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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: salt glaze

Beat-up Old Kiln/Beat-up Old Potter

Michael Kline

As the title of this post implies, this potter is feeling like his kiln, a little worse for wear. Ironically, throwing the pots, working the clay doesn't dry my hands out as much as wadding pots and loading the kiln. Wadding the pots is hard to do with gloves on, and the frequent washing (to remove the layer of wadding and glue from my finger tips) is hard on the skin. Handling the silicon carbide shelves and all of the craggly kiln furniture doesn't help much, either. Then throw in a few times that I grab something hot during the firing with the hole-e glove and you get really dry and hypersensitive hands. My hands feel a little like the skin of this kiln!

But with that whining aside, the firing of the wood kiln went fantastically well. The crew was awesome, the peanut M & M's flowed and the meals were plentiful! John Simmons and Kyle Carpenter were on hand to help finish the kiln after I spent the first 9 hours stoking solo. We missed my Ichiban Stoker, Alan Gratz. Alan was on book tour promoting his new novel, "Fantasy Baseball"! John Simmons was the closer, stoking the kiln for the final 4 hours, while Kyle assisted with the new and improved salting system. It would have been impossible to do this myself. I should also thank my wife, Stacey, for all that she has had to put up with this last week or so, and for her constant support (and fine cookin')!!

And now for the abbreviated Index for 37:
  • Dry wood and a gusty wind helped the kiln climb fast and we finished in 12.5 hours
  • We used half the wood than usual
  • We used a bout 30 lbs. of salt where I usually use 20-25.
  • The kiln was loaded with 300 pots
For now though, it's waiting. I'm trying hard not to have high hopes or great expectations and I'm squashing any paranoid fantasies with the excitement of seeing a kiln full of new pots!

In other News: I'm taking some down time these cooling days to catch up on all the projects that need attention. One of these projects is wring the Spring Newsletter. If you want to receive it go to my email sign up page and sign up!

Unfortunately last weekend's contest didn't happen due to the attention needed to load and fire the kiln. And next weekend's contest will not happen because I will be away selling pottery in Hickory, NC.

So we will hold a 'leave a comment' contest mid week when I unload the kiln, I promise! Look for it!

Still Waiting

Michael Kline

I sort of took a day off on Tuesday.

There's much to do to prepare for the solo show in Asheville, attend to all the business stuff that I dropped to focus on the final push, etc. There's still a mess of slip and glaze to be mopped up in the shop. But I put a few things away and made room for the pots!!

All in all, though, it was a restful day. It felt odd not to be pushing so hard every minute and felt good that the work had been done. As it always does. There's so much satisfaction and relief that comes when that last brick goes into the door of the kiln and the fire is lit. As if the hard part was done and that the firing would be the frosting on the cake. But I can only say that because I always have a great crew that helps out tending to the fire. John Simmons brought all of his wood firing experience to bear and allowed me to take a nap while he single handedly made the transition from the lower firebox to the grates. A job that usually take two!

Alan Gratz made his first appearance since his teaching trip to Japan last Spring. He was focused and steady with his stokes and claimed at one point that he was "born to burn"!! (T-shirt idea!)

Micah Cain stopped by and helped us develop the new salting technique. While John cut the 1/2 inch thick boards to length, Micah loaded the boards up with salt. We then inserted the boards between the opposing stoke doors and rested them there so that the salt vaporized almost completely before the board was consumed. All the while Alan kept the firebox full of wood. [I have pictures on my phone to put here later, sorry]

Last night I took a peek into the kiln which was still about 450°F. Without melting my lense, I got this shot of a big jug with some pinkish blushes from the back of the kiln! I will get it unloaded on Thursday. With 3 inches of fiber insulation, it takes a while to really cool down, and I'm still a little gun-shy from my dunting in the past.

Faces of 35

Michael Kline

Sorry readers, but I had too busy a day to sit down and sum up the firing. Maybe tomorrow? I've got a lot to do to get the place ready for our 1st Annual Kiln Opening!!! With the usual cleanup after a deco-rotation session in the studio, I also realized that the whole place needs a makeover by Friday!

Here are some of the faces of the firing of the kiln. Can't thank these folks enough!

lillian stoking in her jammies!

David Andrews still chipper after the"overnight"
David's son Elijah stoking the fire
Evelyn waiting her turn

Keith Phillips came out to lend a hand
and help me innovate a new salting technique!

Keith's son Greyson after retrieving the
salt board from the middle of the pond!

Alex Matisse staying cool
and hamming it up for the camera.

I have more pictures and video that I hope to share with you sometime soon. The firing went very well, considering my fatigue and near exhaustion from working the long hours for the last 3 weeks to get it all done. It was a beautiful day for a firing. The wind was a little gusty, but it had just a minor effect on the the overall firing.

The firing started at about 3:30 a.m. and ended about 9 the following night. The temperature was a little hotter than last firing by design. The majority of the load was made from a commercial stoneware and not my red dirt stoneware.

Tomorrow is Lillian's birthday and we're heading in top the big city of Asheville. I'll be pressing the overalls so's I'll be able to celebrate in style!

Until the next chance I get to sit down and compose...thanks for reading and supporting blogs about pottery!

Review: Salt-Glazed Stoneware in Early America

Michael Kline

Janine Skerry and Suzanne Hood, Salt-Glazed Stoneware in Early America, published by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in association with the University Press of New England, 2009. Amazon list at $75.00 (currently on sale)

  • format 11.5 x 9 inches
  • 271 pages
  • 245 illustrations, all color
  • some diagrams and charts
  • footnotes
  • bibliography

When Michael was experimenting with new handles for his handled bowls last week, I decided to look up the same form in a new book recently published by Colonial Williamsburg on early American stoneware. The closest I could come is something called a porringer, an all-purpose vessel for eating wet food mixtures (such as stews, oatmeal). For example, Ben Franklin in his autobiography mentioned eating breakfast of gruel or bread and milk out of a porringer. The only ones shown in this new book were made in England of white salt-glazed stoneware.

Porringers of white salt-glazed stoneware
(the one on the left was excavated from a
colonial site in Williamsburg) made in
Staffordshire, England, 1745-1760

The handles of these porringers were made
press molds and have holes for hanging

We would more likely find the precedents for Michael’s bowls in a book on earthenware rather than stoneware, but looking there would not provide a convenient segue into my review of this new stoneware book.

The authors of this handsome volume take a broad view of stoneware in early America. Their time period is before 1800, which covers more than 200 years of colonial occupation. In addition to discussing the stoneware made in the American colonies (American-made stoneware is all from the 1700s), they also cover the English and German stoneware used in America. Their evidence comes from complete objects that survive with histories of ownership in the colonies, many shards recovered from archaeological sites, and colonial inventories.

Their searches yielded some remarkable things; like the German mug made 1550-1575 with engraved English silver-gilt mounts for the cover, rim and foot, and carried by John Winthrop, future governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony when he crossed the Atlantic in 1630.

Winthrop family mug made in Germany
1550-1575, with English silver-gilt mounts

John was not the first Winthrop to own the mug, nor was he the last. The mug continued to be passed down through generations of the Winthrop family for another two hundred years, until it was given to the American Antiquarian Society in 1825. Without the silver mounts and the long Winthrop family history, this is otherwise a rather mundane mug made in Cologne or Frechen of grey stoneware body coated with a rich brown slip and fired with a salt glaze. Surely the potter who made it thought of it as nothing more than one more piece qualifying for his daily count. Yet it was held in high esteem in the sixteenth century (the English silver mounts tell us that) and acquired magical properties as it was passed from generation to generation of Winthrops, each passage carried out on the Feast of St. Michael (Michaelmas recognizes the coming of autumn and shortening of days, while celebrating the accomplishments of Archangel Michael, who defeated Lucifer in the battle for the heavens). The whole story made me wonder whether any of us would want to set ourselves three hundred years hence to see what has happened to our own objects.

The story above was not meant to put you off your wheel, but to let you know what sorts of things you will see when you page through this book – common objects like the ones handled every day by colonial forbears: Jugs, jars, mugs, pitchers, plates, crocks, tea and coffee wares, chamber pots, and a few figurines and ornaments. Some are remarkable, like this carved cup made in Nottingham, England, about 1700.

Carved mug Nottingham, England
about 1700,
matches fragments found
on the Drummond
plantation in Virginia

This is a double-walled vessel. The outside wall is carved and pierced, while an inside wall holds hot liquids. (The double-walled construction is possibly based on Chinese porcelain examples decorated by the so-called “Ling Lung” method.)

The authors also examine the elaborately decorated German wares, like the brown bearded-man jugs and blue-and-grey Westerwald medallion wares.

Bearded-man jug
made in Frechen, Germany
excavated in Pemaquid, Maine

Ziegler family tankard
made in Westerwald, Germany 1700-1730
the Zieglers were members of the
Salzburger settlement
established in the 1730s
in Ebenezer, Georgia

The German potters used small press molds to create the pads of decoration that were typically applied to the leather-hard jugs, bottles and mugs.

For those of you who try to follow Bernard Leach’s admonition to look for inspiration at historical wares made in your region there is also a chapter on American-made stoneware, especially from Yorktown VA, Philadelphia, New York City, Connecticut and Boston.

Chamber pot
Anthony Duché,
Philadelphia, 1730-1750

In addition, an appendix lists the names, dates, and locations of all the known American stoneware potters of the eighteenth century. Only Delaware among the thirteen original colonies did not boast a stoneware pottery, so if you are resident of the states touching the Atlantic you have stoneware history to mine that goes back to the 1700s.

Although this book was written for cultural historians and stoneware collectors, there is much here to be admired and learned by contemporary potters with an interest in the products of historical kilns. In addition, an exhibition in the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum at Colonial Williamsburg (“Pottery with a Past: Stoneware in Early America”) will be on view through January 2, 2011, which gives every reader of this book the opportunity to see first hand many of the wares illustrated in the volume.

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

Tom Turner: Part 2: Salt Glazed

Michael Kline

If I had taken more notes and been a better student I could then pass on more information to you about the pots in this post. But as it stands, it's been over a week since I visited Tom and looked at these pots and I didn't have my notebook with me.

One important thing that happens, though, when handling pots or objects of any kind is a sort of downloading of non-verbal information. Textures, weights, shapes become internalized and this data is kept in hand memory and visual memory. We become scanners and cameras as we handle and turn these objects. You don't have to be a potter to do this. All of us handle hundreds of objects every day. Our relationship with any object is the product of these sensory interactions merging with our own needs and desires. We need a cup of tea or coffee, we desire that particular cup. The necessity of food and eating for survival is the primary job for which pottery exists, the culture of that pottery is lead by our desire for function and style. The available technology at any given time in history is the catalyst for expression in the art of the potter.

Although I don't consider myself a scientist, I am infinitely curious. This curiosity leads me to answer questions that I have in my work as a potter. As a contemporary potter I am fortunate to have examples of previous potter's research available in collections like Tom's, like the Mint Museum's, and others, like the Freer/Sackler. In any research discovery stands on the shoulders of the past. Unfortunately, a lot of what I do in the studio is redundant in the search for these answers.
I'm not sure, yet, how to minimize this. But continuing to study is crucial.
No matter if you are making pottery or sculpture, no matter if you are new to clay or a veteran, it is essential to the success of your work to know the history. We may be doomed to repeat the failures of the past, I know I have, but we can also enjoy the satisfaction of perpetuating good ideas and good forms with our work.
I meant to talk more specifically about the marks on some of these pots, but I've gone on a tangent. Last week, Tom and I were were looking at handles, their attachments, and capacity marks. These images show a few ways of marking and embellishing.

In the process of answering questions about these pots we learn about the needs and desires of the people who made them and the culture that surrounded them. In turn, we learn about our own needs and desires, both as potters and as people. Thanks Tom for sharing.

I'd better get myself in that studio and make some pots today! Thanks for indulging.

Tom showing proper form when holding an old pot

***Click here to see another Stedman/Seymour pot you might find very interesting. I can't imagine what it was for or how it might have been used. Maybe you have an idea?