Saturday, October 31, 2009

Twelve Days of Christmas Art Show at Benjamin Vineyards in Saxapahaw, NC

I live in a very small town, called Saxapahaw.  Pronounced SAX-pa-haw.  I love living here.  We don't even have a stop light, and I mean that in a good way. We are, however, becoming a destination for lovers of art, farmers markets, good food and good wine.

To see what I mean, check out the Saxapahaw-Rivermill web site:

This year, our local winery, Benjamin Vineyards, is hosting its second annual Twelve Days of Christmas art show.  Artists were invited to interpret one of the days mentioned in the song in any way they choose.  I had hoped to participate last year, but the studio was still under construction and the Carolina Designer Craftsmen show was coming up fast.  

Even though we get the invitation in July, somehow the time evaporates.  Due to the configuration of the winery, pieces that can be hung on the wall were preferred.  I had an idea, but there would be some challenges.  So I spent a lot of time figuring out how I would execute my plan.  

Here are some images of the piece, called "Rhythm Man," resting on my work table.   

Sculpted but not dry yet.  Later I will refine the beak.

 Top view

Can you guess which day it represents?  There is a clue on the bird's leg band.  

If you need a refresher course on the Twelve Days, here is the last verse:

On the twelfth day of Christmas, 
my true love sent to me 
Twelve drummers drumming, 
Eleven pipers piping, 
Ten lords a-leaping, 
Nine ladies dancing, 
Eight maids a-milking, 
Seven swans a-swimming, 
Six geese a-laying, 
Five golden rings, 
Four calling birds, 
Three French hens, 
Two turtle doves, 
And a partridge in a pear tree! 

The biggest challenge was to make Rhythm Man as lightweight as possible, yet able to support the weight of the bird.  The second biggest challenge was connecting the bird to the tree trunk securely.  As you can see, there are only two contact points between the bird and the tree trunk--I could have had the beak touch the trunk, but wanted to portray the bird looking around--if you ever watch them (or find videos of them on the Internet), they tap on the tree for a while, then look around--it's mesmerizing (or do I need to get out more???).

Anyway, lucky for me that they brace themselves with their tails.

To do this the tree started out as a solid log and the bird as two hollow pinch pots.  As they firmed up, I carved out the tree, leaving shelves inside.  Also, I cut the bird in half (that used to be painful for me, but I'm getting used to the idea of cutting open my work.  I did apologize to the bird for the invasive procedure, but he's better for it.) and hollowed it out as much as I dared.  The piece is still heavy, but manageable.

Below are images of the piece after underglazes and a little acrylic paint are applied.

Rhythm Man, front view (when it's rotated 90 degrees and hung on the wall)

Rhythm Man, side view. You can see the ever-present Bodyguard in the background, in the process of receiving more layers of underglaze before she returns to the kiln.  The little pieces of colorful ceramic are test tiles.  You'll see those blues in future posts!

I was pleased with the result and dropped off the piece yesterday.   At the winery, Nancy and Andy Zeman, owners, and Travis greeted me.  They brought me to the wine tasting room, where I got to see several other pieces--very nice.  Thirty-five artists, working in all mediums, will be represented.  It's going to be a wonderful show.

While you're here, check out Benjamin Vineyards and Winery's site: 

The winery is open Thursday through Sunday, 12 Noon to 5PM.  The Twelve Days of Christmas show runs from Nov. 5, 2009 through January 3, 2010.

I didn't have my camera with me, but can tell you the vines were beautiful--bright yellow leaves.

FYI, the red bellied woodpecker is my husband's favorite backyard bird.  I'm partial to the white breasted nuthatch (so dapper in his little tuxedo) and Carolina wren.  While looking for images on the Internet, I came across Vickie Henderson's blog--she has posted an entry about the red bellied woodpecker after I sculpted the piece, but I was able to reference her images for glazing.  She has photos of the bird from many angles, which helps so much for 3-D work.

Vickie is also an artist and creates beautiful watercolors, among other work, including a whooping crane coloring book.   Check out her blog at
As you can see, she has a post on the Carolina wren--I'll be referencing that one someday, I'm sure.  Thank you, Vickie!

If you look at older posts on Vickie's blog, there is a video of an adorable baby whooping crane and its family--you can see how nurturing and protective it parents are.  It was so sweet, I had to watch it a couple of times!

Status Report

Many apologies for the lack of postings.   I've had some hardware and software issues.  I have added several posts and images to posts beginning with the Sept. 26 entry.  So, if you don't mind scrolling back to that time, you'll see in chronological order what's been happening in the studio.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Life and Times of Max and Gizmo

It's all about communication and support.  No, I'm not talking about relationships....

There is so much going on in these larger pieces that the viewer does not see.

 To facilitate drying and make sure air can flow out of the piece easily as it (the air, that is) expands during firing, I poke, drill or otherwise create holes between the compartments that make up the sculpture.  Also, coils (snakelike pieces) of clay are attached in places that will support extra weight, like the back of the neck.  You can see that in the above image.   Soon I will extend the coil up out of the neck to join the head, which is created separately.  I will also add a coil inside the top of the chest and extend that into the front of the neck.  Talk about an inside job!  (sorry, I couldn't resist.)

I come in peace....and my little dog, too.

Is there a draft in the studio??? 
[Do I need to get a life?  As you can see, it's dark outside--I've been putting in some long days.]

 Hear no evil, smell no evil.  (Keeping thinner areas, and places where I need to add clay, moist.) Wow, those chopsticks smart!

Kevin came in to the studio with a shirt and vest to model.  It was late, we were tired and my first try was close but not quite it.  So first thing I did this morning was remove most of what I'd worked on. 

After much tweaking and shifting around of clay, I was happy.  Turns out, the man's chin peeks between the dog's ears an his collar covers almost all of his neck.

Doh!  There were some great details in there that no one but me will have seen.  Kevin said, "Have you considered just doing a person?"  Definitely, and life would be sooo much simpler!  But this is an unusual topic and one that is close to my heart.  Angst, I can always count on you to be close by!

Anyway, it's hard to stop fussing with a piece.  I finally had to say, out loud, "Put down the clay tool and step away from the art."

Max and Gizmo, hanging out with "The Girls."  All are in different stages of development.

No doubt I will continue to tweak the piece as it dries and notice things I didn't see when actively working on it.

In the meantime, it was actually fun to clean up the studio and go outside to play with the dogs, who have been feeling very neglected.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bodyguard--Into and Out of the Fire

What I saw when I opened the kiln.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Caroline and Grace

How I started each of my People and Their Companion Animal pieces:

Humble beginnings.  This bottom rim is pretty thick, so I've poked holes in it to help it dry a little more evenly and relieve stress during drying and firing.

Any idea of where this will lead?
See those snake-like coils of clay climbing up her back?  More on that later!

Long story short, lots of stuff happened, and we are shaping up!

Bodyguard appears to be growing out of Caroline's head.

That is a chop stick in Caroline's chest, holding up a bottle of hand cream--many things in the studio serve as armatures.  Once her neck firms up, these accessories will be removed.  The dog is sporting wet paper towels to keep areas moist so I can work on them later.

Does this hand cream make me look fat???

"The Girls" often hang out together:

Caroline and Grace

Time to get cracking on Max and Gizmo!

My hope is to finish this third piece in time for the Carolina Designer Craftsmen show on Thanksgiving weekend.  

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Whimsical Women, Woo Hoo!

Last May, I visited the Whimsical Women spring show, held just west of Chapel Hill, NC. There I met many terrific artists, some I already knew.  I just didn't know they led secret lives--being members of this well known and wonderful organization.  (Visit their blog at:  Also, I spoke with Linda Palladino, one of the founders, showed her a photo of my cat fish, and described some of my other work.  She decreed that I qualify as a Whimsical Woman!  She could have said, Whacky, Way Out, Weird, even, but she said Whimsical--and I love that....

So I'll be bringing my work to their Fall show, held November 21 on the farm of Luli Sanderford (Linda's sister), in Winston-Salem.  Rain date is November 22.  Hope to see you there!

That's me, 10th from the right--does the red skirt make me look fat?   ;-)

Seriously, if you'd like an invitation, email me at: 

and I'll e-mail or snail mail one to you.

I've been working on large pieces for Carolina Designer Craftsmen (which happens over Thanksgiving weekend), as well as a good sized piece for the 12 Days of Christmas show at Benjamin Vineyards, here in Saxapahaw, where we live.  With Whimsical Women and another potential show (the latter later this month, yikes!), I just started making more small dogs and some teeny cat fish, which was so much fun.  

It's been a tough summer, what with the loss of our last horse and my father, but I  have been plugging along with my art, as my father said he wanted me to do.  I continue to think about him constantly, and have had the privilege of meeting many people along the way who have lost a parent.  They assure me that my reaction is normal, and it will take time to feel like myself again.

Although I am thoroughly enjoying making the big pieces, they are challenging and require a lot of concentration.  Not constantly--I do have periods of autopilot and spontaneity, but there is also plenty of brow furrowing.  But last night was like a little vacation.  I was grinning, laughing and, yes, even talking to the small dogs that were materializing from the little lumps of clay in my fingers.  Great fun!

So, thank you, Linda--I hadn't felt Whimsical for a while.   You gave me a wonderful gift!

Caroline and Grace are Born and Another on the Way

Bodyguard stayed in the kiln for three days, soaking up the heat and releasing any vestiges of moisture.  That was probably way more than necessary, but I wasn't going to take any chances.  As she was nearing completion and still drying and getting underglazed in the studio, I started two other pieces, but intentionally did not progress very far, since I need to concentrate on one piece at a time.

These pieces start out as a ring  and are built up using coils or narrow slabs.

Then I build up from there.

Caroline and Grace.  See?  You can tell where this is going, right?

This will be a middle aged woman cuddling her dog.

The third piece in this body of work will be an older man and his small dog.  It was inspired by a photo I found on Bill Owen's blog.  Check it out--you'll be glad you did.

I love his sense of humor and his beautiful photos!  Bill is clearly an animal lover; that means he's good people.

Here is the photo, in a post entitled The Old Man (and Old Dog) and the Sea, dated Sept. 6, 2007.  It really speaks to me.  Two old friends, very comfortable with each other--so quiet and peaceful.  We have a lot of dogs and most are around 50 pounds and up.  No peace and quiet here!

There is a little work to be done from the ring to the finished product.....which I plan to name Max and Gizmo.

At this stage, Max and Gizmo look like a tank top.  
The tops of his shoulders are going to have to firm up before I can continue.  


I often bring a real dog to the studio.  Usually it's Toby.  He's got plenty of toys there, but I still have to keep an eye on him, as he likes to eat clay that falls on the floor.

Typically, he spends the first part of his stay playing with his toys, then looking out the door for squirrels and other visitors.

One of our many avian visitors, photographed through the front door. Last year it was a flock of guinea fowl.  This year it was this rooster.  Why they would hang out in a yard with barking dogs (albeit fenced in) is a mystery to me.

After a while, Toby's ready to call it a day.  He's not terribly concerned about my deadlines.

Mom, are you almost done?  I'm bored.  Bored, bored, bored, bored, bored.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Behind the Scenes

Since this was first posted, I have added a photo.

I love living on the edge--for me, that means challenging myself to make new things and never getting too comfortable.  It's not obvious to witnesses but, on some level, I must love the little rushes of adrenaline that come with the stress during those "What was I thinking?!?!" moments.   For  you real thrill seekers, this must sound pretty lame, but it doesn't cost anything (except many sleepless nights).  What's she rambling about, you ask.  Why, getting Bodyguard into the kiln, of course!  

On Sunday evening (October 11) my husband, Kevin, and I (mostly him, with my "encouragement" and plenty of nail biting--don't you know he appreciated that!) loaded (I'd say "placed", but "loaded" is more like it) Bodyguard into the kiln last night.  She's probably dry, but I am taking every precaution.  

My kiln is in what used to be a tool room off the garage (my old working space), about 100 feet from the new studio.  The path is bumpy and Bodyguard is heavy.  To get her there, we placed her in the back of our van.  Kevin drove and I rode in the back with Bodyguard. Sorry, no photos, since we really needed to focus.

I was a little nervous about whether we could get her into the kiln without damaging her.  Since she'll be traveling, I made her a little thick, so she'd be sturdy.  However, until she's fired, she would be very fragile.

The piece has a lot of places to use as handles, but most would probably not support her weight at this stage.  And she is tall enough (21 inches to the top of Chet's ears, though she will shrink a bit during the firing) that it might be impossible to hold her from the bottom raise her to above waist height and lower her into the kiln.

I measured a lot, to determine the maximum height of the kiln shelf so we wouldn't have to lower her any more than necessary.  We went through a few dry runs of how to pick her up, what to do if she needed to be maneuvered in mid air, etc.

Kevin had worked in the garden much of the day, so didn't really need one more physically demanding task, especially at 8:30PM, when we hadn't had dinner.

We placed a pedestal in the kiln room to have a place to set her down before the last lift (and in case we had to stop and regroup during the process).  

We took a deep breath and with almost no help from me, Kevin got her safely into the kiln.  

She'll be at a toasty 150 degrees, sweating out every last bit of moisture in her dry sauna until I fire up the kiln.  And she's still smiling!

Bodyguard, safely in the kiln

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bodyguard--The Saga continues....

There are sooo many decisions to make after deciding on the general concept, even if the piece is finished in my head.

I am a big fan of the expression, "If a little is good, a lot is better."  I am slowly learning that, most of the time, "Less is More."  

With Bodyguard, my original plan was to stamp a pattern on the girl's shirt and have more detail in the bottom of the piece.  But those details would have detracted from the focal point, the faces.  So I opted to go with a solid tee shirt and keep things bold.

To minimize the number of firings, I decided to apply underglazes to the piece before it was fired.

Bodyguard, the first layer of underglazes on the girl.

Bodyguard, the dog with underglazes.

After firing, the colors will be close to what you see here.  The girl's skin will be a littler darker and her tee shirt a little brighter.  I put one coat of underglaze on more area, so she may be blotchy.

Some people can work on many pieces at once.  I find that when I have tried that, the quality of all the pieces suffers and I end up being unhappy with the work and destroying it.  I can, however, begin other pieces, as long as I focus on one at a time.

As this piece neared completion, I started on the next two so they could start to firm up and be ready when I was.  Stay tuned!