Historical Pot: Bird-headed Pitcher

This lovely little gem, a fritware bird-headed pitcher, hails from Iran made between the years 1200-1250. I’ve sourced it from the San Francisco Asian Art Museum collection. You can search the collection online to your hearts content but if you are ever in the area make an effort to get there! I spent the whole day there once only to be scurried out by the security guard at closing, being the last visitor there. I’d be a dedicated label reader and sketchbook sketcher if only I had a week in those hallowed walls. Alas, the museum has thought that through, labels are available online too!

Label: In addition to the wide variety of traditional ceramic shapes, Persian potters created a range of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic vessels. The upper section of this pitcher is in the form of a rooster or cock’s head. It has a prominent comb, a slit beak for pouring, and a slight wattle under the beak. The large round eye is characteristic of such pitchers. The rest of the pitcher body takes a more traditional ceramic and metalwork shape with molded, incised, or painted surfaces. The pronounced honeycomb molding on this pitcher recalls the turquoise-glazed jug B60P1927. Both vessels were inspired by metalwork prototypes with hammered surfaces and knobbed handles.

Bird-headed pitchers appear in Persian poetry, and they enjoyed a well-traveled history. Early Persian examples in silver from the Sasanian era (224-651) arrived in China where they were emulated in pottery and porcelain during the Tang (618-906) and Song (960-1279) periods. Chinese versions, known as phoenix-headed pitchers due to the alteration of their shape and symbolism, reached West Asia in the tenth century. Islamic potters mimicked the Chinese pitchers with an opaque white glazed ware. Later, a variety of decorative techniques were used, demonstrating the versatility of the medieval Persian potter working with fritware. There are bird-headed pitchers in luster and even pitchers with black-painted designs under a turquoise transparent glaze. Molded monochrome turquoise-glazed examples like this one are rarer and perhaps more striking in their simplicity.

My favorite online catalog touch- a photo of the bottom. In museums I long to see all sides of pots. The stagnant no interaction model of museums seldom indulge handsy potters like myself. This is the next best thing. Feel with your eyes.


Historical Pot: Pottery is the oldest record we have of the creative mind. Civilizations around the world all came to clay separately to make archetypal forms that resonate in every modern pot. The ceramic process with a bit of rapid prototyping and electricity withstanding still relies on ancient processes and materials. There is a wealth of ancient work out there seldom given the spotlight and I am eager to seek it out.

Porn: Stag

Online collections are the most wonderful things. I have half a mind to spending a morning a week once I get back civilization and to unlimited internet use, just surfing the world’s great emuseum’s collections.

The Asian Art Museum in San Fransisco has a great ceramics collection and a bevy of it is online.

I am in love with this burnished earthenware stag, from 10 Century Iran.

Artist: Cathy Franzi

It is always so nice to see people you have bumped into through life making it happen. I remember the last critique in regards to Cathy’s work at Australian National University so well. I remember holding her small intricate scraffito containers, like a seed in my hand. Cathy was so connected to Australian flora. I got glimpses of seeing her work things out, trying to figure out how she could say what she needed in its regards through the making of pottery.

I am glad to see that her body of work done and her goals met. As she says:

My proposal was as follows: research into a linocut style sgraffito technique and suitable form to express Australian flora and the impact of environmental degradation.  My journey was to take each of these components and to explore them deeply; intellectually, technically and creatively.

I have stumbled across an article written by her that explains and concludes her time spent at ANU. It is eloquently written with sentences like:

Being in the bush can be a simpler state of being. It also reveals a distance from the human built context and environment. It shows that that the human world is fragile and impermanent and the natural world is complete, bigger and self sustaining, or something like that.

It pains me to think that we never talked about the wild extremes of our countries. Especially since her sentiments towards nature are so akin to my own. Being here at tower and simply watching the trees, birds, and bears all day in isolation draws me towards her work. At the time I was even experimenting with australian fauna imagery on my pots through transfers. I was trying to wrap my head around a dichotomy of cultural icons, Australia vs. Canada. I always came back to nature and landscape. Needless to say the article is worth a read. So do so here.

How To Cut Down A Tree With A Swede Saw…

I must confess I am a lumberjack wannabe, kind of. I was raised with yearly logging competitions and lots of flannel and fuel in the winter months, all 5-6 or them. All woodfire potters are pyromaniacs, there is no getting around that one and frankly it should be embraced. Fire is pretty and elemental. All those years of staring into campfires contentedly gave me a great bond to fire- and good fear of it. Most woodfire potters are also in tune with nature’s beauty and so we set out systematically harnessing it- the oldest of humanistic paradoxes: industrially. Burn the trees to make some things. I have set out cutting down selected black spruce trees by hand- for next year’s firings. The by hand bit wasn’t necessarily a choice- no chainsaw here at Muskeg. But there is a monster of a rusty swede saw, and he’s sharp.

I was taking to a friend on the phone, elated after my first tree was felled, he understood my feelings and said in a slow absent-minded voice (perhaps dreaming of past trees hitting the soft mossy boreal forest ground) “There certainly is a sort of art to cutting down a tree”. I got my self into this ordeal via kiln building (see below post) I at first dreaded back failures and bear attacks. I sing whiskey drinking tunes and smile at the shoddy hurting trees I hope to make into beautiful pots. But I had to figure out how to actually cut down a tree. Thank you internet- there are some interesting sites out there on it, many make me wish I had a chainsaw and leather chaps. Then I think of the noise pollution (there is no way you could hear my whisky songs above that racket- the swallows wouldn’t be happy and would dive bomb me more than normal) and the air pollution and the leg gash via chain saw I can’t get out of my head since that occupational first aid course. But it had to be done. Here is my version of…


India ink is satisfying.

So are cameras.

Step 1) Find a tree (dying or apparently not the best gene pool ones are what I go for- and it needs to be near a clearing- the giant needs to fall somewhere and preferably not on you). (I can’t write “step one” with out The New Kids On the Block taking over my mind. Does anyone else have that problem?)

Step 2) Take your old high school field hockey stick that you use for bear protection and whack the heck out of those lower branches to give you cutting room. By this time it is a good idea to be wearing brightly colored things (note bright pink string hair pictured above) and cool safety things (ex. safety glasses. If you can’t find them like me then substitute shades, but beware of their darkening qualities that could really make things more dangerous. Then weigh the possible splinters and forest flakes in eyes against the darkness and therefore judgement deficiency, add on the cool status that shades have in out consumer culture and make the best decision) (I went with shades off when cutting, shades on when wielding the field hockey stick, when I started to hear the tree creaking or feel tightness on the saw blade. Once I strung a guitar string the wrong way. I started “loosening” only to have it snap and catapult striking right beside my eye and drawing blood- I have a scar. Just imagine a blade doing that- no thanks!) Gloves are a good idea too think Michael Jackson, golf or gardening.

Step 3) Find a swede saw.

Step 4) Cut a wedge out of the tree on the side you want the tree to fall on.

Step 5) Cut a back cut opposite to the wedge.

Step 6) When you hear her creaking or see her swaying try to wedge saw out (there will be more downward pressure on it then before. This is also a good time to throw the shades back on and look to see where your dog, Shazam, has gotten to).

Step 7) If the tree doesn’t fall and was just faking it take your trusty field hockey stick and start thwacking the side above the back cut.

Step 8 ) When she starts to fall step back and yell “TIMBER!” with vim and vigour. (Undoubtably the best part of the whole process) (you also might want to yell for Shazam to get out of the way, don’t worry he got the idea when the giant tree crashed on the ground and bounced up in the air again with the same amount of vim and vigour of my “TIMBER!”)

Now you have felled a tree. Flag it off with that fluorescent flagging tape forestry loves so much and leave it to dry for next season. Propping it up so it isn’t right on the ground allows all sides to dry and for less decomposition over the year. Trees smell good- especially when freshly cut, so enjoy it. The smell almost makes the mosquitos bearable, thank you Northern Alberta.

The whole process is slow and makes me feel accomplished, just wait until I post about de-branching and cutting the trees up and draping them back to the house to stack. This is a lot of work- more work then most would do. I love trees, alive. I get paid to stare at them 8 hrs a day. Cutting one down is satisfying and saddening (just like spotting a forest fire).  I can’t get Pocahontas out of my head: How high does a sycamore grow? If you cut it down then you’ll never know. (Add that one to the cutting whiskey inspired songs- Disney you have no idea how much you effect the psyche of the little ones).

It is worth it, cutting these ones down- up here in the middle of the forest. If we were in Southern barren prairie Alberta I wouldn’t be woodfiring, I would be gas firing. Doing this all by the sweat of my brow ought to make my pots cost a million dollars. But the tree sacrifice means if I can be a decent artist the magical quality of the tree and fire will me present in the vessel.  If the vessels I make are cherished by the user, through that using and integration the vessels become worth a million dollars because they then make a million cherished moments . When I see a pot I think of all the resources taken to make it- materially, physically and emotionally. I mentioned before about the human nature of industrialization I see that here on a small scale it as reinterpreted art. Artists never make anything new, we just reinterpret the existing. That is what woodfireres do it the strictest of sense take clay, trees and fire and re-configure them as art.

Anyways, I hope if needed to you could now cut down a tree by hand!

This is kind of funny:sometimes I am so Canadian I don’t even realize what words are “chiefly Canadian”!

Porn: Thaddeus Powers

Yes that is his real name, the man has the power of pattern.

I set out to engage in the wonders of pattern on form during my residency at MMAQ. I feel that pattern and image so often ruins form and are therefore they are a daunting combination. For the two to work must be harmonious (although my thoughts on that point are changing). It certainly doesn’t phase Thaddeus.

Right now on his blog you can see his patterning technique! Look! Look!

I saw him first in a book, his website is glitchy (http://www.thaddeuspowersart.com/) but, he is still a powerful webman due to his blog (http://thaddeuspowersart.blogspot.com/).

Bone Of Contention: Right On! Rhyton!

Back in the day people made ceramic drinking vessels based on their predecessors the animal horn, the shell. These folk were mainly European- the new clay vessels made to mimic are/were called RHYTONS. I am a ceramic geek- I like silly puns (I love words). I like slang and use words such a tubular and radical and nifty in all seriousness. I also say “Right On!” to people all the time, but what I am really saying is “Rhyton!”. Then I giggle afterwards. Some day I hope to encounter someone who gets the pun without me having to explain the geeky girlish giggles.

Image from “Fucntional Pottery” by Robbin Hopper.