Friday, June 26, 2015

Hollywood, baby!

Yesterday morning I received an email from a friend up in Ontario, Canada. She had just seen the movie "I'll See You In My Dreams" which just came out to theaters in the last few weeks.

 "Hi Owen 
I think I saw your mugs in a movie the other night- I saw you in my Dreams !!! Best part of the movie for me!!!!"

So I did a little digging on the web search engines. I found out that indeed my mugs are in a major movie. Pretty cool! I have no idea how those mugs came into the hands of the movie studio and subsequently found themselves being used in a scene featuring Blythe Blanner and Mary Kay Place.

I wonder how those mugs got there! A couple of years ago I recall sending a box of small mugs (the same size mugs that are in the movie) to a commercial production studio in Los Angeles by express service, to be used as props in a AmEx commercial that was supposed to air nation wide. So I wonder if those mugs went into a prop storage facility in Hollywood, and someone saw them and thought they would be good in this scene. Who knows, though. I sell a lot of mugs. I never did see that commercial and don't know if it was ever made or aired.

At any rate, here is a screen capture and link to the clip where the mugs appear. I don't know if there are other scenes as I have not seen the movie yet.

There's a 30 second commercial you have to suffer through to see the clip. (That's what the mute key was designed for!)

Thanks to Lakshmi for tipping me off, and if anyone knows someone who knows someone, and can let me know how these mugs ended up in a movie I would be thrilled to find out.

I do wonder if Sam Elliot, who also stars in the movie has anything to do with this. He is seen from time to time around Central Oregon and I know that a mutual friend gave him one of my mugs a year or so ago. Who knows? Anyone?

[UPDATE July 2, 2015]

I tried really hard to get hold of the production company to see if they would both a) verify that the mugs in the movie were indeed made by me and b) tell me how the mugs ended up in the movie. One of my e-mails got to someone who knew someone! And now, the mystery is solved.

I just received the following e-mail:

I'm happy to hear that you saw our film! I purchased these mugs from you a couple of years ago for an AMEX commercial (remember we had to pester you for overnight delivery).
Anyway we ended up not using them in that spot, but they did end up being used at my house...;-) 
When it came time for me to design this film I pulled a lot of personal belongings to use as props because of the nature (budget) of our little movie. 
I think they add a lot and I'm happy that you noticed.
Thank YOU for making such amazing mugs.

So, mystery solved, and my wife, who is a huge fan of Gwyneth Paltrow is thrilled that Gwyneth's mother Blythe Danner used one of my mugs.

Harrison Ford also has one of my mugs but that's a story for another day.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Chanoyu Workshop with John Baymore

 I had the good fortune to attend a pre-NCECA workshop led by New Hampshire potter John Baymore recently at The Potter’s Shop in Needham, MA – a great place to hold this workshop.

The focus of the workshop was “Making Handbuilt Aka Raku Chawan”, a subject that I knew very little about. Spending two days with John gave me a whole appreciation of the long history of the tea ceremony in Japan, and the esthetics that go into producing a tea bowl. And, I have a whole new appreciate of the art not only of making a good Chawan (tea bowl) but of how the tea bowl is used in the traditional Tea Ceremony which dates back to the ninth century.

The odd thing about Chawan, at least to a westerner, is that the tea bowl is not perfect in any way. It has irregularities from top to bottom. Nothing is symmetrical. And yet in Japan, each and every part of the chawan is done to perfection in the context of imperfection. Does that make sense? I didn’t think so. What I think it means to me is that the very fact that the tea bowl is imperfect can in fact be interpreted to be perfect…but, only if it meets the many criteria for perfection. For something that looks so organic, there are a tremendous number of considerations that must be taken into account. And, there are a fair number of contradictions that occupy the considerations.

For example, when one is forming the tea bowl, the maker decides which face of the bowl is the "good" face. This is the side of the bowl that faces the drinker when he or she is first presented with the tea cup filled with tea. However, there may be times when even though the maker has chosen which side of the bowl is the good side, during the firing the kiln may make a different and sometimes better decision.

Receiving the tea bowl with the good side towards the tea drinker

John Baymore paddles the bottom of the tea bowl
On day one of the workshop, after a slide show which introduced us to John and the topic of the Japanese Tea Ceremony (Chanoyu), we each spent the day making two tea bowls. We learned that the effect we were after in our fired pieces, carbon trapping in an iron slip, would be achieved by placing the bisques tea bowls in an intermediate charcoal firing, then raku fired in the traditional manner which involves no post firing reduction.

The Chawan is the tea bowl that is used in the Japanese Tea Ceremony (Chanoyu). Our class had the experience not only of making Chawan, but also we spent an entire day taking turns participating in the Tea Ceremony as both the server and the servee. The ceremony is a very tightly scripted, deliberate, graceful, delicate dance, of sorts. At first I wondered why we were not spending time in the studio actually making Chawan when I realized we would be spending the day practicing the tea ceremony. But as the day went on I realized that without experiencing the ceremony, it would be impossible to make Chawan. If you don’t know how the vessel is going to be used, you really can’t make the vessel. 

The bowls are formed using a technique I have never come across. We weighed out 1 kilo of clay (2.2 pounds), and after wedging, we made a ball of clay and then flattened it into a thick pancake, about 1/2-3/4" thick. The clay was then placed upon a banding wheel and the clay rolled up towards the maker, while the banding wheel was rotated around. It was somewhat like forming a pie crust. We were using the Golden Mean as our guide to the measurement of the tea bowl. In our case we wanted a bowl that was 13 cm wide and 9 cm tall before firing.

Once we had the height and width worked out, the bowl was then shaped into more or less the final shape. At this point, in one's own studio, the bowl would be left out to dry to the leather hard state. For the purposes of the workshop and the limited amount of time we had, however, we used propane torches to speed up the drying process.
Carving the outside of the tea bowl.Once leather hard, the outside was worked on first, using a trimming tool to both thin out the surface, but also to create the final outside shape of the piece. Then, the bowl was turned over and the foot is cut while upside down on the banding wheel. Finally, the inside was trimmed using a trimming tool. Our goal was to have the final bowl weigh exactly one pound. Given that we started with over two pounds of clay, you realize that the trimming was no small job.
Trimming the bottom of the tea bowl.
 Finally, the bottom of the bowl is paid special attention to. From John's handout: "When all the tea has been drunk out of the bowl, a small bit of the froth and liquid matcha (tea) will always remain in the bowl. The manner in which this left over tea pools in the bottom of the mikomi (interior of bowl) is considered aesthetic conundrum. A deliberate depression is often placed in the bottom that causes the tea to pool in an interesting way. This is called the chadamari or "tea pool".

While we were performing and learning the Tea Ceremony, the tea bowls we made the day before were bisquing away in the bisque kiln. 
Tea Ceremony kit
Aisling prepares to obtain water to make tea
The following day, which unfortunately I was not able to attend, the pots were first fired in charcoal for the carbon trapping, then fired in the raku kilns. 

I had a fantastic time with all the wonderful folks who took part. It was a real pleasure to get to know John Baymore a little. He is an absolutely wonderful guy, and his knowledge of all things clay and in particular Chanoyu is vast. If you get a chance to take one of his workshops, GO!

"Like traveling down a country road, a single piece may have many different landscape views revealed as you "travel" with the piece. The best Chawan encourage you to take this journey and show you new sights for years to come." –from class materials provided by John Baymore.

Thank you John for such a fantastic experience. I've only just scratched the surface of this most amazing form in pottery and hope to spend some time working on Chawan in my own studio.

Anybody seen my wire cutter?
Two sips, then a big slurp. Well done, Terry!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wasatch Academy

The Studio Arts Center at Wasatch Academy

With much anticipation and excitement, I traveled to Mt. Pleasant, Utah on February 20 for a two day workshop at Wasatch Academy. I had been invited by my dear friend, Joe Loftin, who has been the headmaster at one of the most successful private college prep schools in the world for almost 30  years. 

While I admit to much excitement about putting on the workshop for the students at Wasatch Academy,  I was also very much looking forward to seeing Joe, for the last time we had seen each other was in 1982. My, how time flies!

Joe met me at the Salt Lake City airport and we immediately picked up where we left off all those years ago. Naturally, we had much to discuss. I was very curious to learn more about his educational philosophy and shared many stories about my seventeen years serving in the public schools system in Oregon. Joe told me stories about his early years in public education in Austin, Texas, and his subsequent years spent revitalizing Wasatch Academy. 

It is difficult to do justice in describing Wasatch Academy, mostly because it is so difficult to describe in words the energy that emanates from this school. (I found this article which does a  very good at describing the school and it's economic impact on the local community.) It is such a refreshing breath of fresh air to spend time on campus! There are currently 340 students from 40 countries who attend the school. Every decision that is made by teachers and the administration is based on what is best for the students - the student is front and center at Wasatch. The respect that the students hold for each other and for their teachers is evident immediately, and as I spent some time with Joe during my stay, I realized that he was on a first name basis with every single one of the students. Absolutely impressive.

Equally impressive is that a community as small as Mt. Pleasant, which is literally located in the middle of nowhere has such a global community of students and staff. The beauty of the surrounding area is breathtaking - a photographer's paradise to be sure.

Class sizes are wonderfully small. I think the largest class I worked with was ten students - a far cry from 30+ students back in my own high school teaching days in a technical program.

The ceramics program at Wasatch Academy is one of several art programs housed in a former car dealership building that dates back to the 1920’s. The building has been restored and renovated and invites creativity. 

Ceramic Arts Program instructor Laura Prenot

Laura Prenot is the ceramics instructor. She is absolutely an amazing teacher, and she has a top notch facility to teach in. She has been at Wasatch for nine years and is doing truly incredible work with the students. The studio works predominately in the cone 10 reduction range (yay!) and the work produced here is stunning. There are enough wheels for everyone in the class to have one to use. They have Giffen Grips for trimming. If you know public education, you know that very few clay teachers will spend money on a Giffen Grip as they often have the frustrating experience of students stealing parts off of them. This is a shame, for in my opinion the Giffen Grip is one of the best tool that I have in my studio. Nice to see that the kids at Wasatch have access to them - and their beautiful 18 cu ft Bailey downdraft is something to drool over. 

While I was in the class I showed a brief slide show and did demos on the wheel, as well as showing how I pull handles and put the handles on mugs. We had a session the following day where students got their aprons on and Laura and I helped them refine their technique. I very much appreciated Laura's hospitality and ability to put up with my Canadian sense of humor - thanks for everything, Laura! And to the students I met: YOU GUYS ROCK!!! Thanks for having me!
I'm probably telling a bad joke as I put a handle on a mug :)

Outside of the classroom I attended two basketball games and had numerous amazing meals at the Student Center. I was also lucky enough to attend the first event at the brand new Performing Arts Center - a stunning performance by the Utah Lyric Opera. This was an amazing treat, as three world class opera singers were accompanied by Maestro Nicolas Giusti on piano. The acoustics in this facility (a fabulously renovated church) are absolutely amazing. One of the singers, Miriam Costa-Jackson, is planning to record a CD here. All of the performers commented on the amazing acoustics in the Q & A session after the performance.
Q&A session by performers from the Utah Lyric Opera 

I also visited the studio of renowned local potter Joe Bennion. Unfortunately Joe was not there, but I was able to see his wood fired kiln and admire his wonderful work in his showroom.
Joe Bennion's 3 chamber wood firing kiln
It was a whirlwind weekend and I am most definitely sleep deprived. But, I’ve got a nice warm afterglow which I suspect will be with me for some time to come. Laura has asked me to make this workshop an annual event and I am so delighted! Thanks to Joe for making this possible, and a big thank you to all the wonderful staff I met and an especially big thank you to the amazing students I had the privilege to work with.
Joseph Loftin with his Wasatch Academy mug!