The Kiln Waster

I had jury duty and when you are on jury duty in Philadelphia, you bring a few books, maybe a crossword puzzle, some snacks and whatever else allows you to pass the time because there is a lot of waiting before you are either selected to serve on a jury or dismissed. You serve for one day or one trial. 

I brought a couple of old catalogs from a pottery auction in the early 1990s.  I spent my waiting time pouring through pictures of work by the likes of  Bernard Leach, Lucie Rie, and  Mary Rogers.  

Which brings me to The Kiln Waster.  The Kiln Waster  is the opposite of inspiration.  If it were possible to have a front-end car collision in a kiln, The Kiln Waster would be the result.  See for yourself:

Kiln Waster refers to tin-glazed earthenware dishes that collapse in a kiln during firing and fuse to each other and to the  kiln furniture.  The above example is from Delft, Holland  circa 1655.  

I came face to face (or face to plate) with the Kiln Waster at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.   I had gone to the V&A to see its well-known jewelry collection.    I did not know, however, was that the V&A is also home to a fabulous, HUGE (huge as in rooms and rooms and shelves upon shelves) collection of ceramics and pottery dating from ancient times to the present day.  And while pottery from the Americas is not largely represented,  you’ll find just about everything else in the V&A collection.

Unfortunately, the V&A does not have a book or catalog of the collection for sale in its museum shop.  I would would have loved to buy one.  But the museum allowed visitors to take pictures and I snapped and gawked and gawked and snapped.    If you get to London, run to the V&A to see this astounding collection.  The next time I am in London, I plan to go back.  If you want to search the collection online, press here.

Here are some  pictures of pottery that fared better than The Kiln Waster

 

 

 

 

Rembrandt Huis

Rembrandt bought a house on Jodenbreestraat  in Amsterdam in 1639 and lived there until he went bankrupt in 1656 and lost everything.  There is a debate over whether Rembrandt’s  lavish taste caused his financial problems or whether he was a victim of  a shift in the art market.

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Rembrandt made his fortune as a portrait painter (and-this was a surprise to me-an art dealer!)  Prior to Rembrandt’s time, only the nobility could afford to sit for portraits. But social, technological and economic changes changed that.  By the early the 17th century,  the social fabric that had carried Europe through the last 1000 years was starting to fray at the edges. Holland was a Protestant country where to profit by one’s hard work was considered a virtue. Amsterdam was a commercial town with a wealthy merchant class. Then as now, the existence of a group of people with disposable income  was  good for business and a boon for artists.  Rembrandt did so well that he was able to buy his  grand house  on Jodenbreestraatin.   The house  is still there  and it’s open to the public

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Rembrandt Huis was a must-see for me because I have always loved his work. Rembrandt’s paintings make an impression on the viewer  because they do more than reproduce people and scenes in pictures: the tell stories. When you look at one of his Biblical paintings, or example,  you think about the people in it and what they must be doing and thinking. They look like they are engaged in something  rather assuming poses for a painting. Their engagement, in turn, engages us because on a fundamental level, we humans are story telling beings.

Rembrandt is also known as the master of light and his skills were unmatched.  He could make the paint look like lace, gold, sunlight, or gossamer layered fabric. He did not use gold paint, but he could paint gold so convincingly that it is hard to believe he did not use gold in his paint.

Rembrandt  was an art dealer as well as an artist, and sold the work of other artists that he displayed in   a showroom in the main room of his house.

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He also ran an art school on the top floor of his  house and taught several students at a time.

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Rembrandt  had a well-stocked room full of costumes and props that he used in his paintings. Some say that he was more of a shopaholic, buying anything that caught his fancy.  His profligate collecting  did not do his pocketbook any good and when he was forced to declare bankruptcy, all his belongings and his house  were sold at auction to cover his debts.

I learned about how Rembrandt’s paints were mixed  when I went to the Rembrandt Huis this past summer.  I made a short film in which a docent explains how it was done.  I hope you enjoy it.  Be sure to visit Rembrandt Huis if you are ever in Amsterdam.

 

 

 

Lessons from London Street Art

Two photos taken on the streets of London this week seem to provide timely advice given recent events.

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Graffiti in Bordeaux

Some cool graffiti seen in the streets of Bordeaux, France this summer.

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The Katten Kabinet

A charming side trip in Amsterdam is a visit to De Katten Kabinet, a museum set up in an old mansion that is devoted to displaying art depicting cats.  You’ll see everything here: paintings, prints, sculpture, movie posters-even a mummified pussy cat.  The Egyptians loved their cats, too.

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The story is that a rich Dutch banker wanted to do something to commemorate his beloved orange tabby John Pierpont Morgan (Tom for short).  So he turned his house into a museum and put J.P.’s image on a fake dollar bill.   This seems strangely appropriate cine De Katten Kabinet is located on Herengracht, a street in  Amsterdam that is home to numerous banks and investment firms.  On the other hand,  I have yet to meet a cat who gives a fig about money.

After we went through the museum, we went into a back garden area where two kittens were engaged in some serious play.  

And then out sauntered three chickens who were more concerned with sunning themselves than worrying about the kittens!

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Cat who Walked by Himself

The Cat Who Walked By Himself

If you are a cat lover, De Katten Kabinet is worth a visit your next time in Amsterdam.

Herengracht 497 – 1017 BT Amsterdam

A Day at the Museum

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We use glass every day. It’s so ubiquitous that most of the time it fades into the background.  We  literally look right through it and don’t even see it.  That’s good when you are driving a car or staring through your bifocals.  But,  if you have ever walked through a plate glass window, you will quickly remember that glass is present.  (Unless you’re Criss Angel.)

As I said in last week’s post, glass is basically melted sand. What I did not know when I wrote last week’s post was that the invention of the blow pipe made it easier to make glass and cheaper too.  Now, even though I barely passed high school chemistry, I know from my own glass experience that mixing air with the fuel makes it burn hotter and cleaner and makes for more efficient glass melting.  So the blow pipe was a big deal. And though we can trace the first glass back to 3500 BCE, transparent glass did not appear until Venetian glass maker Angelo Barovier created it in the 15th Century.  Even then, having clear glass windows was an expensive proposition and there were many more advancements in glass technology and manufacturing before we got to the glass we know today.  But if you think you know a lot about, glass you probably don’t know the half of it.  That’s why you should take a trip to the Corning Museum of Glass.

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Patty looking through a magnifying lens

The stated mission of the Corning Glass Museum is to “tell the world about glass.”  Any comprehensive exploration of glass  straddles the line between art and science. There’s probably no other artistic medium (aside from pottery) that does this so obviously and the scientific developments in glass have been dramatic. What I like most about the museum is that it pays attention to both sides of this fascinating substance.  

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We started the day with a glass blowing demonstration.

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Glass frit and colorants

From there we went to the modern Art Glass

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Then worked our way through the ancient glass and the history of glass exhibits.

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From there, we hopped over to the scientific glass portion where I learned about lenses, telescopes, safety glass and glass with thermal properties.

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Patty and I staring into a thermal camera

The museum building itself is beautifully designed and a very relaxing space.

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We only scratched the surface on our visit; there are all kinds of activities and classes including Master Classes for lamp workers and glass blowers taught by top artists from around the world.    Click here  to go to Corning’s YouTube site which contains dozens of videos on every aspect of glass you can imagine.  Click here to go to my Flickr page and see the other pictures I took at the Museum

 

 

 

A Detour in Corning, NY

I don’t know about you, but it has always mystified me  how ancient peoples discovered processes like glass making.  I mean, we have all heard about how Rouquefort cheese came to be-you know the Shepard leaves his goatskin of milk in the moldy cave, finds it  6 months later and voila! Quelle fromage! But that was an accident.  And in his play John and Mary Doe, playwright  Christopher Durang  speculates on how a caveman might have invented the, er-if you really must know, click here.    But glass?  Glass is basically sand that is heated to about 1700 degrees F. until it melts.  (The color and other characteristics the glass might have comes from added chemicals.)  Historians believe that glass making  started around  3500 BCE in Mesopotamia and that  the first  glass was made in coastal north Syria, Mesopotamia or ancient Egypt.   But who wakes up one day and tells his wife or his boss that he is going to the beach so he can bring back some sand and try to melt it?  I mean, seriously.  But where would we be without glass?  In the dark probably.

It was in this spirit that intrepid fellow traveller Patty and I decided to make a detour on our way home from the Morrisburg Polymer Clay Retreat and stop in Corning, NY, home to the famed Corning Museum of Glass.    We got into Corning the evening before our planned visit and got to explore the town a little.  Here’s what we saw.

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Corning is a charming town nestled into the rolling hills of Southern New York State on the Chemung River. It’s home to Corning Incorporated and to the Corning Museum of Glass.   Corning is also home to the Rockwell Museum (not to be confused with the Norman Rockwell Museum)  which specializes in American Art. The main of the town street is dotted with restaurants, art galleries and antique shops.  It really looks like it would be a nice place to spend a day or two window shopping, dining, visiting the museums and enjoying the countryside.

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We stayed in the Staybridge Suites right next to the museum so we could get an early start the next morning.  It was a good choice and I recommend it.

 

Next week: The Corning Museum of Glass.

Retreat to Morrisburg

Tray with tiles attendees made. Auctioned and proceeds donated to http://plancanada.ca/because-i-am-a-girl

My friend Patty and I, ever the intrepid travelers,  decided to take the recommendation of our friend Sherman and drive  to the little town of Morrisburg, Ontario and join a group of polymer artists who meet once a year at the McIntosh Inn for a retreat.

We crossed the border into Canada,  pulled up to the Canadian border inspection station, and handed our passports to the border screening agent in the booth.

“Polymer clay retreat? What’s that?” the  agent wanted to know after Patty told him the purpose of our trip.  

“It’s not like a religious retreat,” Patty explained, “it’s  a bunch of artists who get together and work on their polymer clay projects.”

“Polymer clay?” the agent wasn’t buying it.

I leaned over so the agent could hear me.  “It’s like what men do when they get together with their model trains.”

“Oh!” the agent, replied, “you’re gonna throw clay at one another?”  

I had never heard of that, so I laughed as if I got the joke.  The agent handed our passports back and waved us on our way.

We had a great time, renewed old acquaintances and made new friends.  We drank Tim Horton coffee, ate Butter Tarts, wrestled with the metric system and warned our Canadian colleagues that after the U.S. election in November, we might be back to stay.  

Here are some pictures

To see more pictures, go to my Flickr site, here.

 

 

Huichol Beadwork

 

Rolling Stones is a leather goods store in Puerto Vallarta   For years, the owner has given space in the store to a family of the Huichol Tribe where they make and sell their beadwork.  I was familiar with  Huichol beaded objects where they embed seed beads in wax  and in fact purchased a turtle figurine on my last trip to Puerto Vallarta.   But  I was not familiar with their other beadwork until I dropped into Rolling Stones with some friends.    Here are some earrings I bought as gifts.  

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If you are in Puerto Vallarta, stop by Rolling Stones leather for some fabulous leather bargains and to see the Huichol Beadwork.  Rolling Stones is located at Paseo Diaz Ordaz 802, Puerto Vallarta 48300, Mexico.

 

 

What’s Cooking at the Hacienda

 

 

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I am currently living the good life at Hacienda Mosaico in Puerto Vallarta, taking a class with Richard and Jane Salley. In addition to the class and the beautiful surroundings, the Hacienda serves up some delicious meals. All of which facilitate learning and relaxation.

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