BirkaMart

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After many years of making ceramics, wood items and carved stone I have decided to enter the marketplace. While working on Jess and Mike’s wedding plans I contacted my old pal Kirby D. Wise, the master swordmaker in AZ who made my two steel maces. He used to offer inexpensive swords for just mucking around, but he has stopped this practice and so most of his swords are anywhere from $500 to $1500. While chatting with him though we had a great idea: I will be Kirby’s representative on the East Coast selling his weapons and my crafts and we’ll both make money and his superior quality gear will flow into the re-enactors world on the east Coast. Kirby’s daughter is also a bladesmith and his wife works in pierced brass decorations. Freya made a spear for me, seven foot long and with beautiful pierced brass decoration. It is so light and strong and you can wield it one handed! It cost me $500 but a similar one can be sold for $1000. This is how we will help pay off the wedding. Meanwhile I have been firing the kiln, making glazed ware for sale, serving dishes, beakers and bowls. I feel like I am getting better at hand building things and except for the perpetual pain in my upper back and shoulders things are moving well. Margaret is making me some new Norse style clothes and for herself as well. I have made some necklaces for her, some shoes and hat for me. The amazing thing is that back when I was active in the SCA there were no markets, no dealers… just the rare craftsman. Now checking online I see hundreds of places to buy weapons, clothes, even tents! It may be that as our “modern” society decays and fades away… “Bye Herr Drumpf!” ancient societies may spring back up to provide some form of safety and community. There are many “living museums” now as well, with people living year round in costume, working as they did in the Middle Ages. I plan to visit a few and see how their ceramic efforts are going. I still think it would be fantastic to assemble a book showing all the owner built kilns in the nation, there are so many! Likewise a similar book on medieval craftsmen might be good, people like Kirby who live halfway into the past. But before the books come the contacts and the markets and that’s where we are headed now. On the 30th of June we will set up our first BirkaMart and see how people react. The next event we’ll be able to show Kirby’s work… we had hoped to get it this month, but the Arizona desert shot up to 125F and Kirby cannot fire up the forge before 10PM and even then the temps are 100F. So we are being patient and hoping for the best.

Changes

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I will be working on my site this summer to add new images and sculptures and removing some of the older pieces. Things are changing in the world and in my life and so the old site should be renewed. Pay attention.

Birthdays

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I turned 65 a few days ago and it sort of surprised me. When I was a kid I was pretty sure that I would not last very long. My favorite singers were overdosing on heroin and speed and it seemed like maybe it wasn’t possible to be fiercely creative without burning out early. I was using speed, LSD, pot and whatever little white pill was handed me. I had the image of Van Gogh in the cornfield pressing his rifle to his chest. Like him, I had never sold my art, I’d given it away. Like him I got terrible headaches. Like him I thought my work would never be appreciated. But Van Gogh never had antidepressants or marijuana. He drank wine, which is depressing, and probably absinthe as well and my dear old father informed me that his worst hangover ever was after drinking absinthe.

So I sort of expected someday I would take too many drugs and fade away. It did not happen. I seem to have a cast iron system for processing drugs. The spine may be broken but the gut perseveres! So I have outlasted my expectations. A lot of art comes from despair. Reaching back to prehistory, looking for images and forms which make meaning out of the pain and imbalances in our lives. I am no longer very much into despair or depression. Most of the things I worried about have long since passed. I’m still kicking, still carving, still taking pictures and drawing pictures…. it seems hard to stop me! So now I have to think about things like web pages and crashing hard drives. But worry is nothing new to any artist. We worry about the paint drying, we worry about the fire dying, we worry about running out of beer. But we do not stop, even when we pass Go. We pick it up and put it down.

The work goes on. The artist perseveres.

The Studio

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We built a nice 2 story gambrel roofed garage and I took the upstairs as my studio, hauling and setting up a concrete kick wheel and long tables. Masks were placed on the wall along with a paper describing their place in the series. These were the works based on Jon’s story, the nurses, doctors and fellow patients at the brain injury rehabilitation hospital.

Then my father decided to sell all of his wood working tools. He was living in Missouri and planned to move to California. So a friend and I drove a car down to Missouri and rented a big truck and loaded all of Dad’s tools up and paid him $1500. he was happy and we were happy. Dad had all the kinds of tools that I did not, so now I had a nice wood working studio.
In the ceramic studio I faced a problem: my discs were getting softer and I had bone spurs on top of my arthritis. The kick wheel got used mostly in detailing hand built sculptures and I knew I could not throw pots without hurting my back. I needed a slab roller. Finally on CraigsList we found an excellent Bailey slab roller, manual and in pristine condition. I began to make functional ware by making some plaster molds and using them to make serving dishes and bowls. I found a very nice pugmill for sale on CraigsList and added that to the equipment. By now all the tools were downstairs in one bay so I started using the upstairs for storage and the west side of the garage for ceramics. I built a divider wall and put in a door. The east side was crowded with wood tools and wood slabs. I have acquired four kiln burners which fire propane and will add one or two to my noborigama in the shed outside. The reminder burners (I hope) will be used to build a smaller down draft kiln on top of the bonfire pit. Then I will have two mixed fuel kilns, one computer controlled electric kiln, one old electric top loader kiln, and enough bricks left over to build pits and such for low fire work. By now I have also added a very clean electric throwing wheel so that Margaret or any student I get in the future can try their hand at throwing. Now we need Spring to happen.

The Old Man in the Sea

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Aye, boys, it was on a night like this that the Old Wormlet went down! All aboard were lost except for me and my dog, Blodger. We slept all night in the raft, tossed by the waves and no idea of where we were! But the worst part were the sounds of them sirens, singing sailors to their doom! All night they sang and all night we listened…. the next day we washed up on the beach and were able to find our way back to civilization. Ar! It were a terrible time…..

Winter Work

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It’s approximately 5 degrees F in the studio. The little kerosene heater will not do a lot to heat the room, especially as the north wall is a garage door. In the spring, if the housework allows me, I intend to put up an actual, insulated wall with a real door and a real window! ┬áThere’s also a little window in the west wall which should be replaced by an insulated window, even a bigger one. I really could use the light. The slab roller takes up a lot of room but is good as a workbench when it’s so cold like this. I am working on carving a mahogany plaque for a headboard. You fire up the kerosene heater and stand with your back to it and you can get some carving done.

Once I get the propane tank installed outside for the noborigama kiln I can run a line to the studio for a propane heater and maybe get at least 3 seasons out of it. I have 4 kiln burners to hook up, two for the big kiln and one for the new medium sized kiln which is slated to be built sometime in the next two years. I have to be realistic what with my discs getting soft and the arthritis in my hands getting worse. It might take me longer to do some fairly simple things to get this studio complex up and running right. In theory I can even set up a small foundry for casting metals.

The one thing I cannot plan for and which I really need is an apprentice or a partner to help with the lifting and stoking. I’ve advertised but the young ones hate the idea of hard work, and tend to want a deal where they make their stuff and then if they stick around later they’ll help me. Not a great plan. So, I guess it’s me and the dog for the time being.

Lil Abner

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In the course of things I have finally reached the point where I think I have somethings to say and to show. No master by any means of the technologies I employ in my art, still I am trying to get as good as some of the masters I have known and loved, like my beloved Grandfather Riley Shirley, a master sculptor who breathed enough marble dust to petrify most of his lungs, but at the end he was still carving, whittling a small pine wood statue of Lil Abner. At the end, my end, I hope to be doing something creative, something someone could admire and keep.