Photo Gallery at the End!
Last weekend I had an adventure with some of my students! Our little group consisted of myself, my friend Kristi who teaches English, and three students. All three of these students are in an independent study (they already took all the classes we offer in ceramics) they have been working this year on putting a portfolio together to submit to AP for studio are credit in 3-D.
Our adventure started Friday afternoon, we boarded a train in the little town of Schliengen about 15 minutes drive from BFA and began our 5 hour journey! We rode from Schliengen to Freiburg and had an hour layover before boarding a train from Freiburg to Neustadt with only a 5 minute transfer window. Then we were on a train going towards Ulm for about 2 hours until we hopped off at a little stop in a town called Riedlingen (no not the one Jamison and I live in!) We were picked up by pottery artist Susanne and her friend.
I met Susanne at the annual Töpfermarkt here in Kandern. Every fall ceramic artists come into town for the weekend to sell their work. It’s a wonderful market and I love walking around it with students as we soak up inspiration together. Susanne’s work stood out to me because her work is wood fired in an Anagama kiln, this look is both very unique and distinct as well as dear to my heart. Seeing a wood fired piece sends my careening into a bath of sweet memories. The tedious and precise loading of the kiln before firing, a day on your hands and knees picking out pots handing them to whoever is hunched in the kiln to place each piece in it’s place, awaiting to be painted by the fire. The long nights in front of the Anagama with friends warm even in the winter from the heat of the fire, glowing hot red from inside the anagram, the sun rising on us in the morning and being called into my professors parents house to a wonderful breakfast prepared for our hungry bodies by his sweet kind mother. The smell of fire permeating everything. And you can’t possibly forget the anticipation of the week after the kiln has finished and is bricked up, letting everything settle and cool slowly inside. The joy of cracking the kiln open after the week of anticipation, everyone anxiously peering inside as each piece is carefully removed from it’s place. Everyone marveling at the story told on it’s surface of ash and heat and intensity, all in beautiful shades of creams and golds, flashes of red and orange and maybe a crystal or two!
I digress! I was drawn to Susanne’s work because of her aesthetic and her technique. The first year I attempted to strike up a conversation with her in German (my Germany was sehr schlect at that time!) Susanne speaks wonderful English though so we were able to talk about her kiln and her techniques. The next year (this past fall) I talked with her again and she gave me her card. I got an idea then, that maybe I could take the small group of advanced students to her place, maybe she would do a workshop for us? I looked on her site and saw that she indeed offered workshops from time to time so I emailed her to propose a workshop for us and she accepted!
Susanne’s Anagama was built several years ago in 2005 as a workshop for other artists to participate in, this made the work lighter and faster and more fun. I love that her kiln was built this way because wood firing is all about community and her kiln was built in community! Another interesting fact about her kiln is that it was designed by Fred Olsen (a potter based in California who has a knack for building kilns) her kiln is featured in his book “The Kiln Book” on page 270 (4th addition) Fred came to the kiln workshop and organized it’s building. I think this is all pretty neat! Her kiln is a fusion kiln, it has a wood fire chamber and attached is a smaller salt fire chamber.
On with the weekend! Friday evening we settled into Susanne’s house, a quaint house in the country. It was large with plenty of room and space for us all. Her studio was a small room off to the right when you enter into the house. She has a barn to store and bisque fire her work in and the anagama is outside of course! She also had a sweet little standalone shed where all her finished work was neatly stored ready to accompany her to market. That first night we enjoyed a Japanese meal with veggie soup and sushi, ginger and tea of course! After the meal Susanne showed us photos and told us stories about her time in Japan. She told us to always believe in our dreams because she had a dream to go to Japan and work with an artist there and it came true! She was a warm and encouraging woman.
In Japan she worked for a week with the Artist Takashi Nakasato who’s father was a national treasure in Japan (a high honor!) She made pots with him and learned from his techniques. They fired his anagama kiln together (with the help of his community of course!) A year later they showed them at a gallery in Tokyo and she gave a presentation at the opening about women potters firing with wood fire techniques. Takashi even came to Susanne’s to fire pots with her in her kiln, so they did an exchange of sorts. How amazing is that?!
We went to bed that night tired and happy, anticipating the following day of work.
Saturday we woke up to a wonderful German breakfast (meat, cheese, bread, soft boiled eggs, toast and tea) Our plan was to work all day. First Susanne showed us how to make a platter using slabs, this was a really good warm up because after making our platters we sat down at the wheels in her studio and set to making teapots for the rest of the day! Susanne’s favorite form is the teapot, she says it is her life’s blood, it is very dear to her and you can see her love and care for this form in her teapots! She demonstrated how to throw the body and lid of the teapot and we set to work, she encouraged us to throw 2 or 3 teapots so that we can be sure to have one we really love.
I was so proud of my students this weekend, they were nervous to work on such a difficult project in front of a master potter! I admit I was too, and my first attempt at a teapot turned into a bowl, I thought to myself, good, here we are at this wonderful workshop and my teapot is a huge bowl, I’m the teacher!!! We all got the hang of it though and threw a few teapot bodies each. Next we worked on the lids throwing a few different options for each teapot body. Just in case! We were so tired and it was already nearly 2pm when we took a break for lunch. We had wonderful Gulasch soup over potatoes and a salad. Susanne told us she wanted it to be like Paradis for us at her workshop and she kept her word! We felt reenergized and ready for more work. Susanne demonstrated how to throw tea spouts off the hump and encouraged us to also make a little sugar jar and tea bowls for our set. We got right down to business throwing. I had so many tea spouts! Not many of them any good, but lots of them! We threw and threw and threw! Eventually we started to lose our steam and a couple of my students got tired and antsy, it was time for a coffee break! One of my students and I were too focused for coffee so we continued along until we couldn’t resist the break any longer.
We finished work around 6, we worked a full 8 hour day (not including our lunch break!) Everyone was tired and happy as we let our pots dry out for trimming the next day. We had another delicious dinner and settled into the couches next to the wood stove for a presentation about women potters who work with wood firing. It was inspiring to see their kilns and their work and hear their stories since they were all women that Susanne had met and some of them were close friends. We went to bed very content again, looking forward to the work ahead of us on Sunday of trimming and assembling all our pieces.
We woke up early Sunday for breakfast because we wanted to start work by 8:30am, we had a train to catch at 1pm and everything had to be together by about 12:20 for us to be on time. We set to work trimming the bottoms of teapots, tea bowls, sugar jars and creamers. We held spouts up looking for the right fit for each teapot, once found there was trimming and hole boring, slip and scoring and attaching until our lidded pieces took on the shape and feel of a teapot, they began to each have their own personality as they took shape in front of our eyes.
We were racing the clock and all of us wishing we could stay another day, or MORE! I was smoothing out the edges and seams of my teapot and tea bowls, all the time thinking it wasn’t good enough, I needed hours more time to run my fingers over each seam and groove carefully enough. Finished work was set on the table. Bags were grabbed from upstairs, shoes put on, a double check on the finished work, a scratch smoothed over, another run upstairs to grab a coat or scarf. The clock read 12:35 before we were loading our bags into the cars. We could risk missing our train for a group picture though and we gathered round together all smiles and clay in the cracks of our hands, under our nails, left behind on our clothes. Then the mad dash into our seats, buckling up, speeding out of the drive and down the country road towards the country town, to the train station.
I talked with Susanne on the way. (we were in her car a two seater, while Kristi and the students rode with Susanne’s friend.) I was proud of my students work and their willingness to share their background and stories of their life so far with Susanne. She was proud of them too and amazed by their personalities and their stories. I realized that having time to create my own work wasn’t the only reason this weekend was special and “like paradise” as Susanne wanted it to be for us. I saw my students take on the task of throwing teapots with a professional ceramic artist, something that made me nervous too, and they took to it and did exceedingly well.
We were in such a hurry to catch our train, that we didn’t take photos of our finished pottery! I will post some as soon as they are out of the kiln for your enjoyment! We only made the train because it was 20 minutes late. On the way to the station Susanne said she didn’t think we would make it unless it was late, I agreed and said a quick prayer that our train might run a bit late for us. (the next train didn’t leave for 2 more hours after that) I was only a little surprised when our train was late enough for us to say proper goodbyes and eat a picnic lunch at the station! :)
I was encouraged by this weekend to work harder on my own ceramics and to continue to pursue finding my own style and technique. I’m looking forward to squeezing in some work time for myself in the coming weeks, I will be sure to post some photos of the outcome. My students work as well as they are in the heat of finishing their portfolios for the AP credit. They submit their work at the beginning of May, which is fast approaching!
Here are some photos from the weekend! Click on the first one to view them larger in a gallery.