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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tape Loom Demonstration in Newtown CT

Newtown Historical Society, December 2008
Many people came out to Newtowns Winter Festival inspite of the cold. Here at the Historical Society, located in the Matthew Curtiss House on Main Street, was build around 1750. Much of the house is original including the impressive kitchen fireplace.
I set up my table tape loom, seen here being operated by a member of the museum staff. Two young girls were in costume to help too, and they soon learned how to weave on this simple loom.
I sat nearby in my 1800s outfit, keeping warm and working my paddle loom as shown in previous blog entries.
Come see their spring event on May17, I will be demonstrating pottery on my treadle wheel.

Christmas at Storrowton Village

Storrowton Village at the Big E Fairground in Springfield MA is decorated every December for Christmas. This year the Volunteers and Staff did a wonderful job of decorating the old houses and buildings in the Early American tradition. Fruit slices, garlands of nuts and berries, greenery, fabric wreaths and cinnamon and spice. There was even an ice sculpture and live animals on the green.

I was there with some fellow crafters, braving the cold in the old barn. A broommaker, chair carver, hat maker and me demonstrating Scraffito pottery in miniature, all huddled in the barn demonstrating our skills. The fireplace kept us pretty warm this year. The weather was dry and there was no breeze.

Check it out next year if you are looking for another way to celebrate the Christmas season, you will not be disapointed! And its FREE!!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Tape Loom Class

--Republican American, November 19th 2008

The first class was to my Goshen kids at Camp Coch this summer. The children did a nice job... but there were too many in the classes!

My second class teaching the fine art of Early American Tape making was at the Litchfield Historical Society. I was excited to hear that 13 people signed up, but was a little leary of that many people working in a tangle of threads and fitting around a room.

My paddle tape loom boards need to be attached to a door handle or something firm about 4 feet from the weaver. I attached cup hooks every 12 inches to a narrow plank and clamped this to a table. Then the weavers attached their warp threads to these hooks and placed chairs in a semi circle around the room.

I soon found 13 was quite a number of people to fit into this room and finish in an hour and a half! The set up of any loom is the longest and tedious part of the set up. Once the students got set up though and realized how the loom works, they did a beautiful job. We just ran out of time to get much tape finished!

Some bought a loom, and others planned to make one themselves. Some can now say they have learned something new and have a piece of weaving to prove it. These looms are simple to make and work and once they crasped the concept, I hope they will be able to tell others how looms work. It is another bit of history too. In years past, women would take these simple looms to friends houses or work on making rolls of tapes for future use in their spare time. Tapes like these were used as ties and bindings on clothing and fabrics before the use of zippers and mass produced ribbons.

There is a page on my web site if you would like to learn more about them.

Harwinton Fair, CT

My first year at the Harwinton Fair... October 2008... Only 10 minutes from my house, but in October! Cold weather and making pottery is not usually a fun time. Putting your hands into water and exposing them to the cold air for hours is a chilling experience. But the Harwinton Fair people offered me an inside spot out of the wind in their beautiful Historical Building.

I met a new group of re-enactors... new group to me. I was invited to lunch, a fabulous meal cooked outside on their campfires. I enjoyed their company and insites into their re-enactors experiences and learned the craft of rope-making.

The giant mushrooms on my front lawn are an annual October occurance, but have nothing to do with re-enacting... just really neat!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Another Good Time at The Big E...Storrowton Village

Goshen Fair, CT... "Town above all others"

Goshen Fair 2008... My 8th year!I am still loving the Goshen Fair. It is still a small country fair, baked goods, sheep, cows, wood chopping, oxen pulls, tractors, kids and a lot of food.Nodines Smoke house makes great sausage sandwiches, there is a great clam chowder... with hot sauce, strawberry sundays and turkey legs... all you could wish for in fine fair cuisine. I get my own room! I demonstrate pottery in the milk shed attached to the Antiques barn at the main entrance. Here are a few of my fellow demonstrators.

The photo on the right is an object amongst the hundreds of old tools on display. No one can figure this one out though. It is about 30" tall. HELP!!!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

America's Fair, Hamburg, New York State

Well, I went to my first pottery demonstration at America's Fair in Hamburg NY. Met some re-enactor friends, met some new friends, ate lots of great food, sold some pots, went to my first bus demolition and danced at the Beatles tribute concert.


New redware tiles sold well. Also sold quite a few face jugs.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Scotland 2008


I finally got a stamp in my passport! I finally got a passport! As a wedding guest a second time in one week, I flew off to Edinburgh, Scotland with some dear friends and my daughter, her husband and my little grandbaby girl. I went as a sort of "au pair", but after meeting the parents of the bride and groom, was invited to a most beautiful and fun 6 hour wedding, I joined in the festivities. It was wonderful to meet these folks from Scotland, they were so warm and friendly and took us on tours of castles and places of interest. We saw the Rosslyn Chapel, had tea and scones at a lovely inn, fish, chips and warm beer at a pub by the bay. The brides dad warmly met us at the airport and drove us to our flat in an old renovated church less than a mile from Edinburgh castle. The grooms dad gave me tips on finding out about early Scottish pottery. As an interior designer, he shared my enthusiam for restoring old building and appreciating true craftmenship. The grooms mom made us a dinner in their lovely old stone cottage... a gourmet meal with great conversation couldn't be beat! The brides mom gave me a place at the wedding feast and another meal that couldn't be beat. I went to my first "Ceilidh", pronouced Kailey, a sort of square dance... only with very fast Scottish music, lots of swinging and stomping and whooping. And lots of banging into each other and falling down.. which just added to the fun.

And it was nice to meet the bride and groom. A lovely and interesting couple, I am glad I got a chance to talk to them and learn about them. God bless Fraser and Denise.

I also found the mysterious pottery shard beach at Bo'ness. I had found this on a web site. A beach where pottery shards and kiln furniture were dumped. There were about 8 potteries in Bo'ness in the 1700s-1800s. They are all gone and it seems most people have forgotten them. It took awhile to find the spot. I wonder if the Scottish take sport in giving tourists misinformation. The maps of the area were wrong, sometimes it was hard to understand their accent and there was an odd communications barrier. But perhaps that was my interpretation. I did find the beach, I found lots of shards that would not interest most people. Except a potter or historian. The clays they used were I think white paste porcelain that I later learned was shipped up from England. I found they started using red clays from this area. The white shards were decorated with colored brushwork and a lot of cut sponge designs. Some pots were unglazed probably broken before they could be finished. The kiln stilts were interesting, I found hand rolled clay used for supports and blobs of clay used to separate pots. Lots of red brick.

A couple days later, I set off in Edinburgh to find the Huntly House. This was suggested for me by the Scottish Pottery Society beforehand. The Huntly House in not in all the tourist books. And I cound not find it on the Royal Mile till I found the street number. 142 Cannongate. There is no sign for the Huntly house, it is called the Museum of Edinburgh. The guide inside told me I had found the Huntly house. It was very interesting. Lot of maps of the early days of Edinburgh. As the grooms father had told me, most of the 1500 buildings are still here. The guide was kind enough to give me a private tour of the 3rd floor pottery room. Here is where I needed to stay longer. A variety of beautiful glazes and styles of pottery are on display. I left Scotland without finding out where the yellow clays were from... silly to most but I need to find out where their clay mines were, what color clays were where, where they mined out.

There was too much to see and do and not enough time. Now, for my next trip... romantic Hamburg NYS! Well, to camping out in a field at a fairgrounds and demonstrating pottery in the historical reenactment section! That will be fun too. Life is an adventure.

Mural for a Wedding

I finished two walls of murals for my friends wedding. They are in an old house built in 1786. The house has been in the same family for all these years. That is quite rare. My friend, the owner of the house, gave me suggestions on what she wanted on her walls. But when one starts to paint, things just come out of your hand... ideas pop into your head and you paint them down... so I hope she is happy with it. It seems kind of bright for an old house. There was a famous painter, Rufus Porter, that did murals in the 1800s. His murals were a style all his own, whispy trees, block houses, folk style animals. One of the problems in recreating "reproduction murals" and many other reproductions like pottery, tin, painted furniture... is that the colors were bright when they were painted years ago. The people back then wanted to brighten up their belongings and surroundings. Now, 100 years or more later, the colors have faded and we modern people like that old faded look.

So what does an artist do? Do we use faded worn colors so our walls, furniture and pottery look old, or do we use bright colors with our new paints?

I am hoping my new mural will fade a little. The family will put fingerprints on the walls, Fenway the dog will shake mud on the walls, someone will scratch the paint when moving a table around. It will wear and blend in with the rest of the house eventually.
Someone asked me at the wedding what it was like living in an old house. I find it comforting. In my friends house and mine we know the names of all the people who lived here before us. We can imagine all the babies born in the house before hospitals and also all the people who died in the house. We can imagine conversations around the kitchen table, dogs sitting by the hearth. In my house, my grandparents were married by the mantel in the livingroom, and years later my grandfather died in that same room late one nite in his sleep. Twins were born in my bedroom. One died and one was cripped but lived to old age on Cape Cod. His sister wrote to me and told me how the house looked when she lived there.

My house was built by a family who had three girls. One girl died at age 19 of "consumption of the brain". My grandfather bought the house from her niece in 1927. There were another set of twins, Randolph and Winthrop Davis that rented the house for a few years around 1910. I have photos of them with their sheep "Peter Tumbledown". One photo showed the family purposely wearing silly hats holding buckets of blueberries they just picked. I like that, that the people here had a sense of family and humor. Our old houses are filled with sounds of the past as we continue to imprint ourselves into the house by painting murals, remodeling, restoring and living.
So anyway, the mural on the wall will continue soon, I have the stair wall, the big tree and a hall way upstairs to do too!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Old Deerfield Village in Massachusetts

6:00 am on Sunday before the crowds and before the rain...>

Well, it rained again at Old Deerfield Villages Craft Fair. I was there demonstrating and teaching about the early New England clays and the potters that formed the clay into useful objects. This year we had a photographer that made old tintypes. And of course there were many craftspeople selling their wares and lots of great food. What a lovely setting in this quiet old community. Lovely old homes and an area full of history.

The Old Deerfield Museum boasts old buildings to tour, a photography exhibit, old tools, quilts... I was amazed at the quilt with over 82,000 tiny pieces of fabric, samplers, tavern signs and lots of old pottery... my favorite of course. You can visit their web site at and plan a time to visit.

I brought my tape looms, Old Deerfield has an extensive collection of these looms.
I will be teaching classes in this early craft around the CT area this year... check my web site for listings or schedule a class at your place or mine.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Update on The Lorax & Innulas...

The Lorax has been bisque fired and the Innulas are out.... finally!!

I finished the Lorax statue that I made to put among the Innulas. You can see below that I finished sculpting it on April 20 and here it is June 20. The Lorax is out in the garden and the Innulas just came out in full bloom this week.

The Innulas are really this yellow! They sure brighten the yard. The shaggy petals do look like they belong in a Dr. Suess book don't you think?

Happy Summer!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Its Spring... Finally!!!

Josh is building us a
gazebo out of logs and
sticks. You can see it behind
the clay birdhouses and the
clay bird bath guy. See my
web site to see how the
Goshen & Torrington school
kids made these unusual
bird condos.

My new Almond tree
survived the winter! Yeh!
And here it is with pink
blossoms infront of the
tree fort and tree face.

Below is the new clay Rabbit.
He is that small sculpture,
way up above the fish pool.
He is made of red clay,
overfired to cone 4, which
made him hard and metallic.

And my newly painted sign for Spring! The 2 quart pitcher has a hole in the bottom to attach it to the pole, and for drainage in the freezing cold winter...that is now over...amen.

Three years ago, our little cat Fiona got hit by
a car. She was the sweetest cat you ever saw.
Orange, white and grey. She was found in a
garage in town, in a pipe. Her mom had died, but
she and her sister, Sweet Pea, survived and have had good homes. When I first saw the scrawny little thing, I thought...{what and ugly kitten}. But she turned out quite pretty.
She liked to go "way up". She climbed to the top of cupboards, sheds, bookcases, and even climbed
into the kitchen ceiling as I was replacing it.

We miss her, but are glad to have shared some good times... she with us, and we with her.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Dr. Seuss & The Lorax... "I speak for the trees..."

A couple of years ago I worked at White Flower Farm, a well known greenhouse in CT. I fell in love with the Innula flower. It reminded me of Dr. Seuss and I sold one to a customer following a conversation about Dr. Seuss and how much the flowers looked like his world.

So I brought home about 50 of them as roots and planted them in a mass "grave" in my veggie garden till I could figure out what to do with them. Last spring I planted a 3 x 8 foot space... with just Innula's. They came up, all blossomed at once and I knew I had to make a Dr. Seuss sculpture for the garden. Today I finally did. I chose the Lorax, for "he speaks for the trees". Soon he will be standing on a stump in the mist of Innulas in full blossom!

This Lorax was made with red clay. I will over-fire it so it will have a metalic, tight bond... and will look like iron.

Oddly enough, my son-in-law is an arborist, although he has been out trimming trees in my yard, he is careful not to cut them all down like the Once-ler.

Tune in later to see the finished Lorax in the garden.

Also, I made some baby dragons today to go with the nest of dragon eggs that Alicia and I made a few weeks ago. All out of clay...

What a charmed life I live, to sit outside on a warm spring Sunday afternoon sculpting with clay and listening to the birds!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Demonstrating on a foot-powered treadle wheel...

I have a new 1800s wood treadle wheel that was designed after one of our local potters, Hervey Brooks, nearby in Goshen, CT. Hervey was a farmer who dug up red clay on his property and turned household wares and flower pots in the mid 1800s. There were hundreds of potters in the early days of European settlements in New England. Not every town had a potter and some towns had many. Potteries in the smaller towns tended to be a part time job and quite a few potteries were often passed down to sons and son-in-laws.

This wheel is foot-powered and is made entirely of wood with a steel shaft and pins. The shaft is a crank style mechanism like an old treadle sewing machine. There are no ball bearings, just a strip of leather with grease to keep the shaft from rubbing on the frame and crank. The wheel head is a circle of oak.

It goes very slow. At first I doubted I could make anything on this wheel, but after I resigned to the fact that trying to make it go faster would only tire me out and cause "disturbances". Pottery should be a peaceful, relaxing craft. And once I relaxed and got into the rythum of my foot moving, the wheel noises and adjusted my mind and hands accordingly, I learned to love it. Old machines and tools are so quiet. The sounds they do make are clicks and clacks and tend to relax you rather than the whirl of engines and modern machinery.

Below is the wheel mechanism... and a few of the tools used for trimming and decorating.
Above... close-up of the wheel head... pressing whistles in a plaster mold...

We set off into the world as sutlers...

Museums, civil war events, fairs and villages...

Lately, we have been attending more
re-enactments. We have our new
sutler tent set-up. After a few trials
and errors as to the design... what
to use for posts, how thick the rope
should be, and several other attempts
at tie downs (the 8" nails painted black
from Home Depot pulled out, so we
now have 12" nails painted black
from Home Depot)... still these are not
strong enough... I am praying the
wind does not rise up toooo much.
I am thinking about painting a
"Rufus Porter" mural on the back wall.

And what to do about shelves? My old
crates and planks seem to be working well.

Wrapping it all up in brown paper and
bits of strings is my next plan to round
out the overall effect of stepping back
in time.

A day on our farm...c. 2008!

One lovely, warm and sunny spring day in April, we set up our canvas sutlers tent,
donned our costumes,
dressed up the new babe,
and set out to take some
old time photos....

It was a bit breezy too...
Our sutlers tent above...
Our new babe below...
Erin working on the tape loom....