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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: pitchers

Funny Numbers and Fresh Clay

Michael Kline

I'm a bit behind reporting on the happenings leading up to the next firing and the Cousins in Clay reunion, but here goes in a matter of a few photos!

I was happy and a bit overwhelmed to have two helpers yesterday, my intern Adam MacKay and his partner Molly Belada. Molly and Adam are undergrad ceramics majors at App State, in Boone. Adam has been helping me every week and Molly has been helping my neighbor, Courtney. After some number crunching and clay body calc, we set up the mixing area where I proceeded to find not one, but two wasp nests in two open bags of clay. Ouch. After some thorough paranoia and nest removal M and A mixed up enough of the fireclay mix that will be added to my red dirt in a week or so (I hope!)

The girls came up with a friend to make some pots (read: show off their pottery skills to their friend) but their wheel was covered with reclaim clay, so I set up my Shimpo banding wheel and hand turned it for them. It was just the thing and soon they were off to the woods to do some exploring and I was back to work.

I'm managing to get some nice pots made in and around carrying out final plans for next months Cousins in Clay Show. There's a lot to do but I'm so looking forward to seeing my old buds, Mark Shapiro and Sam Taylor, and all the pots they will be bringing. Check out our Facebook page to find out more.

OK, time for some lunch, then more pottery this afternoon.

Spied the Moon Monday

Michael Kline

Most days I wake up with a heart full of promise and a road of good intention lies ahead. After my coffee, which always seems to be there waiting for me (thanks Stacey) I do the rounds, feeding the chickens, getting the eggs, boiling the eggs, and clocking into the internets to see what's coming downstream.

Today I woke up really tired and didn't have time to go through my usual routine.

The girls are in a morning camp up at Penland so I ferried them straightaway over the mountain to their camp, came home and went to the studio to check in with the twelve from yesterday.

I spent most of the morning, aside from a brief visit from a fine group of students from ArtCentered, trying to throw small pitchers and had some success. It has been a while since I made a good group,of pitchers and it took me a few tries to get them. I often wonder if I should toss out the first couple in a series and rationalize that even the mediocre pot can be a good pot for a glaze test. And none of them were that bad really. (delusional?)

I packed some pots, went to the P.O. and dropped off some stuff over at Bandana pottery, where I sat and talked to Michael over a cold beer. Even though we live just a few few short miles apart, we rarely have time to drop in to just sit and talk shop. What a treat it is when we can.

After about 60 paces of mowing in the field and some nice callus forming on chops, I came back to the shop where it had cooled down nicely to finish my 12 for today. Well, it must be noon somewhere!? Midnight is fine with me, especially in the summer.

Just as i sit down to write this travelogue for the day, a skunk wafted by the studio and I rushed to close the doors that would keep Jack inside.  He paced between the doors looking to get out and meet this smelly dude and became so excited that I thought he might jump through the window screens!

Jack's snoozing by my feet and the skunk has moved on and it's probably safe to walk down the hill to the house without a skunk altercation. I'll enjoy the new path I've made with tonight's mowing and I'll really enjoy that path to my slumber!


Michael Kline

It's March and my firing is coming up fast. Why am I still making pots?


So much for 12 pots a day. That luxury is out the window as I try to cover my bases for upcoming place setting shows at NCECA and the Penland Gallery. It seems like the place setting show is this year's cup show. They seem to be popping up everywhere. It's understandable. It's logical. But is it profitable in the context of a group show giving 50% to the gallery? Is the risk equal to the publicity that one might gain from such a speculative venture?

Be ware, says the old potter.

I guess the price just needs to go up like everything else these days.

Consider the loss rate with warping, cracking plates, the shipping that I have to pay, the price of fuel, and on and on. The flip side, for me, is that I really like the frame of a plate for my painting, and doing these shows give me the "permission" to break out some new riffs and motifs. Obviously for anyone trying their hand at the pottery career, it's not about the money. But you damn well better make some along the way or you'll be out before you're ever in!

Speaking of adding it all up, and getting back to the 12s that Ron mentioned briefly in his post yesterday (do I hear a pottery bloggery echo?), it appears that I just didn't do the math or maybe some days I didn't make the 12. Whatever the reason, there's always more planning one can do. Next time I need a checklist of pots and maybe keep a count of what I've made as I go along. It's a process, it's timing, it's cyclical. You (read "I") have to factor in last minute requests, like 4 pitchers for the NC Museum of Natural Sciences!


OK, now they are made.

Now, where did I put those brushes???

[addendum: Carter just posted a very thoughtful edition on the subject of the 12's. the pottery bloggery pool ripples again!]

Pots & Chores

Michael Kline

I finally finished my pots yesterday after slacking with other things and I needed a little warm up to my brushwork ahead and
painted a bunch of invitations to the studio tour coming up on December 3, 4, 5! Are you on my mailing list? [sign up here]

I also cut some wood that is too big/wide to stoke in the wood kiln, but makes nice heat for the house and studio. Nothing is wasted here! Unfortunately this makes for a lot of various pile of wood around the kiln yard. But I developed a pretty quick way of cutting and stacking.

I'll be deco-rotating the pots for the next few day until I haul them over the hill to load with Courtney next week. I will send images of some of the motifs that emerge from the session.
Digg Button

Have a great weekend.


Michael Kline

Haphazard slip job.

Nice, I think. The finished article won't be as graphic, but I find such joy in the moment!

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

Hustling Flow

Michael Kline

price debate

The evening started out with the NC Clay Club, who met at the Crimson Laurel Gallery in Bakersville. When I got there there was a lively discussion about pricing one's work. When I left there was still a lively discussion about pricing one's work. I guess we'll always debate that one. For an interesting discussion about pricing, see Ron Philbecks blog post, here.

I zipped back to the shop to work on finishing the pots and pugging clay to get clay ready for jugs and bottle and pitchers tomorrow! The clay in the picture below is my red dirt mix. I set it out to dry a little more in this way and will do another pugging in the a.m.

looks like a busy day tomorrow!

I'm feeling good about the clay, the pots, and the flow. It's been a good week and I hope to do some capping tomorrow. I also will try to start back on slab dishes that I have been wanting to make for a long time. Oh, ambition!

The Pitcher

Michael Kline

the pitcher
amber/green glazes

No, not Sandy Koufax, not Nolan Ryan, not Catfish Hunter. The pitcher we've followed these last couple of weeks. Remember? Do you recognize it?

I rarely use the Willie Hillux glaze (green) but I wanted to try it on some of the lighter clay body (McKenzie Smith) that I was using. I used it on some other pots that I may or may not have time to shoot. I'm cautious when using the Hillux, because it's a real bitch sometimes. It's very sensitive to early reduction and can also pool as a metallic black mess.

That Pitcher: Update

Michael Kline

Here's the latest on the pitcher we're "following". The kaolin slip was poured onto the pitcher with a paper cup leaving some nice blank areas totally by chance. Now if I can only get it dry and bisque fired by Wednesday!!???!?

Midnight Special

Michael Kline

follow this pitcher

Just wanted to update every one of you about the pitcher that we have high hopes for. I put the handle on after supper and here it is. So far so good, although I need to make a lot more of these handles to master them. They still seem a little thin.

I need to make a lot more pottery, but I'm afraid I have to step away...from....the....wheel...can't...let...go...must...paint...pots......
good night!

A Pitcher

Michael Kline

a separate "cap" is thrown and attached to the neck

the cap after throwing onto the neck

the spout after ribbing the neck with a wooden tool.

Here is one of the more successful pitchers of the day. Maybe because I was taking pictures of it as I made it? Hmmm. The neck is an area of this pot that's hard for me to get right. So, instead of fighting it, I have been throwing a little cap that gets attached to the neck, giving more room for the handle to be attached later.

Thought you'd like to follow this one through the making, painting, firing. I'll try to keep it in your lens. Dinnertime!