Chemistry and the autumn

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Piece 1: to talk about colours without seeing them

I admit it. When she asked me not to take pictures of her pottery for this blog, since she judged the diffused light not good to have sincere pictures, pictures that could tell the truth about her colours, I was left a bit sceptic. Few pictures, but approved by her from scratch to the final result, that’s how she prefers it.
Sitting here and writing, I actually love the idea of somebody saying “no pictures, thanks”. It has become a bit unusual. There are so many pictures everywhere, I have almost lost my interest in photography. So, no pictures about pottery this time.

But how can I tell you about the beautiful yellows, the rusty reds, and the opaque, calm green, or the blank green, pouring down the surface, a green I almost mistook for blue (see! How the light defines colours)? Her pottery is neat; glazes have a coyly leading role.

Just imagine. You are keeping in your hand an autumnal colour, home, drinking some chocolate and rum. It is warm, slightly bitter, it wraps around you. That’s it, then.

Piece 2: How to study a prestigious subject and end up being an artisan

What exactly comes into mind, nowadays, when a person collects her-his impressions and experiences and all of a sudden opens her-himself a path towards pottery?

In the rich Europe, not only designers that do not even dare touching the clay are said to be potters, not only sons/daughters of artisans choose a path that will destroy the body and keep the wallet endlessly light and small. There is people outside, mad enough to follow what they found out to be an unbearable passion. She studied chemistry, but she is to be found in her workshop now, bent over metal oxides, weighting and mixing, burning them up to high temperatures. Welcome back to chemistry lessons, who wouldn’t?

Piece 3: In Berlin there was nobody and the kilns were old

When she arrived to Berlin it was easier to find a place where to stay.
It was rarer to see potters, she tells me.

When she arrived the potters were fewer, and she used to burn her vessels into one of those massive old kilns. Maybe made of bricks, almost impossible to carry, sometimes capricious, spreading the uneven heat. She found herself picking out pieces with glazes as uneven as the heat, although at the start, that’s for sure, they were all almost the same. Not a cake that come out badly, but several, several pieces you stare at and maybe sell as second choices. Therefore behind her there is now a brand new huge electric kiln, reliable, almost lovely, a good investment.

Now the dark has descended; as sincere her welcome was, as sincere her farewell. She has piles of work calling for her, and some other countless tasks, she explains.
Without pictures, and the eternal question: what happens in the mind of people leaving their jobs to be potters?

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If you find yourself near Greifswalder Str., have a look at Sabine Wagner pottery, Naugarder Straße 42

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Dishes on stilts

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Long time no writing, let’s blame it on summer.

The end of summer claims almost everyone back: to their jobs, their houses, their shops.
I am back to my keyboard and some pictures of Swedish landscapes.
These pictures were taken after one of my slow and tasty breakfasts, before and after the last crumbs of the cake were gone.

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Holes in the glaze?

Not properly. When I turned one of the dishes upside down, to find the name of the producer, I noticed 3 spots where there was no glaze. Which means, consequently, that the whole bottom was glazed. It is not the most ordinary technique but if you are not disturbed by those 3 “pinholes”, it gives you a very charming result.
Overturn! And discover that usually the bottom or, at least, the foot of the plate reveals the nude colour of burnt clay.
Glaze is powder turned into glass. When the powder reaches the right temperature, it fuses and smelts. Before freezing down to cover the vessel, it dances and moves and sometimes runs along the surface. If you happen to be absent-minded enough and forget to wipe away your glaze from the bottom (those to be placed directly over the shelf in the kiln) well, you’ll better search for a chisel and good luck.
The cold glaze is a new material that won’t break that easily, won’t be so malleable and will easily make your finger blood darn good if you happen to underestimate the material you’re dealing with. That means, sharp edges cut as glass does – deeply!

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The easiest, the trial, the traces

The easiest is probably to wipe off maniacally all traces of glaze from the surface to be placed on the shelf (basically, the foot).
The alternative is to use a stilt, a star-shaped ceramic support to be put under your latest plate. The powder will dance, the temperature will rise, the glaze will wave and then stay. Your vessel will change colour and shape but won’t stick to the shelf. You will have to gently knock away your stilt and proudly hold (let’s hope for that!) your new piece, wholly glazed but those 3 little compromises, inexorably reminding you of physical laws.
Next time you see such marks on the bottom, you know that the guilty one is one of these star-shaped tools!


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note:
I could not find the owner of this picture. Please contact me if you own this picture and don’t want it to be used on this site – I´ll remove it immediately.

Whiteness into pottery and melted soldiers

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My father’s generation used to play with tin and lead soldiers, a clear reminiscence of what was still flowing in their parents’ eyes as well as a partial explanation for ruins and barbwire.

When I was at home, in Italy, I found these pieces in the wooden cupboard. Giovanni De Simone used red clay and colourful figures to spread energy to the owners of his pieces. Some histories want that a couple of American tourists got poisoned by the lead used in his glaze, but I believe this white, mellow glaze floating calmy on such terracotta pieces as being the result of vitrified tin oxide.

Tin, Zinn in German, tenn in Swedish, stagno in Italian, has a (gross) price around 50 € per kilo here in Berlin. In a majolica receipt you may have 10% of tin oxide that will result in a cost of 25 € for a glaze barrel of 5 kg.

In the eyes of a potter, tin is an expensive but often essential element in the storage.

Tin oxide, SnO₂, melts easily and turns the glaze into a white and opaque cover that enhances all the other oxides and colors used to decorate the vessel.

Tin is an important ingredient in every maiolica glaze receipt, whether the poisonous lead is desired or not.

Burning a tin-glazed vessel in a kiln where chrome is covering other pieces will turn your beautiful matt white glaze into a pink-confused-white surface.

Tin, by the way, is the metal that in alloy with copper gives bronze.

You can easily guess what I love most of writing about ceramics: behind a grain of dust, the entire periodic table of elements shows you the way to a magnificent world of chemistry, fantasy, fire and hard work.

Doors open, the potter is on vacation

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-3 doors in Friedrichshain-

(one)
door closed

(?)


Rolling shutters, down. Benke keramik has no working website as I can see, and when I arrive to the workshop I just find it closed, without messages for those passing by. Maybe a change of life, maybe a break. It is a hard work, the potter, it eats up your body. Such a pity, I was pretty curious and the day is still long. I turn my back to the brown shutters and the day is warm.

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(two)
door closed
(vacation)


Liebertee, probably the best name I’ve ever seen, I stop even before I realize that this is actually a potter’s workshop. The bright day is reflected by the windows of this spacious workshop, I can clearly see the green branches of the trees behind me and on the foreground some red and turquoise cups. A message on the window announces the summer break, both for the pottery course and for the workshop.
Summer vacation, it must be a satisfaction when the self-employee craftman/woman can finally declare it to the public.
Since the day seems not to open doors, I just keep walking around.

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(three)
door open

(new door)


This last one stop has red ceramic flowers and baby clothes, a little shop on my way to the U-bahn. Another message on the window is looking for somebody to share the collectively held workshop, somewhere near the Spree.

After 2 doors closed, the third may be open?

ABC award!

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First and foremost, a big thank you to seascapes aus, for having nominated my blog for the ABC Award! The ABC award seems a nice way to say thank you to those who work behind some very inspiring blogs, and I will not break the rules now but list 6 blogs that I really like and visit often. Such as:

Sketches and jottes, where I always find amazing illustrations from all over the world;

Oregon College of Art and Craft, (now on vacation!), for the interesting articles published and the intelligent thematics chosen;

Il porto delle nuvole and Sud de-genere, strong Italian blogs about women that walk with their head up;

Andberlin, because Berlin has street art and stolpersteine,

For Scandinavian art lovers, the rich Konsthopp nordic art.


ABC award is also a way to share some letters and meanings, maybe anentire alphabet; I will follow seascapes aus in breaking the name of the blog into pieces,

K like koppar, kupfer, copper, rame,

O like oxides,

P like paper clay,

P like poisonous,

A like argilla,

R like red, definitely red,

R like Raku,

O like oven,

X like one of the secret letters of the Italian alphabet.

White heads and small clothes

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When I was in Milano I used to sneak into the elegant yards of old houses – do not doing it would mean to miss an entire secret world. Here too, in Berlin backyards and inneryards, Hinterhof and Innenhof, are a parallel word, in a much wider and complete sense than the silent bubbles of Milano. They are just the beginning and the envelope of offices, shops, workshops and theatres, go on and walk until the next yard, and on, and on, and on.

This is the case of the Fachwerkhof as well, in the Bergmann Kiez. I followed the wooden statues, I found myself in the white and bright underground workshop of Alla Hopp Puppen. As soon as I entered I got distracted by a wall of shoe-boxes, and into the shoe-boxes puppets sitting, thinking and sleeping. I barely greeted the man on the other room, I did not want to disturb.

These dolls are made of fabric and sand, which makes it possible for you to decide how they shall sit, on your shelf, on a book, in a shoebox. These dolls have clothes made of fantasy, haute couture and beautiful fabrics. The kind of fabric you buy and do not use, that you hide in a box under the bed and rediscover some months later. The kind of fabric that you know already and for sure, when you are buying it, you will not use and you will hide in a box, but nonetheless are attracted to.

The owner of this peaceful gallery and creator of these dolls sits at the work table and has just received real flowers with real colors. It is not so easy to make a living out of this experience of life, but let’s face it, I cannot think of a better way of spending your own time than to use your work-time to make something that makes a sense to you, and here is the word “make” to be read in its pure and simple meaning, produce, create, make something yours.

A quick note about the faces? The faces of these dolls are different, some are neutral, some are Oscar Wilde, some are David Bowie, all are white and light as chalk, they are not made of fabric, they are not made of sand. They are not made of clay, either – they would be too heavy for such tiny bodies. Clay is though not always the final product, but also a useful tool. Clay can be modelled, worked differently on different stages, reused, thrown against the wall if the result makes you angry, it is only earth after all. And clay is exactly the tool that he uses to make the model of these Virginia Woolf and Franz Kafka, silicon is the material of the mould to be created, Alla Hopp Puppen the result.

Alla Hopp Puppen

Solmsstraße 30,

10961

Good (early) morning, Stockholm!

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Suppose you were interested in Stockholm, and suppose you were interested in crafts and arts. You then decide to travel when the summer days enlighten the city, and you feel you don’t even need a jacket with you (wrong thought by the way, since Stockholm’s weather is fairly capricious). Then the obvious choice is the isle of Södermalm. You would come from the isle of Gamla Stan, probably, little houses and thousands of tourists, and find your way to Slussen.

First stop! Konsthantverkarna.
Sweden’s oldest crafts association has here its headquarters and will show you jewels, textiles, ceramics and more. It was founded back in 1951 and has nowadays 85 members. Here is the link:
http://konsthantverkarna.se/

Now, left or right? Choose Hornsgatan, climb up the stairs because this is where most galleries are. Promise, it’s worth the sweat drops! This is the so called “puckeln”, hump. Among all galleries, your craft-detector will find Blås&Knåda, http://www.blasknada.com. This economic society for working potters and glassblowers has beautiful and spacious rooms and has always some new exhibition you can peep from the main window, if you are not lucky enough to find it open. You will find traditional craft and modern, abstract, artistic craft. Take the latter as a definition for the sake of convenience, I won’t debate here about what is art, what craft, if art is craft and if craft is art. Just enjoy the gallery!

I find that the pieces at Kaolin (http://kaolin.se/), the next gallery and group of ceramists, use to be somehow darker, more oriented towards natural colours. If I had to compare Blås&Knåda and Kaolin, I would say that the first is blank, the other matt – they perfectly complement each other! If you look at your right, by the way, you will find Bellmansgatan, Brännkyrkagatan and Monteliusvägen – amazing surroundings, a splendid panoramic view on the city and, if you’re into Swedish writers, one of the places where the Millennium trilogy is set.

If you are not in the mood for stopping by a nice café or relaxing on one of thousands benches around, you can head to Götgatan to find another beautiful quarter and two more galleries: Galleri Hantverket, http://www.gallerihantverket.se/index.html and 125 kvadrat, http://www.125kvadrat.com/ (on Kocksgatan, a side street), both with a variety of crafts and the latter, I’d say, more oriented to the user.

Behind all these galleries you will find craftsmen/women that, from the 50’s onwards, decided to stick together, in order to get stronger and survive. It´s easier to reach your goals and to fight if you´re not alone, and sometimes it seems like that of working with crafts is a continual fight. After so many years, these associations still keep opening their galleries, day after day, still organize new shows. As old members retire, their bones marked by the hard work, new members and new ideas flow in. They inherit a piece of modern history but also associations facing a deep crisis.
Suppose you were to travel to Stockholm, suppose you were interested in art and crafts. Don’t miss these galleries!

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P.S.: Suppose you were to travel to Stockholm during the summer months; do not forget to take with you a sleeping mask, if you are sensitive to light. At 3 o ‘clock in the morning, as you see, the skies of May are already lit up, there in the North!

There is clay and clay, but where is the clay?

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Which means, you may like red iron clay, that turns dark when firing up to your favourite temperature, you may like the softer white clay that won’t scratch your hands when throwing on the wheel, or the one that does scratch your hands, definitely, but you’re using it to build up forms so you won’t bleed when working.

The list of tools and materials needed and wanted can go on hopelessly and endlessly, but coming to a point: where does Berliner potters buy their raw material? The other day, thanks to a precious suggestion, I discovered Spedition Börkey.

This is actually only the warehouse of the shop, so you won’t find everything in here. But I was too curious to let it go, and once again I found myself near Yorkstraße. If you look from the bridge on Monumentenstraße, you will see: in front of you the Fernsehturm, the Sony Center, all those weird skyscrapers, the trails of the S-Bahn and of the regional trains; on the right side, a pretty biergarten; on the left, grass, trees, shacks, shacks, and an abandoned fridge.

I can already tell that the biergarten is almost perfect, but those shacks, what exactly are they supposed to be? It seems like somebody is living there, or used to. It seems like it is a car deposit, or used to. It seems like there is something else, and this something else happens to be an abandoned sofa and, here we are, the warehouse of  Börkey Keratech.

As I arrive, the man working there (slightly surprised) asks me how he can help me and is patient enough to wait for my brain finding the words “Ton und Werkzeug”. He nicely guides me to the deposit, an old building (maybe a farm?) where tons and tons of clay rest on the shelves. Amazing. Like a rough wunderkammer, with the sound of the trains passing by. I cannot just point at one package, and hope it is the right one. I think I’ll have to come back when I’ve made up my mind. He explains that the tools are to be found in the shop, in this old building there is only place for clay and a couple of other objects.

I often wondered what this old-fashioned “Spedition Börkey” sign, hanging on an iron gate, could lead to. Ten minutes after, I’m on my way home and in my hand I’m holding a dark yellow catalogue, the name Börkey Keratech on it, to be studied in details.

Breakfast at Tontonton’s

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monsters and flowers

This is Saturday, time for croissants, blue flowers, wind and free thoughts.


This is how I woke up, stretched and rubbed my eyes, rolled out of bed and 10 minutes after went to the near greenhouse to find my missing flowers. With a scarf and a red jacket, but the feeling that it still can be warmer, it still can be sunnier, and with some coins in my pocket I bought some croissants.

Maria Ortiz Gil is cleaning the worktable, a floorboard on iron trestles, when I enter her beautiful and light workshop. Situated on Bautzener Straße 8, the workshop may be slightly hidden from the crowd but only a couple of minutes from the S+U-Bahn Yorkstraße and in the area new art galleries and colourful bars are silently opening.

The world of Tontonton, as the shop is named, is a world of sea creatures and imagination, it is the form of fantasy bound to clay and self-discipline.
Working with clay, as Maria Ortiz Gil confirms with her work, is the opportunity to create almost everything. Before the market even comes into discussion, all usually starts with a trial of strength between this promising openness of possibilities and the rationality and discipline of the craftsman/woman. Decorations hanging on an empty wall, an aquarium with ageless scorpions, cups and teapots, pots and immobile flowers vibrate of her experience and versatility. What you see in the workshop is just the result of the struggle.

 As I put down the croissants on the table, she has already taken out home-made marmalade and butter on a rustic tableware made of white sheet; a couple of minutes later, she is showing me her new project.
The new project has a history of drawings on the wall, the plaster stamp made using an old mirror as support, the first prototypes, the lock that needs to be quickly fixed with the help of a sharp little knife, the rules, laws and traditions that governs the usage of this new vessel, the processing of clay for this purpose, the eternal question for all artisans: is this project going to find a place into the market, am I going to sell it well?  

The attention of Maria seems focused on experimentation and play, on the forms and usages. The colours are soft and pastel, light greens, light salmon pinks covered by blank glaze are shown together with the darker mixture of mangle and copper, which gives the black a red and metallic lustre.
The small aquariums host no real fishes or crabs – nevertheless they seem to have more life than the real ones you usually see at the restaurant, near to your table, dancing in their huge prisons of glass; the flowers in the vase are immortal (unlike my all-too-mortal- flowers on the windowsill), still and open.
Maria works also with carved thin forms, and fascinating robotic machines that would make your cabinet of curiosities more precious.

She seems peaceful, moving around and picking up dishes, while I look at the weird tools and the dried pale cups arranged on the shelves. The croissants with butter and cheese are as good as always, and before I leave I stare a long time at her small cups with plankton drawings. I like the spontaneity, apparent simplicity of such a vessel for olives and crème caramel, chocolate and candied almonds and I know that, sooner or later, I will come back here.

For more info, have a look at:

http://www.tontonton.de

If the computer doesn’t work, I won’t work on the computer!

I’m still stuck here without a computer.
My 7 years old notebook left me, imploding, the hard disk ticking, not even Linux tries to open up and I know, it’s time for a new one.
On one side I like the feeling of the (although modest) amount of time left unused, and since I still do not have a workshop I just sit down and draw something. It is quite clear that when a computer is coming back into my house, I am going to need a better planning of the computer usage. It fits properly the earlier post on Ayumi Horie, doesn’t it?
Thinking about it, it feels like those films from the ’80s were right (do you remember Tron, the original one?): everytime you start the computer a new world, with its own time rules, opens up in front of you. They were amazed and scared, and right now I  think that this is exactly the feeling I’ll have to keep alive, when I’ll get myself the new machine…

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