Day 1 – Making Cups, Alleghany Meadows, Make, Use, Look, Think

Haystack’s lack of wifi was frustrating (for me!).  To be fair there is wifi in the library and the lack of cell coverage is hardly under their control – still it was frustrating to be on the E with one bar.  It surprised me how much I have come to rely on the internet for my artistic practice.  Those 1980 college days of sitting in the library at Philadlephia College of Art drinking in ceramic and pottery books are long gone!  In recent years I have enthusiastically embraced Instagram, (for which you need internet), when I am inspired and this workshop really inspired me.  Alleghany’s attention to detail and thoughtfulness continue to inspire me.

Allegheny started the workshop making cups.  He asked us to make a cup that is personal to ourselves, a cup to be used for a specific ritual or need.  He challenged us to think about our own rituals, for example, what do you like to drink in the morning?  Here some thoughts he shared with us while throwing cups designed expressly for use in his expresso machine “Sylvia”.

Working on the inside of a form is most important because with forms such as a cup, unlike a painting, you look into it. Balance and proportion thoughtfully executed suggest confidence.


We choose to make things that show our vision of the world and we share our idea of that beauty or tension with people around us.  The work is alive as people experience it.

Alleghany explained his thought process of why he works from the inside out.  As one drinks from a cup, rings of tea or coffee are left on the inside, the liquid leaves traces of horizon lines, just like water rippling along the edge of the shore when you throw a rock into it.  Alleghany as a maker thinks about the experience of drinking the opaque liquid, seeing those horizon lines and finally coming to the last dregs of liquid and having the experience of seeing a change in the form.  What do those lines mean to you as they become markers of time? 

Risk and creativity are tied together, one has to take a risk to explore creativity.


After a glorious lunch which included sandwiches, multiple varieties of salads, two homemade soups, and the aforementioned cookies, Alleghany continued with his thoughts on use and making.  He posed the question what does it mean to be a maker in our culture?  While in Karatsu, Japan, Alleghany studied with Takashi Nakazato, who believes that our hands develop memory through repetition of form, and from this repetition one achieves the rhythm that is used in functional work.  Patterns built up from layers of memory ensures the work is alive as people experience it.

Clay as a responsive pliable material becomes the instigator of plasticity in one’s hands.  Our hands learn from the clay’s plasticity and our touch and sensitivity to the material becomes a direct communicator to the brain, to the heart, and to those that use these pots.

How does one’s work instigate change?  What does it mean to make a breakfast set for two which includes a vase?  Perhaps the new owners of this set find themselves filling the vase with flowers and celebrating breakfast together in a new and meaningful way.  How does the work change when the object is to make serving bowls that fit together?  These are some of the questions and thoughts we began our own making thinking about.

And one final thought – cicatrix – this word became our mantra as we talked about it’s meaning and how it can apply to much of pottery.  We came back to it many a time.  The dictionary definitions for cicatrix are:  1. The scar of a wound.  2. A scar of the bark on a tree.  3. A mark on a stem left after a leaf or other part has become detached.  

Initially, we were using the noun cicatrix to convey the connection between handle and mug but it grew to spouts, pitcher handles, and knobs.  A cicatrix became those moments in time, those connections, that convey a decision, a choice, an artistic practice.



Decadent Design for the Soft Surface Workshop with Ben Carter

It is an honor to listen to an artist talk about their work, their process, their inspirations. I love hearing ideas about process or inspiration put together in a way that I think ‘I have never heard that before’.  And the bonus: it makes me think differently about something going on in my own work.  This experience with words is analogous to teaching a beginner to throw.  We all use different words to communicate the process. I imagine that for most us these words come from our teachers who taught us to throw.  Learning to throw is hard and, I think, even harder to explain in words.  At some point the student must experience the process for themselves.  Sometimes, it takes a new teacher to use slightly different words for a student to understand.  When a beginner realizes how to use their body, their hands, when they experience the feeling of the right amount of pressure they get that “ah ha” moment and voila they can center the clay.

Yesterday while listening to Ben I was having lots of “ah ha” moments.  I have always thought that a mug should have a flat bottom like a coffee can.  Ben makes the bottom of his pots, even his mugs, with a natural curve.  He sees the whole interior as one plane as opposed to a horizontal and vertical space.  It sets up the pot for his decoration.  For me the “ah ha” moment came when he talked about arches and strength.  A catenary kiln arch is so strong that it is hard to take down.  The same could be said of a curved arched bottom of a mug – it is stronger.

I came away with another gem.  In talking about his desire to create soft surfaces, Ben said the tension created by the rib is released by pushing into the surface.  He is creating and releasing tension.  “Ah ha!”  I think about creating tension but not releasing it.  And then there was the description of form language.  A pot should have the same form language and not have a foot speaking Chinese, a rim speaking Staffordshire and a belly speaking German salt.  I smiled as I visually conjured up a pot with these three languages. “Ah ha!”  Thanks Ben.



Santa Fe

I am traveling again, this time to Santa Fe for a Mark Pharis workshop. I just love Santa Fe, so it was easy to say yes when Susan, who I met last year at the Bray, asked if I wanted to go.

This morning the first thing Susan asked me was, where is the closest Starbucks.  Never fear my trusty Around Me app got us to the Starbucks near the Plaza.  Not only was I able to have my favorite beverage but I have someone to imbibe with me!  This is going to be a good week!  We visited the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, galleries, before heading back to get the car to drive to the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture.

New Mexico Museum of Fine Art, love the adobe buildings

New Mexico Museum of Fine Art, love the adobe buildings

Bill Daley told me when he taught in Santa Fe years ago he took all of his students to see The Staircase.  “You must go see it, Charlotte”  We did – what an feat to build this staircase with two 360 degree turns and no visible means of support.

The Staircase, detail, The Loretto Chapel

The Staircase, detail, The Loretto Chapel

The Staircase, Loretto Chapel

The Staircase, Loretto Chapel

To Blog or Not to Blog

This is my third attempt at blogging.  In 2010 I started a blog on Blospot that I never published.  Funny, it is 3 years later and nothing has changed.  I am a potter, wife with a wonderful supportive husband, mother of 3, ice skater, I love to teach throwing especially beginners and currently I am the President of the Philadelphia Skating Club.  After taking masses of photos at the 2010 NCECA Philadelphia I wanted a way to share those images with my students.  My oldest daughter is an avid blogger ( and I started a blog.  Alas the world of computers challenges me.  I grew up in England with no TV until I was 11!  A simple thing for my children becomes a half day project for me.  I did not have the time to blog

I got the itch to blog again and started another one this time on WordPress.  I never published it.  Here I was unable to see how I could fit in being a blogger.

Third attempt at blogging – in the summer of 2012 I went on a 3 day walking tour of the Swiss mountains with my sister.  I made a blog for my family at home (uncomplaining and supportive husband and 3 children) and for my family in the UK.  I never intended to publish that either.  On my trusty Iphone I would write and upload photos of the glorious views.  On our second night there was barely any internet – we were really on the E.  I found one spot where I had one bar and sat outside as it grew quite chilly and dark and blogged.  It was fun and exciting!

Blogging before nighfall

Blogging before nightfall

Fast forward to summer of 2013, I went to a fantastic ceramic workshop at the Archie Bray Foundation in Montana.  I continued my blog from last summer to stay in touch with family.  Every morning I would wake early and began a laborious job of emailing myself the photos I took the day before on my Iphone so I could download them on my Ipad and write the blog.  My cousin visiting from England said there is a much simpler way to do this but it worked and I as I said I am technologically challenged!  Back to the Bray, one morning in our daily gathering in the Gazebo I mentioned my blog.  Soon I was to meet Ben Carter who asked to read the blog.  Adam Field a Bray summer resident and participant in our workshop had told Ben.  I was not ready to have this be public, way too much personal stuff in it.  But I got to thinking again should I blog?  So here I am with a new look, trying to work out the dashboard, sending help messages to my daughter and publishing a blog.