UP AT 7 to get 17-year-old son J.P. and daughter Elizabeth, 10, off to school. Husband Harry eats later after a swim at the nearby Capitol Hill natatorium.
I put in three solid hours of throwing pots before a staff meeting at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop where I teach three pottery classes a week. I like to start out the week with throwing since it goes much faster than hand-building and there is great satisfaction in seeing the shelves steadily fill with freshly thrown pots. Today I make sugar bowls 5 inches high by 3 inches wide -- all alike and at the same time different as leaves on a tree. Slight variation in size and shape is a clear indication of the handmade process.
The meeting at the Arts Workshop is a long one. CHAW, founded in 1972, offers classes to children and adults in ballet, tap dancing, yoga, acrobatics, drama, art and pottery. After years of being crammed into local church rooms, it moved last Februrary to its present spacious quarters at the B.B. French School on 7th Street S.E.
With the help of a matching grant from the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, individual donations and many hours of volunteer labor, the renovation of the building is almost finished. It will be officially opened on Oct. 18 and we discuss the arts festival planned for the weekend of Oct. 16-19, which will showcase CHAW's work to the community through an art exhibit, a dance concert, a musical revue, a theatrical production and sample classes.
Most important, the building must be ready for the opening ceremony, which means much work by staff and volunteers. I offer to work all day Wednesday at painting a large basement room which will be used for pottery classes. Tuesday
The half ton of clay which was supposed to be delivered yesterday morning did not arrive. Apparently my supplier, Eagle Ceramics of Rockville, had attempted to make the delivery in the afternoon while I was at the CHAW meeting. I call Eagle to say I must have the clay since I have an order of pots to fill for a local gallery. They are obliging as always and agree to deliver today.
Since I am down to my last 50-pound carton, I decide to do some hand-building until the clay arrives. I have to make 10 newspots (pots imprinted with lettering from an old newspaper mat) for the American Artisan in Alexandria, a craft shop that sells the work of no less than 70 potters and keeps track of their work by computer.
As each potter's shipment arrives, the inventory is fed into the computer, which alerts the owner when a particular craftsman's work is running out on the shelves -- in time for him to reorder so that the shelf will never be empty.
That such a product of 20th century technology presides in this way over the oldest of the art gives me pause whenever I think of it. And, like computers, it makes mistakes. It has broken down at least once and has one of my lines of production stoneware listed wrongly as brown, when it is quite evidently has a white speckled glaze.
Susan, from Eagle, arrives around noon with the clay. I spot her outside loading boxes onto a handcar and go outside to help. I ask her why Eagle sends delivery girls rather than men, since the work involves much heavy lifting.
She bristles and repeats, "Girls?"
"I mean women," I correct myself. She doesn't really answer my question, but says that she enjoys the work and needs the extra income since she doesn't make enough from her pottery teaching to live on.
We stack the clay in a corner of the living room. The place under the stairs where it is supposed to go is full of books, which must first be put away. I carry on building newspots while Harry, home early today after teaching English classes at American University, makes spaghetti sauce for tonight's supper. Wednesday
I wear my oldest shirt and dungarees for the day's painting at CHAW. First the walls have to be scraped with a wire brush, then walls and ceilings painted. Amazingly we (Steve, the acrobatics instructor Raye, who teaches art and ballet, and I) finish putting on the first coat by three.
The phone rings constantly. One caller asks about classes for preschoolers and I read off to her what we offer: creative movement, introduction to art materials and so forth.
"But," she interrupts, a note of desperation creeping into her voice, "What do you have for 2-year-olds?" Well, nothing actually, so I suggest that she try us again next year.
I pop into the local Safeway on my way home. Gary, the checker, asks me (again) when I'm going to start making soup ladles and I mumble an excuse. The truth is I don't really want to. A ceramic soup ladle sounds to me like a mistake -- a wrong use of material. However, Gary has bought a number of pieces of my work from the Ainilian Gallery next door so I must try to oblige.
At home I prepare chicken divan, the family's favorite casserole dish, for supper, and when its in the oven, start building clay boxes while Elizabeth does her homework at the other side of the table. The boxes I can make even with constant interruptions, and I often work at them in the evenings on a day such as today to compensate for the hours lost during the day.
This flexibility, I find, is the main advantage of working at home -- I can either get up at the crack of dawn or work until midnight to meet my production deadlines. The chief disadvantage are the constant distractions, and these I am learning, albeit slowly, to tune out. Thursday
A day of steady throwing -- pitchers to match sugar bowls made on Monday, casseroles and teapots. The casseroles I am making for the third time. Have had trouble recently with fine hairline cracks on the bottom. They make great seconds or giveaways to friends to use as planters, but they just won't do to fill a wholesale order, which is what I'm working on.
Ceramics Monthly arrives and I greedily devour it with my lunch. This month's issue veers towards the functional rather than the funky.
Fix macaroni and cheese for J.P. and Elizabeth before going out to dinner with friends in Georgetown. "Come on over early, darlings," our hostess had said. "We've all got to work tomorrow, so it won't be too late and we won't drink too much . . ." Friday
In spite of the reassurances of last night's hostess, I feel slightly worse for wear and am glad to have the routine task of finishing yesterday's pots. There is no putting it off because otherwise the pots would dry out without handles, etc., and have to be made over again from scratch.
First I pull handles from perfectly wedged clay. (Wedge means to knead and pummel the clay to remove air bubbles.) Then I throw spouts and lids. Next each pot is centered on the wheel, anchored down with wads of clay and the bottom trimmed with a wire loop tool. The handles, when stiff enough to hold their shape, are attached firmly with slip (wet, sticky clay) to the pitchers and the side of the pot, close to the base, is stamped with my initials.
Some potters don't do this, but I think the stamp gives the final professional touch and also makes one's work easily identifiable. Since I must fire the kiln next day I place the finished pots outside to dry in the sun before rushing off to teach my first class at CHAW.
My class is a good one -- a very promising group of 5- to 7-year-olds, including a boy who has already decided that he wants to be a potter when he grows up.
Arrive home to find Harry already preparing our fish supper and J.P. nursing a wound from the soccer field -- a huge scrape which looks for all the world like a raw steak. He nevertheless plans to go out because, "Well, Ma, it's Friday night." Elizabeth is spending the night at a friend's house and Harry and I go to the opening of a friend's photography exhibition. The photographs are good, but at around $100 each, hardly anyone is buying. Saturday
I spend the morning at CHAW working on the floor, parts of which are covered with tarpaper. The only way to get it off is to soak the floor with water and then attack the resulting gooey mess with a scrapper. It is the nastiest chore I've encountered in my life as an all-purpose handywoman. After three hours of soaking and scraping I'm exhausted and have a blister on my palms so I go home to rest up by stacking and firing the kiln. Sunday
Normally a day off, but today I must fire a load of glazed pots because a friend has ordered a ceramic box for her daughter's birthday next day. Elizabeth is off swimming with a friend, which makes it possible to work without interruption for 8 hours (except for lunch) at mixing glazes, applying them to the ware and stacking the kiln.
In bed by 9:30 to catch up some reading. I'm reading Boswell's "Life of Johnson" for the first time, with great enjoyment. Among tonight's gems (of a man who married a second time, after an uphappy first marriage): "It was the triumph of hope over experience."
I have only one flaw to find with the book and that is that it is almost impossible to put down. It is not divided into chapters but starts at the beginning and goes on without a pause to the end, 1,200 pages later, a bad business for a compulsive reader like me. Reading is my favorite relaxation, hobby and addiction -- a perfect way to end a busy week.