conditions for decades. These seem (in part, if not fully) like strategic, sinister acts of destruction. Sadly, there is nothing new about that in our settler-colonial society. It is also disheartening that the current surge in the fossil fuel industry rolls back progress and protections on so many levels, and with reckless abandon that gravely threatens us all. As fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure projects expand, the scope of contamination and warming effects do too, and no one is immune.
As an artist, one necessarily draws some attention to oneself as a creator, but hopefully the work I am doing shines the brighter star on the heroes it aims to recognize and support: the Water Protectors who risk life and limb to make their stand in direct action against these infrastructures. I want them, their courage, and their fight against nearly impossible odds to be honored. I feel torn about the indirectness of art, of metaphor, as a form of action. Yet for now, this is what I do. All of our freedoms are bound up in this struggle, including the rare breathing room of art-making, the creative process. Mni Wiconi. Water is Life. My project won’t be perfect. My relationships with Water Protectors are still newly forming. I'll make mistakes. I already have. I try to learn from them. There is geographical distance and there are other, deeper forces of separation at work too. I only hope the Water Protectors will feel celebrated, honored by my efforts. The little squirrel brought me a gift by breaking some of these cups. I hope restoring what has been broken will not just happen in artistic expression, but in truth and lived reality. Through seeing the seams we may be reminded of our shared vulnerability, and the necessity of ongoing acts of repair.

December Woodfiring! Tony Moore Kiln by Elizabeth Phelps Meyer

I wood-fired 71 more vessels for the Each Day, Water project. Hopefully there will be some "keepers" for the exhibition.

In addition to my ongoing use of snowcap shino (which I layered very thick in some areas), I tried out some glazes new to these particular porcelain vessels: carbon trap shino, pearl shino, bopshin d, mamo white, and olsen shino. I can't wait to see what happened!

I stoked on the closing shift, 4 pm to midnight on Saturday, Dec 1. We definitely reached ^10 all around, and up to ^13 in the hot areas of the kiln. The air was cold on our backs, but the kiln kept us warm. The moon was full. At one point, after the closing began, green flames rose from the kiln's chimney-top. The moon, rainbow-orbed, wavered through the heat waves rising from the flames. It was really fun to close at Tony's kiln - stuffing cracks with K-wool and mudding over the portals and red-hot cracks. Steam coming off the trowels, the clay drying-on-contact. We enjoyed some wonderful vegetable miso soup, generously prepared by Tony's wife, at midnight when we were done. I tried to recreate it the next day in my own kitchen. Sadly, Olivia didn't like parsnips.

RESULTS:
Our unloading was postponed a day due to our first snowfall of the season. In terms of results, the vessels where I layered the snowcap shino thick in some areas over the former layer (which didn't have great melt in the summer firings) came out really WILD.  The thicker glaze actually seems to have fallen off many of the pots, taking the prior layer with it, and leaving big swathes of naked clay beneath that flashed light peach (and accepted no ash). The thick snowcap shino also shivered a lot. Snowcap always shivers on bisqueware of this porcelain, but since these were "re-fires" I wasn't expecting so much shivering. The problem seems to have been the thickness of the glaze. Basically, this experiment had a very high fail rate. In some pieces, the glaze folded onto itself as it was melting. I did get some "happy accidents," particularly with drips and folds of thick glaze (that didn't shiver), and the cups where I added some Robinson's Blue and Olive Celadon into the mix were quite wild/lovely. But 41 cups was plenty for that experiment....  too many. I'll probably only keep about 10 of them for the show.

As typical for a wood-firing, "chance" ruled. In some areas of the kiln there was more carbon trapping than others, and ditto with the level of heat, heat work, and wood-ash. I also got some peach-colored flashing with glazes where I didn't expect that to happen at all. Most of my favorites came out of the anagama, but I got several lovelies from the noborigama, including a mamo white delicacy that turned a lovely shade of light yellow.

In general, these are my findings:
* Of the new glazes, the clear winner is carbon trap shino (it fired with a green-gray cast). Bopshin D takes second place. Though it flashed peach in some areas, for the most part this was subtle and beautiful. I'll use both these glazes again. The carbon trap shino crazed a lot, which might indicate a glaze fit issue with this clay body, I'm going to look into this.
* The pearl shino flashed too peach (for what I want for this project) in the wood kiln. It might work better in gas reduction firings to get the silvery-grays that attracted me to trying the recipe.
* I might try the olsen shino in the anagama next time; on my clay body it fires very deep brown in the noborigama (even though it is gray on the porcelain test tiles). Nevertheless, there was some gorgeous iridescence! Where the flame touched and/or it got super-hot in the noborigama, it did turn grey.
* The mamo white went a deep greyish purple in the anagama.

Summer Woodfirings! by Elizabeth Phelps Meyer

This summer I was fortunate to participate in two wood firings. I glazed and fired over 215 of the vessels I had created for Plainsong Kico, Part 1 as part of the Seachange Voyage/Residency. The first firing, at Peters Valley School of Craft, involved 5 days of stoking a huge "dragon" of an anagama kiln (named Emily by her builders). Over the course of the firing each participant had 5 six-hour stoking shifts. Matthew Schiemann of the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, FL was our instructor and firing captain. The second firing, at Tony Moore Studio, was more familiar to me (as a repeat member of his wood-firing community). Below are some photos and highlights from these experiences.

Peters Valley School of Craft Anagama Firing, August 17 - 21

Tony Moore Noborigama Firing, September 7 - 9

Seachange Floating Artivist Residency by Elizabeth Phelps Meyer

I'm very excited to have received confirmation to participate in the Seachange Floating Artivist Residency program! I'll be presenting a ceramic installation of vessels designed to create a supportive space for a participatory water ceremony in Newburgh, NY on the morning of July 23, 10:00 am, at the People's Waterfront Park. Please come if you can! This will be Part 1 of my ongoing, year-long project, Plainsong Kico (I'll post pictures and a description after the events of 7/23, on this page).

The day before this event I'll be joining the Kingston to Newburgh leg of the Seachange Voyage down the River That Flows Both Ways in Solar Sal, a fully solar-powered boat!

Noborigama firing at Tony Moore's Studio in Cold Spring, NY by Elizabeth Phelps Meyer

woodfiring vessels

This week I'm wood-firing 43 vessels for Plainsong Kico. They are glazed with Snow Cap Shino that fires as a mix of gray (in reduction) and white (in oxidation). Here are some of them lined up on the shelf in the kiln shed before the load-in.

I'll post more pictures when I have my stoking shift on Thursday... And then pictures of the results at the July 1st kiln unloading!

The firing lasts for three days, followed by a week-long long cool-down.

May fire god Agni be kind to us.

UPDATE: I got less ash and carbon trapping/ graying of the Shino than I hoped for, so the vessels are very subtle/ less tortured than last time. Also, everything that I fired as bisqueware shattered. The pieces that had already been fired to ^10, unglazed in the electric kiln, were fine.

Images (left to right): my stoking shift - the first "kindling shift" in which we raised the temperatures of the fireboxes only by 20-30 degrees F per hour; aerial view of the successfully wood-fired pieces - some of the 36 survivors - you can see some ash glaze in the bottoms; part of the unloading day yield for all the firing participants; the cracking of my bisqueware - note that the shino glaze did not even fuse/adhere to the bisque. It pulled away (shivered) and the pressure of the different expansion/cooling rate of clay and glaze appear to have pulled apart/ fractured the vessels. Luckily only 7 of the vessels I fired were bisqueware.... Firings: always a learning experience!

John Britt Cone 6 Glazing Workshop by Elizabeth Phelps Meyer

John's Straw Ash Glaze test tiles; electric fast-fire (left); gas reduction (right); clay bodies left to right: mid-range porcelain, stoneware, beige stoneware, dark brown stoneware

John's Straw Ash Glaze test tiles; electric fast-fire (left); gas reduction (right); clay bodies left to right: mid-range porcelain, stoneware, beige stoneware, dark brown stoneware

April 29 & 30 I attended a Cone 6 Glaze workshop with John Britt in Selden, NY,  offered through the Long Island Craft Guild. I was lucky to be there! John is deeply knowledgeable and experienced, and a funny, engaging teacher. He provided us a framework for comprehension that took a great deal of the "overwhelm" out of the prospect of choosing glaze recipes, mixing, and testing glazes. I also now better understand his valuable reference book: The Complete Guide to Mid-Range Glazes. I have about 50 pages of hand-written notes I'll be organizing into reference materials. John joked at one point: you write down everything! That was pretty much true.

A memorable quote: Pottery sucks and potters have a great resilience for defeat. The nature of ceramics is disappointment, but we keep coming back.

Thanks to Oakwood Friends School for the Professional Development funding to attend this workshop. I'll now be starting up our new Glaze Lab at school with confidence and a greater sense of humor to weather our inevitable glazing mishaps!

Group photo! Long Island Craft Guild workshop with John Britt, April 29 & 30, Selden , NY

Group photo! Long Island Craft Guild workshop with John Britt, April 29 & 30, Selden , NY