Blanket Creek Pottery • Falmouth, KY • Thrown Stoneware

Blanket Creek Pottery was established in 2001 after a two-year apprenticeship at Parsley Pottery in Cincinnati . Over the course of the apprenticeship, I had the opportunity to participate in all aspects of running a busy production pottery studio, gaining experience in wheel-throwing, glazing, firing kilns, maintenance, product development, and sales. During that time I worked with several excellent potters, each with very different styles.

 

A few months into my apprenticeship a new potter showed up who routinely produced 500 pots per day, requiring major changes in the whole production system to facilitate such an increase in volume. I helped develop a new system for moving so many pots through the glazing operation and into the 50 cubic foot gas kiln for firing. An efficient glazing system is critical with this kind of volume because the pots tend to fill up studio space rapidly and cause production delays if they are not moved through fast enough.

 

I found that a combination of pouring, dipping, and spraying glazes allowed for a broad range of possibilities and could be used to glaze hundreds of pots at a time when needed. A completely new product line soon developed, and I found myself glazing and firing one load after another, each time gaining valuable information about the nature of the high-fire glazes that were new to all of us at the time, and paying close attention to which combinations worked best together.

 

I eventually realized there were so many possible glaze combinations in this firing range that it was only practical to focus on a few of them in this context, so I set aside a number of experimental pieces for further exploration.

When I moved an hour south to Falmouth , I realized it would not be possible to maintain my production schedule at the studio by commuting every day. Instead, I set about the ambitious task of establishing my own studio and turning some of my experimental pieces into a new product line.

 

Of particular interest to me was a series of bowls with an engraved design around the rim, which are now called Lotus Bowls, pictured above. During the last few months of the apprenticeship, I found that certain glazes, if layered together properly, would create interesting effects as they collect in the engraved design and then run down toward the center of the bowl during the firing. I started developing this concept more as soon as I established a studio to work in. It is now one of my most popular designs, with new variations evolving all the time, both in form and color.

 

Building a pottery studio is a major project that can require a large financial investment. But I found that, alternatively, it can be done without a lot of money if one has the interest in learning all the skills needed to build the equipment instead of buying it. Starting with a garage, a pottery wheel, and a small electric kiln I already had, I began making pots and selling them, using some of the money to purchase the tools and materials needed to build everything myself.

The scrap metal yards in Cincinnati proved to be an invaluable resource, as did a number of industrial surplus equipment dealers I met along the way, where I bought things like electric motors and gear reducers, often in perfect condition, for a fraction of their off-the-shelf value.

 

After several months I found I was outgrowing the garage work space and that the electric kiln had nowhere near the firing capacity I needed. I did some research and figured out how to pour a concrete slab for a new building to house a larger kiln, and built a new shed for the kiln out of metal building studs and corrugated siding. I acquired a large gas kiln from the owner of the studio where I had apprenticed and rebuilt it in the new kiln shed once it was complete. This new kiln shed provided plenty of additional space for storing materials, finished pots, an old electric kiln for bisque firings, and a small workshop with some basic metalworking tools.

With some practice I got fairly comfortable with an arc welder and cutting torch and found the plans on-line for how to build clay mixing equipment, which would have been very expensive to buy. This was a big project, but by working on it a little at a time as I obtained the various components and developed the skills needed, it eventually all came together. I immediately started mixing my own stoneware clay body that was much better than the commercial clays I was buying. The investment started paying for itself right away, as it enabled me to mix clay for about half the cost of buying it pre-mixed.

Once I got the production space and product line exactly where I wanted them, I discovered there was one more major project in store. The cost of firing a 70 cubic foot kiln with LP gas is considerable and going up all the time; so I started looking into other ways to fire. I encountered someone who was using an ordinary oil burner, modified to burn waste vegetable oil, to heat his house. I adapted the same concept and started firing my kiln that way. It took some experimenting (I am still modifying the system), but the waste oil I use burns hotter than gas, is obtained either for free or at very little cost, and produces the same results in the kiln.

Developing this production pottery studio has been an adventure in resourcefulness, problem solving, and, above all, Grace. I have no idea what it would have cost to go out and buy all this equipment and pay contractors to build the studio, but I am sure it would have been far more than I could ever afford. If I was not fortunate enough to be able to figure out how to do it myself it never would have happened.

My main project currently in process is to develop my clay body into something more like porcelain, as the glazes tend to look their best this way. As for glazes, I plan to focus primarily on ash glazes and "slip" glazes, which use as a base a local clay dug out of the ground right at the studio and seem to have almost limitless possibilities as I combine them with the other glazes I use. It is these renewable, readily-available materials that interest me, rather than expensive and exotic ones imported from other parts of the world. In fact, it is likely that I will soon be creating a new product line made almost exclusively from local materials.

Outside the Lines Art Gallery • Connie Twining & Stormy Mochal, Owners
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