Interview With A Potter

Most of you who follow this blog know this, but for the new comers here I (Ashley) am the writer and author behind this blog. It can be a little confusing when running a husband-and-wife business on social media, because a lot of the time you can’t tell who’s posting what content. 95% of the time when you see a Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest update, it’s me (Ashley), and 100% of the blogs are mine.

With that being said, Carvel has been working on some REALLY cool and in depth projects in the last few weeks. He has been struggling on explaining the whole concept out, so I suggested a blog would help get the word out to the masses. Since he’s not as enthusiastic about writing as I am, we landed on doing an interview-style blog as a compromise.

A: In a brief summary, what is it that you have been working on?
C: Experimenting with natural glazes using local clay in hopes to tie my work in with not just our building downtown, but Winchester as a whole. It’s also ended up being a process of getting the results of an atmospheric kiln firing, but in a controlled electric firing.

A: For those who may not know, explain what you mean when you say ‘atmospheric’ verse ‘controlled electric’.
C: Examples of atmospheric would be salt, wood and soda firings. In these types of firing a large part of resulting surface is created by what’s happening in the kiln’s atmosphere. Less glaze is involved in these firings because you’re wanting the serendipitous results of what the elements in the kiln give you. In contrast, electric firings require that most-to-all of the piece is glazed prior to the firing and produce a more constant and controlled result.

A: Awesome. So getting back to the concept of the work, what inspired you to create it?
C: I have been wanting to find a way to tie my work to our new location and downtown itself. I guess what really inspired me was finding clay underneath our building. I would say it’s a potter’s dream come true to find a clay mine underneath their studio. And so I figured this was a perfect way to make that connection.

A: Is the clay in these pieces the clay from the celler?
C: No. The clay that I dug from beneath will not fire to the temperature of the clay that we normally use. Most of the clay in this area is low fire clay, where as the clay that we use is closer to a hire fire clay. If you were to take this clay to the temperature of hire fire, it would just melt into a pile on the shelf.

(We learned this the hard way)

A: So how did you end up incorporating the Winchester clay?
C: I started reading a lot about natural glazes, and I found a pretty simple recipe for using local clay. I decided what I would do is make an ash glaze using this clay as an ingredient.

A: The glaze on this work is from the ground on Main Street?
C: Yes.

A: Now that you had the recipe, it was as simple as mixing it up and firing it?
C: Not at all. It was a long process of experimenting with different glaze combinations, to see it if it could be used on it’s own or strictly with other glazes. The results were that in some situations it worked on it’s own, but for functional pottery it needs to be used in association with other glazes.

A: I noticed that you fire these pieces like you have some of your wood fired pieces in the past. Mind explaining the process?
C: I really like firing pieces on their side when I have the opportunity. Especially when I’m working with an ash or any other really runny glaze. I like the drips that you get as a result of this. I also prefer to fire them on seashells when I fire them on their side.

A: What’s the benefit of using shells?
C: A different look. You don’t have just a bare spot where a stilt or wading was. Part of the seashells will stick and create their own design and texture on the side of the pot.

A: I know the idea behind your form is much more elaborate than what we can get into here, but do you make these forms to compliment the glaze?
C: Yes, I do. The fluid lines that are found on the cups are almost used as glaze traps. They work as a pathway for the glaze to flow into while it’s being fired.

A: So the form and the firing are inspired by the glaze, and the glaze is inspired and created from the clay under our building. Most potters will name their glaze based on the resulting look or the inspiration behind it. Did you do the same?
C: Yes. Since I was looking for a way to have a connection to the building and the area, I felt as if it was only right to name the glaze after the building. Our building has a large stone sign at the roofline reading “PIERSALL 1908”, as a statement of the surname of the original owner and the year of completion. My glaze’s name is “Piersall Ash”

You may be thinking Man, Ashley is really disconnected from Carvel’s work. Not quite. We still work in that small 16x16 studio, not a lot of room to work on hidden pieces. I wanted to play the role of the reader and ask the questions that would get him to answer in a way that would explain his work fully.

He is still in the middle of this process, still experimenting with glazing techniques and combinations. We have started putting some of the work, mainly yunomis (bourbon cup-like form) and bottles for purchase in our store. With enough stock, we will branch out into online sales on our newly re-opened Etsy shop. For now, he is still very much in the creating process. And it is quite the process to watch unfold.

Ashley Norman

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