April marked the first firing I experienced with Joy Bridy (Potter in WV) after only a month of working with her.
It was an exciting time...built up with anticipation of a new experience and the first of many to come within the possible year or more I will be working as her apprentice.
We began the apprenticeship around the first of March, something just as foreign to me as it is to Joy. Working about three days a week together, I travel one hour to work with Joy. Though the ride may be consuming financially, it has proved to be valuable in the time it gives me to process the beginning and the end of the day with her. Every trip I cross the Shenandoah River, a beautiful scene and one I am very thankful for. I find myself thinking of all the things I want to make, will make, and have made... analyzing my work independently and questioning myself on what it is I am making and where I am going. It is a long drive in my head....sometimes worth while and sometimes proving that I need to just get out there and stop thinking about it.
On my way home from Joy's I have the hour drive back to replay the day...conversations held, pots made, homework for the night, and mental notes needing a good review.
My first intro to the kiln was the job of cleaning the shelves. A task that for Joy would consume about a whole day, but together we were able to knock out in 3 hours! After that we glazed and wadded all pots that were to be loaded. At this point I was feeling slightly overwhelmed with anticipation and nerves. I had just begun with Joy no more than a month ago and could not seem to grasp the concept that we would be firing the kiln so soon. It was a wonderful opportunity, and after a month of not really know what work to make and the stack of her shelves, I was looking forward to seeing the work and finishing the firing with new ideas and a vision of what would be made next!
I cleaned the kiln and vacuumed thoroughly then laid a wall of ash up against the bag wall. This, Joy explained to me, protected the bricks from being eaten away from the harsh flame and ashes that would build up against it.
We began to load....the task took about two days. The second I unfortunately missed due to work. I was able to experience the first two stacks. The first items in were the bells on the bag wall. Placed in from of these were a long standing wad called a rampart...and yes, Joy did sing the star spangled banner as she loaded them. A ritual I will most likely be unable to kick after my time with her. After all pots were loaded, Joy spent the day bricking up the door. Another task I missed due to work unfortunately.
The kiln was lit on Friday morning and I joined that afternoon once I had completed teaching. I arrived to beautiful 70 degree weather, a slight breeze, and a smiling Joy sitting by the fire. We preheated and closed it up around 10pm and headed to bed to rest up for the weekend of firing awaiting us.
By Sunday night we had reached temperature and Joy and I reduction cooled the kiln for about an hour until midnight. This was my first experience with reduction cooling...and I loved that moment.
It was so quite by the kiln as we slowly and smoothly mudded the doors and openings. Then quietly fed the kiln small slivers of wood. It was a side of a firing that I had never experienced. I was never around to hear the quieting of the kiln, or see the glow slowly disappear as we closed it up.
Then the day of the unloading! We had some great pots...sometimes hard to realize with the mute expectations we both had of our pots. A day of cleaning and photographing proved to be as valuable as it always is. A day to notice and appreciate every pot once that subconscious expectation had lingered away.
We have spent the last few weeks cleaning the kiln and the shelves, then polishing pots, and photographing. This is the first time I have spent time with another person as they showed me how they sand and clean their pots to be photographed and sold. Joy was gracious enough to let me play with her photography set up....experiment with lighting, placement, and my camera. It proved valuable and last week we spent time somewhere I never thought I would spend while doing an apprenticeship....in front of a computer.
She showed me how she edited her images...cropping them, lightening them, sizing them, so that they best mirrored the piece and fit the requirements for the upcoming exhibitions she would be entering. We also set up an Etsy account...yes and Etsy account. Something very new to me, and my homework had been to figure out a way to photograph my work outside of the traditional requirements.
So far I have photographed with this small dandelion, something I decided would help demonstrate the size of a piece and represent the time of season. I am planning to go out and find some swatches of fabric and photograph my work on the porch table with food or a beverage...the setting that I hope one would experience with my work.
It has been an overwhelming two months...flying by quickly and I am still trying to catch up to speed. I feel grateful to have the experience and anxious to accomplish more. Some days seem longer than others as I arrive back to Frederick and teach my night class, and other days fly by and the only moment I get to fully take it all in is during my drive home.
We are ready to begin making...I can almost see some of the pots in my mind. New forms, new glazes, new tasks. I can see how my time with Joy may go by so quickly that it is over before I even know it...