Sunday, March 29, 2009

Forcing Age

Yesterday was the warmest day yet of this year. It felt like early summer here in Cornwallville. Bulbs were emerging, and the pond was alive again with sounds of frogs.
Stephen began painting the house, as I was cutting out new perennial beds. I wanted to get down to the barn and begin the power-washing task, but it was just to nice out to be indoors anywhere, even if it meant working on the pottery.

Today was a completely different story; rain moved in last night, and by morning, clouds were covering the sky and fog was lingering around the grounds. We knew that this cooler, wet weather was coming and had planned on a day of work inside; but I still had to get outside to do something constructive for the pottery.

With coffee in hand, I walked down to the barn and slid open the door slowly. I looked around at the pots and dusty timbers looking for a small little project, to no avail. As I was about to close the door and head back inside. I noticed in the corner, a box of my old earthenware (terra cotta) pots, piled high.

I made them a year ago when I ran out of porcelain and had nothing left but a box of old moldy red clay. I made the planters over several days, dreaming of little seedlings and succulents growing inside them. After the bisque firing, I shoved them in a box and under a shelf and forgot about them.
A year later, here they were in Cornwallville, piled high in the corner. I crouched down quickly for a closer examination. Looking at a few I was struck by how bland their surface was to me. I enjoyed my throw lines; and loved the red hue, but something was missing.

Then the thought came to me; may be I can prematurely age them?
I have done it before on commercial terra cotta pots by simply rubbing them with soil and stacking them with moss in between, then placing them in the shade with amazing results. Another easy method that has worked for me is to take a lime/water mixture; equal parts and brush or sponge the solution on the pots for a beautiful white washed patina.
I have never had any luck using yogurt or buttermilk washes. Some gardeners swear by it, so I think I might still have to give that process one more try later in the spring.

Would these processes work on my pots? I thought I'd give it a go. So, I gathered a dozen of my little pots in a wooden crate and headed into the misty spring woods. Where they would live for several months to a year.

I knew that our small spring creek was there with a good amount of moss growing about. I gazed around to find a suitable home for the premature aging process to begin, and found a great little spot between some fallen branches and a wild rose bush.

Next was to prepare the planters. I brought the pots down to the creek and dipped them in to the cool water to give them a good soaking. This would help the soil and moss better adhere to their surface.

After several minutes of soaking, I took them one by one and rubbed the clay soil from the creek bank all over the inside and outside of the planters. I stacked them back in the crate, and headed back to what would be their home for several months.

The final step was to take some moss from the forest floor and begin to rub it all over the pots. When that was complete, I placed the pots in all directions on the moss bed to keep the patterns random. I thought the pots at even this stage, had more character than before.

I then took branches from the surrounding area and began making a crude teepee over them, for as I know when summer comes the ferns and undergrowth will completely cover their location. I thought this would be an easy, natural way to find them later in the season, to check on their condition.

This was a quick little project, and I have no clue as to what the results will be. The feeling reminds me of loading a glaze kiln and waiting for the opening. Some of the pots will blow your mind and others will be a big disappointment. Time will only tell in this case if I will have gems or coal.
I urge anyone with a little outdoor space to try one of these methods on their pots. All you need is some terra cotta pots, moss, soil and a shady moist place. Its fun, easy and the element of surprise will please you.
I will go back to the little moss patch in several months, and let you know how they are turning out. Hopefully there will be moss or some sort of aging beginning to take hold. If nothing at all, I would be more than pleased with just a little blush of green.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring Barn Cleaning

Last weekend, the end of winter was glorious here in Cornwallville. Beaming sunshine, warm winds, and temperatures in the high 50's. If you know me, you would assume that I would be out in the gardens - pruning, raking, and planning new perennial beds. Gardening was certainly on my agenda, but not last weekend.
Instead, I was about to venture into the dark, dusty warm cavern that was our barn.

When we bought the stone house last spring, we had no initial intentions for the barn. It's an unusual structure in that it is tall for it's small width, resembling a squat tower. Built in 1992 by the former owner for her draft horses, it is incredibly sturdy. In fact the house inspector who came to our property during the closing, said "People who love horses will build barns that will last longer than the homes they live in."

Mid-summer last year it came to me; let's turn the barn into a small pottery / showroom. We are here every weekend, the barn is some 50 feet from the road, and it would be a great way to meet people. Stephen was on board and the idea grew from there.
We would not only sell my pottery but, an assortment of all things handmade and grown here at our home, the M.H. Merchant stone house.
We spent the fall and winter working on restoring the house. I knew we wouldn't get to the barn till the spring, but it gave me time to plot our attack.

The first step was the most daunting. Just cleaning the barn would be an undertaking. The hayloft was filled with loose hay, leaves and squirrel dreys. The ground level was littered with old manure and abandoned birds nests, and inside the entire structure were these cobweb like, dust ball dreadlocks hanging from all the rafters and on the walls.

I dove right in with a rake, broom, shovel, and wheelbarrow. I put on a dust mask and climbed into the hayloft. I opened the loft door and and started raking the hay into the wheelbarrow below. I would climb down and empty the wheelbarrow spreading the hay in the woods nearby. I continued this schedule for about an hour before I just started to spread the hay on the drive-way in front of the barn to save time.

When all the hay was out, I swept the hayloft clean, but by no way was it spotless.

I climbed back down to the ground level and began raking all the debris and manure into piles. I then shoveled them into the wheelbarrow and began dumping.
A couple hours later I was finished. I was as dirty as the barn once was. I was covered in hay, dust and manure. Tired and filthy; I felt so gratified that the first step in setting up the pottery was completed.

The next day I woke up to an even more beautiful day, I rushed down to the barn to see what it looked like in the morning light.
It was empty, but I became excited with all the prospects. I rushed around the grounds and into the house to find anything to use as tables or shelves. I found an old crate door in the basement that I thought would make a great table top. As I brought it out into the light I was shocked to find it belonged to M.H. Merchant, our home's original builder. It was a great historic find, I made a quick phone call to Stephen to give him the news and then down to the barn. I was on a mission.

I brought down an old potting bench, some barn wood, and a few tree stumps to use as well. I put some of my old pottery, rusty tins, and found objects on the make shift furniture and the barn had its first quick simple displays.

I know it still looks like a dusty barn with some pots, but there will be a much more to do.
Nothing is permanent, as I know that the next warm day the barn will once again be emptied of its contents and the power-washing and scrubbing will commence. The list will go on. The Cornwallville Pottery has been born.

Friday, March 20, 2009