Archive for June, 2010

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YouTube Channel


YouTube Channel created, check. First video uploaded, check. Ready to get better video online very soon, I certainly hope so. This was recorded last year about this same time, so consider this a test drive of The MugPhlute Channel appearing on the blog:

Drum-roll, please: The MugPhlute Channel on YouTube

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The Emperor’s New Flute

Trumphlute Three
Trumphlute Two
The Emperor's New Flute

I do wish that I had images of the rest of the TrumPhlutes that were part of this series. In the rush to get these from the kiln to a sale, photography became a victim of the crunch. It is a lesson that I learned well and is the reason that I compulsively photograph at various stages of production just so that I do not forget. So what else am I thinking about?…

While forming these strange contraptions, there are a few multi-dimensional thoughts rattling around in my noggin. First of all, it is important that the whistle (or flute) actually play…not always so much that it plays well, but that it simply creates a respectable tone when the player blows air through the airway. I can visualize customers who see these for the first time..and love the change in facial expression when they hear the instrument play for the first time.

Secondly, I believe the form of the piece should allow for whimsical interpretation of some historical reference or context. Often, that interpretation is seeded with a title that provides direction for the fantasy of whimsy. The Emperor’s New Flute (the title of this piece) is a less than subtle reference to a favorite childhood story that carries illusions of royal regalia and fantasy.

And finally, I consider it crucial that a piece should display well. What?, you say??…you are thinking about how someone might display a ceramic musical instrument as you build it? It is like this: if someone pays $40-$50 for something the size of a trinket, they generally don’t take it home or to the office and hide it in a drawer…it will be visible somewhere. So yes, I try to visualize how it might be displayed and attempt to provide clues for several options. For instance, what appears to be ceramic gymnastics in the images on the right are actually different ways that demonstrate intentional efforts to allow for display options. What is not shown is the use of the loop-lugs that would allow for this piece to be suspended or wall hung…or hanging around the emperor’s neck 🙂

It is time to revisit these small instruments. They were a hit at the only sale where I featured them. I can see more of them already, can’t you?

Note: click images for enlarged view

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Chuckerbutty Ocarina Quartet


Not that I would ever be party to such a loony musical ensemble, but this gifted group of ocarina playing, crazy men know how to have fun. They had me at “Trout, in C” (Sea), and something pun-ny about scales. Turn up the volume a bit, the sound is recorded a little low. And, be sure to stick with it to the big ‘fin-ish’ (Pah-dum, ching!):

Top 5 Tips for Traveling with Clay


Portable Work Station for ClaySo you’d like to do some hand built clay projects while vacationing, right? Sitting by a campfire making pinch pots or lounging by the pool making buttons or whistles or something sounds attractive…well, I am there with you in spirit. Clay projects on the road aren’t for everyone, but if you enjoy getting your hands in the mud as much as I do, there is something therapeutic about doing clay with a change of scenery.

Here are my top 5 tips for making this enjoyable:

  1. Do some reverse planning. Heading back from your trip with several pieces of greenware could mean disaster. Take enough re-seal-able buckets, bins, or gallon ice cream buckets along with foam padding, so that you can safely transport your work home without fear of crushing or uneven drying.
  2. Think small. On-the-road is no time to be doing full-sized sculptural busts. Remember Tip #1, you still have to transport your projects home in a fragile condition. Generally, I think of limiting travel pieces to nothing larger than a softball and my workspace as small as a computer lapboard.
  3. Streamline your tool selection. It is so easy to get caught up in the I might need that syndrome that your toolbox is larger than you suitcase. Forgetaboutit! If you can hold every tool that you want to take with you in one hand, you are on the right track.
  4. One clay only. I carry no more than 5 to 7 pounds of wet stoneware on a week-long trip along with a very small, lidded container of slip made from the same clay. OK, you can carry two types of clay if you must, but it does complicate matters a bit more.
  5. Slow down and Play! Think of your travel time clay projects as a time to experiment and do things that you might never take time to do at home. Are there different, detailed textures that you’d like to try? Wouldn’t it be nice to have some fresh, custom, impression stamps to use later? What about making a small-scale, study model of something you have been considering? All that to say, don’t make your travel time with clay the same as you home/studio time.

Paul Pottery PoolsideOne last thing for all of my networking friends. If you are sitting by the pool, or by that campfire, or lounging beneath a beach umbrella with a lapboard project in-progress, count on a curious stranger stopping by to watch and ask questions. You can figure it out from there on how to make your new friend a new link in your network…you might even use some of those business cards for something besides a scoring tool or a means of rescuing a bug from your slip container 🙂

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Understanding the Glyphs


Learning how to read the beautifully carved glyphs of the classic Mayan era comes with an appreciation of the logic and complexity of the language plus an even deeper appreciation of an under-appreciated civilization. Much of what we see in the written record on the ruins of Central America has wiggle room for interpretation. We have only glimpses of daily life in Mesoamerica and tons of folk tales that mingle mystery, ritual, conquest, and kingdom building based upon only a fraction of the facts from two thousand years of development. Had the thousands of volumes of written text survived the conquest of 16th Century conquistadors, perhaps there would be less interpretation and far more comprehension of the culture and science of a decimated population.

Dr. Bowen continues his quest to reveal the unknowns of Mesoamerican music. We know little and grasp for threads of reality with every new discovery.

EB Note Top“I have been too busy and too excited to journal this week. We have discovered additional evidence of the reverence that the Uxmalico community placed on music.  As hundreds of years of burial fill and dust were painstaking shaved from the base of a test pit, just a fraction of an inch at a time, a large ceramic shard overcame its shyness to bring smiles and cheers to the whole team. Wind of Macaw GlyphStaring up from centuries of silence appeared a glyph bearing the classic image of a Macaw playing a horn flanked by a graphical symbol reserved for identifying brightness of gods.   On the horn is a simple arc and half-moon that can be translated breath or wind.  A tiny inscription near the base of the horn is not completely discernible, but may be significant upon closer exam.

Surely it is mere coincidence that a calm day was interrupted by a gentle breeze and the flutter of wings as we gathered around the excavation’s prize. But I cannot help but to interpret this finding as another indication that music played a part in the mysticism of this culture.  The scribe who painted this glyph has not been identified and the crudeness of the style may be an indication of youth, inexperience, or perhaps a caste who was not considered worthy of contributing to the permanent record.  We continue to excavate and will expand the tests to the edge of a square depression that borders the hostile overgrowth.”
EB Signature

Craft Fair Observations


I meandered through all of the booths at the 40th American Artisans Festival yesterday in Nashville’s Centennial Park…kind of a Father’s Day escape and market research expedition combination. In spite of the unseasonably hot and humid temperatures, the show was well attended.  An occasional breeze disturbed the overhanging oak boughs, making stops in the shade almost sufficient to dry my sweaty t-shirt. Long lines at the lemonade stand where workers were racing through a huge tub of lemons meant that visitors needed the relief but also that they weren’t automatically running off to air conditioned cocoons.

The show was an eclectic mix of fine arts and hand-made crafts, not surprisingly heavy on the crafts. Although I appreciate the painters whose work dotted the booths, I did not linger there but spent the majority of my time chatting with some of the exhibitors whose work I considered either exceptional or genuinely pushing-the-envelop unique. In broad strokes, here are my observations of the show:

  • Exhibitors who included demonstrations drew crowds and made sales. One perennial raku artist seemed to make a sale with each reveal of a hot pot from the smoldering sawdust…and I cannot image how hot/uncomfortable he was.
  • Shoppers seemed to be purchasing more small items, shoebox-sized and smaller…and under $50.
  • One booth with superbly crafted pocket knives and other cutlery specifically mentioned that his set up was focused on ‘gifts for dad’…and that was working well.
  • Almost every booth included an engaging person who seemed to be interested in talking and and answering questions about their wares…and the majority of the time that person was the artist.  I found this refreshing, particularly for the last day of a show…and did I mention that it was h.o.t.?
  • I collected business cards and information sheets at 10 booths where I had a conversation. Of the 10: 10 included complete mailing addresses and phone numbers; 8 identified the URL for a website, 7 included email addresses, and only 1 included either a reference to Twitter or to a Facebook fan page.

As I walked away from the show, dreading the oven-like cockpit of my un-air-conditioned minivan, that last bullet point raised some interesting questions and concerns. Is there a generational-like difference between exhibitors who are hanging on to the craft fair approach and those who have ventured into cyberspace to broaden their nets for customers via social media? And, how much better would the craft fair experience be if exhibitors made a conscious effort to stay connected by engaging via social media? My thinking is that these two worlds need to meet/converge quickly if the craft fair era is to live on.  On the other hand, attendees of the fair looked to be more in the ‘over 40’ crowd than in the plugged-in, younger generations…perhaps the non-social-media approach is more appropriate/applicable, at least for now. Now, however, may be a fleeting period of time.

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Primordial Face


'Playing by Ear' WhistleSome of the earliest whistles and whistle pendants that I assembled included facial features and complete faces…it isn’t an original idea at all but it is definitely fun. The “Playing by Ear” whistle on the right is a favorite concept that needs to be revisited…but not now.  Small whistles happen by a campfire when small pieces are about the only things that I feel comfortable transporting in a delicate, greenware condition and frankly, a campfire is not a pleasant image in Middle Tennessee’s unseasonably hot weather (I regress).

So last night while procrastinating over a honey-do list and watching The Fugitive for the umteenth time, a subconscious acknowledgment the face-in-a-flute concept happenedFace of Primordial Music - OcarinaThis little guy’s face seemed to find his way out of the time-consuming texturing and finger-hole placement and into the world.  The usual curly handle of this series of ocarinas somehow sprouted a nose…and the next thing you know, he is a full octave, primordial faced, ocarina.

Dr. Bowen has been jabbering about broken flutes discovered at Uxmalico… something about captured breath that enters a flute being transformed into something ethereal.  Today’s technology can explain the harmonic vibrations that occur when a column of air splits at the fipple of an instrument and produces a tone.  For ancient Mesoamericans, wouldn’t it make sense that the transformation of human breath into something god-like via a magical implement would be logical?…and the act of breaking a flute at a burial site could represent the unbinding of a last breath to release the departed into an afterlife.  Ahhh, theory and mystery…more, later from Dr. B.