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192 Jim Boone Rd
Bakersville, NC, 28705
United States


The central information hub for Michael Kline Pottery, a small one man shop of pottery making in the mountains of western North Carolina.

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The Best of Sawdust and Dirt

A record of the goings on around Michael Kline Pottery!

Filtering by Tag: jugs

Princess Grae and Queen Anne

Michael Kline

I'm yawning as I try to remember some of the thoughtful thoughts I had during my day. It was a great day, but it's late and I'm fading. [no nap] Courtney and Grae stopped in today and 1 y.o. Grae thought she would help an old guy out and wedge some clay.  Her ambition is amazing! My kids just ignore me when I ask them to do anything. ;-(

I went back to my old way of stacking sections and it was just fine. I have been using the more traditional capping technique for a while now, but I wanted to get a more ovoid shape. With capping I tend to get a taller shape, not as round. I was pleased with the shapes!  I'll put collars on top of these tomorrow to finish the necks.

On my walk home this evening I took some pictures of the Queen Anne's Lace in the field. Seems to be a bumper crop this year. Maybe it's on some kind of super productive cycle this year?! I love the lines of the drooping blossoms and the delicacy of the leaves and flowers. But in the coming days I will have to cut it all down as I prepare the grounds for next month's Cousins in Clay!! Mark and Sam are coming down from MA and Bruce and Sam(antha) are coming over from Seagrove. I'm totally consumed with planning, but it's all coming together and it should be a blast.

Just have to few pots before then!

Jug Redemption

Michael Kline

Not counting my chickens yet, but I'm happy with these handles and especially happy that these have made it this far. I hope Tom, my handle critic, likes these.

I'm painting pots, but don't have any pictures for you yet. Hopefully later.

Do Over

Michael Kline

bigger and better around the heap of dropped jugs.
1,2,3, and 4 gallons

First of all I wanted to thank all of those who sent their condolences on Facebook yesterday (and this morning). It was just what I needed after yesterday's minor tragedy.

What tragedy you ask?

Well, In my hurrying around, I decided to put some freshly slipped jugs on a ware board that was wider than the wall brackets it was resting on. As I placed the third jug on the board it tipped toward me and there was a lot of dancing to somehow save them from hitting the floor, but to no avail. After much very loud cussing and throwing down of my cap I called it a day and headed down the hill in disgust. I knew that the shelf was for narrow boards and not the wide one that was on there! So I kicked myself around for a while and decided I'd better leave the scene before I started to break other things in my rage.

So after supper I decided that there was only one thing to do. Make the pots over. Although I had planned on painting a bunch of mugs and bowls to kick off the deco round, I decided that for my own good I would get "back on the horse" and get"back" to the wheel and knock out some more jugs.

So now I really don't have time for this blog to tell you about the auction at the pottery center, nor show you some interesting pictures I've been taking of the budding trees and shrubs around our "estate", nor expound on the transition I make in the shop from throwing pots to deco-rotating and glazing. Maybe ATF!*

Until then, take it from me, be careful out there!

To quote my old college buddy, Ward Wampler, "Gravity. It's not only a good idea, it's the law!"

*after the firing

Anna Potters Delivered “Sermons in Stoneware”

Michael Kline

Anna Pottery snake jug in the collection of the Illinois State Museum

In the first part of the blog post on the Anna Pottery I promised to describe the amazing temperance-minded objects made by the Kirkpatrick brothers during the second half of the 1800s. They made flasks in the shape of pigs, which were called “Railroad and River Guides.” The idea for the flasks, which were based on old German glass prototypes, was attributed to Cornwall, the older of the two brothers. The stoneware pigs are generally about eight inches long with the flask opening on the nether end of the hog. They were made by throwing cylinders and then altering them with the addition of a snout, legs, a tail, and male genitalia.

two pig flasks showing different sides, inscription

on obverse and

map of Illinois Central Railroad on reverse

These delightful objects were further complicated by elaborate incising overall, usually mapping prominent railroad lines and identifying cities along the routes. Although there are many variations of these routes, the common version shows the Illinois Central Railroad with Chicago (“the corn mart”) at the mouth and Mounds (a town at the tip of Illinois) at the other end. Cincinnati (“the ancient porkopolis” or “the pork city”) is usually underneath. The Mississippi River runs down the spine and St. Louis (identified as “the future capitol”) is shown in the center. There was a movement in the nineteenth century to change the U.S. capitol to St. Louis, which is more centrally located on the continent than Washington, DC.

One reporter in a local newspaper noted that “The pigs are a curious piece of workmanship, and appropriate, for it is rather a hoggish propensity to be guzzling whiskey, and if the habit is indulged in, will soon reduce a man below the level of the hog, and cause him to wallow in the gutter.” In the 19th century people who lived in cities and towns across the US knew a lot about pigs, which were allowed to roam the streets in order to take care of the garbage. Hence, the reference to pigs wallowing in the gutter.

In a broader context these dandy pigs are a metaphor for the economy of the Midwest. Even in the 19th century, corn was a principal cereal crop, but it was worth little on the commodity market. Instead, the clever Midwesterners raised hogs and distilled whiskey as a convenient means of taking this staple to market. These commodities were shipped across the land by railroad. Corn, pigs, whiskey, and railroads formed a tight and profitable economic network that is neatly represented by this humorous artifact.

I can’t think of many examples of metaphorical pottery that rivals these pigs. They are just remarkable objects that combine utility with symbolism in a way that is completely enthralling. Many variations are recorded because the Kirkpatrick's made them on order for saloons and taverns throughout the Midwest and the South.

snake jug, 10½ inches high, private collection

Like the pig bottles, which combine utility with art, the brothers’ snake jugs are remarkable expressions of temperance philosophy. The classic snake jug is about ten inches tall in a shape suggestive overall of the old-fashioned bellarmines (bearded-man jugs – see my last post for more on them and Dan Finnegan’s recent post on his blog). Instead of the bearded face, however, there is the upper torso of a man emerging from the jug, whose head is being attacked by a snake from above. In fact, the jug is covered with snakes. Insects such as dung beetles can also be seen on these jugs, along with frogs, lizards and the like. And there is usually a fair amount of writing that identifies the theme of each jug, many of which are political in nature. The most temperance-minded of the group is called “The Drunkard’s Doom.”

Drunkard’s Doom snake jug, two views, 9½ inches high

It features the bottom half of a male body diving into the jug on one side (labeled “nice young man going in”) and the top half emerging from the other side, looking disheveled and titled “The Drunkard’s Doom.”

This puts me in mind of the scene in Mark Twain’s classic novel Huckleberry Finn (1884) in which Huck describes his father in the throes of delirium tremens: “I don’t know how long I was asleep, but all of a sudden there was an awful scream and I was up. There was pap, looking wild and skipping around every which way and yelling about snakes. He said they was crawling up his legs; and then he would give a jump and scream, and say one had bit him on the cheek—but I couldn’t see no snakes. He started and run round and round the cabin, hollering ‘take him off! take him off! he’s biting me on the neck!’ I never see a man look so wild in the eyes.”

In the snake jugs Wallace Kirkpatrick combined a fascination with serpents

small coiled snake in collection of Illinois State Museum, 4 inches across

and his strong feelings against alcohol with a remarkable ability to model stoneware caricatures of human and animal life. The ghastly images evoked in these jugs are brutal and meant to be a warning to those tempted by liquor. Kirkpatrick “preaches sermons in stone,” noted a reporter in 1874.

It would not be fair if I did not mention that another writer on the Kirkpatricks has taken a different interpretive route. Richard Mohr’s ideas have their followers as do mine. Mohr does not believe the Kirkpatricks were temperance-minded. Instead he feels that their work was produced with tongue in cheek, whereas I doubt that an artist could come up with things that are so compelling unless he/she held a strong opinion, such as being temperance-minded in the case of the Kirkpatricks’ snake jugs and pig flasks.

Other Kirkpatrick jugs investigated the whiskey revenue scandal of President Grant’s administration (1876, now in National Museum of American History, Smithsonian) and the NY City Hall boondoggle perpetrated by Boss Tweed and his gang of nefarious politicians (1871, a gift to cartoonist Thomas Nast). One interesting variation is owned by the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Collection in Williamsburg. It has many movable parts.

You can see more Kirkpatrick work at this website.

I wonder as I contemplate all of this whether the upcoming booze vote in Burnsville will engender such commentary in local craft. Perhaps one vote in one town does not a movement make, and it is national/international political events and situations that provoke commentary among today’s potters. My thoughts turn to some of the sculpture by Viktor Schreckengost and Robert Arneson. I know you will think of many more examples of clay used as political expression. Please share them in your comments to this blog post.

There has long been a lot of blather about so-called functional ware vs. sculpture in ceramics and other craft media. But I think the lesson one can take away from the Kirkpatricks’ work is that utility need not limit one’s desire to express opinions on political or social situations, hence bottles in the shape of pigs and jugs covered with snakes. In fact, the Kirkpatricks’ use of utilitarian forms as their starting point is integral to the themes and metaphors of their work.

And Ayumi Horie’s invention of “Obamaware” in 2008 as a fundraiser is proof that the ability to express political opinions while also practicing utility with one’s work is not dead.

Cornwall Kirkpatrick and his children with a giant pitcher

Ellen Denker is a consulting curator and independent scholar of material culture, specializing in American ceramic history. She has many publications, some of which have won awards from obscure organizations. For “Sawdust & Dirt,” Ellen contributes historical insights into contemporary issues in studio ceramics and review books and exhibitions that feature ceramics. Ellen can also be reached at

Handling Jugs

Michael Kline

no horizontal surface left!

Not sure what to say. It was a good day, but at this point even a good day may not be enough. But it's all I can do to finish these pots and get them deco'd before I load the kiln this coming Saturday.

Today's work involved cutting feet on the big bowls and handling jugs! I also handled some of the 2 lb jars. Some of these little pot's handles are simply ridiculous in scale, but I approached these little pots with the idea that I wanted to get the handles on fast and decisively. So some of these were pretty off base, time to fuss!

I'm hoping to hear from Turner, who's been my consultant on these jug handles. Basically Tom says bigger, so maybe these are getting there as far as scale goes. He's right, some of the 2 gallon jugs with thin strappy handles wouldn't inspire confidence when filled . SO each round I hope to get better.

After doing the jug on the right side's handles I made sure to refer to The Potter's Eye and the pot I remembered having two honkin' handles! It just looks strange to me. It has such a different look than the one on the right, a little too streamlined. I miss seeing the spout, which gets lost between the handle terminals.

It's a beauty (by Daniel Seagle, 19c. NC potter) and you figure that with about 10 gallons of liquid and the weight of the pot, we're talking about at least a hundred pounds. Those handles better be beefy, right? My jugs are only about four or five gallons and I thought a lot about getting the handles big enough, just in case someone decided to actually use these pots!!

Well this is what I'm up to as I head into a week of deco and glaze. I hope you enjoy reading. Let me know if you have any questions or comments, it's always good to hear from ya'll.


Michael Kline

In the interest of truth in reporting I thought I would share this Weegee-like image with you. During a sunny afternoon, yesterday, I thought I would get some more drying done, cut some more wood, to take advantage of this rare opportunity before the rains returned. Well the rains returned a little earlier that I anticipated and during supper last night , the pots that on this table were lost. The truth is, I've been trying to cram all of this pottery making in to meet some deadlines after losing two weeks to wisdom teeth.

This is what happens when you stay up late too many nights, you lose your edge, you lose your pots!

To describe what I felt when I went up to the shop to try to save these from the downpour would require a kind of anger that I'd rather not return to here. But to describe the scene in more unemotional terms may be more helpful. Of course I was upset and wondered whether I'd have enough pots for the firing, now. I ran through a checklist of what was on the table. I believe there were 3-2 gallon jugs, a nice small four handled jar, a few small jars , and two big, 4 gallon jars. My first reaction was that I will remake the pots, which I soon saw as ridiculous. Those pots are gone!

Then I remembered a craft show I did many years ago in Guilford, CT. where I lost a whole shelf of pots to a gust of wind and a tent flap. I remembered the heart sinking and the shock. Then I remembered that I had no choice, really, since the show was open, but to clean up the mess and put a good face on ASAP. For it was more critical than ever to sell what I had left and try to cover my losses. Those pots were gone, there was no glue that would put them back together again.

So in this current 'Humpty Dumpty' situation I expedited the clay back to the slop bucket immediately and got to work. There was no time to waste. I remained in a kind of shock throughout the night and this morning. I still have a dull ache in my head, no doubt from the replaying in my mind of what I could have done, or what I should have done, but what good is that? At least I can make more pots, even though it may mean more late nights ahead.
So I stayed up late making jugs.

Additions to the Collection

Michael Kline

,4 new pots!

It's been a busy week of online commerce and Etsy-ness and I'm chomping to get back in the studio and to make some pots, already, YO! But, alas, there's more packing and shipping to do tomorrow. I've been a little under the weather today and just lazing around and doing paper work. I thought I would catch ya'll up on some new pots that have graciously entered our life here on Snow Creek Rd.

The beautiful little jug on the left came all the way over the ocean in Ron Philbeck's suitcase! Doug Fitch, my Devonshire blogging buddy sent it over! What a treat to be holding on to this sweet pot. I'm sure it will be of help when I get back to making pitchers! It has such a beautiful patina that I'm going to refrain from using the dishwasher and hand wash it. heehee. But it has already been host to some iron weed clippings we made while walking the puppy, Jack. It's a most welcome addition to the British wing in our museum!

walkin' the dawg

Lillian taking a swigg!

A few weeks ago a package arrived in the mail from New England! In it was this beautiful wood fired bottle with nice fish stopper from my old buddy Tom White. Tom's been making pots up there in Northfield, Massachusetts for a good while and recently has been firing the wood kiln over at Sam Taylor's place where this piece was fired. It has a most rich surface and holds a good bit of tea. (tee hee hee, that is)

Next in our lineup of super-star pots comes this yankee-mingei jar made by CT potter (as well as potter buddy), Louise Harter. We picked this little gem up at the Liz Summerfield Benefit Auction a couple of weeks ago. I love thinking of Louise wiping her fingers across this just dipped pot and freezing the moment with fire! Thanks for donating it to the cause Louise. We must talk soon, it's been too long!!

small jar by Michael Simon

Last but not least, it was my great surprise to find this jar at a local sale for our animal shelter. I spotted it across the crowded room as if it had a tractor beam of hotness transporting me towards it. It is pot made by my teacher and friend, Michael Simon! To seize the pot, I practically tackled the people that stood between me and the table where this little gem sat. I snatched it up and guarded it with my life as I approached the checkout table! Well, actually Stacey took it up to the check out table and threw down the bucks! [thanks sweetie] I'm the luckiest guy on earth! I am guessing it may have been made while Michael was teaching here at Penland as he did many times. I ran in to Paulus at the sale and he thought it was from the late eighties! Ha! In 1989 I took a pivotal spring concentration at Penland with Michael that changed my potters life forever. Hmmmmm. Maybe this jar was made during that workshop? Hmmmmmm. Wouldn't that be something?

Well, that's it for now. Just thought I would touch base with everyone who's out there reading and share these pots with you. I hope you'll come and visit our little corner of the world some day. When you do, let's sit down and look at some pots!

Finally, Handles

Michael Kline

After a few days under plastic these jugs were liberated and handled. For the record, because I know there is someone out there asking this question to themselves, "Yes, I was wearing my Pointer Brand overalls." Tom, I hope you like the handles!

Night Owls, Jugs, and Sigur Rós

Michael Kline

When the clock strikes midnight and I'm deep "in the shed", I turn to Sigur Rós to get me through the late night pottery trance. You can read about this fantastic Icelandic band that my good buddy, Matt turned me onto after we heard an ethereal song in one of our favorite movies, The Life Aquatic w/ Steve Zissou.

Anyway, I'm digressing in this late hour. All I really wanted to share with you was this group of jugs that were made after supper tonight. It was a good evening!Link

Jug, Handle, Again?

Michael Kline

I'm fairly happy with the handle, it's strong and one finger and a bent elbow will easily be able to lift this pot. The tool I use to scratch birds and other designs into the dry leatherhard clay is one I used in printmaking back in college. It's modified with lots of duct tape. I can't remember what the tool is called, but it has three faces that come together into a sharp point that can be easily sharpened as needed.


Michael Kline

Against all odds, I'm packing up the pottery barge and heading up river to Spruce Pine for the Spruce Pine Potters Market. I will be setting up for the weekend show this afternoon and if you get there early enough on Saturday you might see this jug. I hope you will plan on visiting. If you have some lame excuse, like "...but it's all the way over that big pond!" or some such, maybe you can catch a glimpse here on ye olde blogge. Click on the link in the sidebar to the right for more info if you can make the trip.