It was supposed to be cooler. Maybe mid 80’s…which is what passes for cool in a extended, triple-digit heat wave. At least that’s what the extended forecast said two weeks ago when I scheduled an Obvara firing at Ceramic Services for this morning. Now the day’s forecast was back to triple digits.
I went anyway. I didn’t want to waste 5 days of mash babysitting. Obvara requires advanced planning due to the time it takes for proper fermentation. My traditional mash consists of flour, yeast, sugar and water, which I mix and let brew outside for 3-5 days. My other mash was a 6:00 AM impulse. When I op ened the pantry this morning to get my water bottles, I spotted 17 bottles and cans of leftover beer that had been taking up space on the bottom shelf for the past five or six years. It was a motley assortment, years past their expiration date: a six-pack of Sapporo, a few each of Guinness, hard cider, and craft brews, and a lone near beer. I poured them all into a three-gallon bucket, dumped in a little flour and sugar, beat down the foam with a good stir and snapped on a lid.
Plus, there’s something magical about the process of using a fermented broth to sear and seal pots while creating spectacular surfaces. It’s addictive. And addicts are known to do stupid things. Anyway, I figured I’d be done by noon.
But around 10:30 AM, a thought occurred to me as I was pulling 1700 degree pots out of a raku kiln. In full sun. This, I realized, is what “they” must mean when talking about suffering for one’s art.
And suffering I was. I won’t lie. It was brutal. I was dressed for fire safety, not a hot day: closed-toe shoes, jeans, long-sleeved cotton shirt, leather gloves and apron. At least I was wearing a sun hat. I’m a north coast woman, which means I just don’t handle the heat well. My face turns pomegranate red. I get nauseous. And weirdly emotional. Which is why I was decidedly unhappy about the first test piece.
It was a small, primitively carved bowl. I swung it through the beer mixture, dipped it into the water bath and placed it on an old kiln shelf to cool. The result was a mottled soft taupe, utterly lacking in the dramatic streaking and spotting I love.
Horrified, I immediately and grumpily abandoned the beer to work with my traditional mash, which performed as hoped. Pot after pot emerged from their baths, boldly galactic and wildly earthy. My grumpiness burned away and was replaced with a lightheaded joy. Yes, I was physically miserable, but the pots were gorgeous. And the whole area smelled like fresh-baked bread.
Finally, the first kiln load completed, my friend Meggan—who bravely came along to take photos—and I swilled ice water and took full advantage of the studio’s massive swamp cooler. I was tempted to strip down to my tank top but didn’t want to scare folks. And eventually, with a cooler head, in the down time waiting for the next batch of bisque to get up to temperature, I spent a little more time with that odd first piece.
And I realized it was lovely. Different than expected and hoped for—but lovely in its soft mushroom cloak. The beer mash was worth further exploration.
I ended up experimenting with five or six pieces in that beer mash and, of course, fell in love.
In the end, heat notwithstanding, Lenny Larsen–master kiln maker and the co-owner of Ceramic Services–and I successfully fired off two dozen beautiful obvara pots for my Darlene line.
By the time we wrapped shortly before noon, the thermostat read 99 degrees. We were all exhausted.
And Meggan and I shamelessly blasted the AC at a lovely 68 degrees the entire way home. There’s a limit to suffering.
P.S. Lenny and I have decided to create and offer an Obvara workshop for January 2016. When the weather is cool.