So, WHAT'S Katie up to???

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tales from Turkey, #5

Before I continue the clay-related part of my blog, I'll give a bit of a travel update. I am leaving Turkey for Canada in a couple of days, and can easily continue with the clay stories when I'm back home.  Besides, I retrieved some outstanding pieces from the still-400-degree C kiln (yes, that's super hot!!!!) moments before leaving Avanos for the airport, and didn't have time to photograph them before wrapping them in an old bath-towel for their journey.

I arrived last night in Istanbul, to a sultry but breezy evening of about 23 degrees.  Sultanahmet Camii (The Blue Mosque) glowed pleasantly in the darkness. I thought I was fortunate being given a room with a bath for the same price as one without, though I knew they would not do that if someone hadn't erred and overbooked the hotel...... Fortunate it seemed, until I realized my only window opens onto the hallway, and not onto the street, so I have virtually no ventilation.  No matter: I have a nice fan.

Neither had I counted on the morning noise. And, since the first flights out of Istanbul leave at 6 a.m., the 'morning' starts at about 2:00! The unlocking & locking & banging of doors, thumping of heavy baggage on the marble stairs, and loud voices in English, German, and French (obviously oblivious to the echo-factor in the tiled hallways), permeated my fitful sleep. And, beginning at 7:50, the endless stomping of hiking-boot clad feet on the uncarpeted stairs up to the breakfast room two floors above. At 8:30 I finally gave in and joined the breakfast crowd.

After my pleasant late-night sit on the rooftop watching light little clouds float by the moon, imagine my stunned surprise to see buckets of rain pelting the windows, blown everywhere by the howling wind!  Those light little clouds have grown into one huge one, and socked themselves in over the city so tightly that the Sea of Marmara, about half a kilometre away, is completely invisible. Grrrr!! Not a pleasant backdrop for a day of visiting the Istiklal shopping street and sipping tea with my friend Seda. The hotel has umbrellas available; but with the 30 naut 'breeze', I'm not sure how much good an umbrella will do.  Now, wistfully, I remember that $2 bargain-store plastic poncho nestled in my drawer of 'travel stuff' back in Gibsons.  Another Grrrr!

With the Kapali Çarsi (The Grand Bazaar, but literally translated as "Closed-in Market") being kapali (closed) on Sundays (which today is),  I guess I'm off to brave the elements across the Golden Horn to visit my friend.  It's not cold, so the wet is more of an issue than the chill.  My biggest decision appears to be whether to take the practical approach my mother would have advised, and wear my sensible sneakers to keep my feet (sort of) dry, or give in to the rain and bathe my tootsies in the Istanbul street rains wearing my water-happy flip flops.  Or maybe the decision is, "Do I hoof it? or pay for a taxi?.......

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tales from Turkey, #4

My gosh, I've been awfully remiss in keeping my blog of late! Not a good way to keep followers interested! I promised some pottery-type photos......

Avanos has been the centre of clay production in Cappadocia for literally thousands of years.  The wheat farmers to the south and east stored grain in huge pots made here.  Vintners to the south used Avanos (historically known as Evranos, and various other names) vessels for their wine. Avanos güveç (Turkish stew) pots are renouned for their durability. The commercial clay and pottery production zone is in the 'sanay', or industrial area. We visited the Mumtaz clay production workshop, and next to it the industrial site of Chez Hakan, a local pottery shop that exports garden pots & decorative pieces all over the world. (apologies for the graininess of these pics, but the air was pretty dusty.)
 The clay arrives at the workshop as dry chunks dug from the hillsides above the Kizilirmak (the Red River, for obvious reasons), is crushed by hand, seived to remove stones, and then soaked in water in huge stone tubs to form a disgusting gooey sludge.  After the clay has soaked up enough water, it is pushed through the machine at the left which presses out the lumps. The de-lumping and mixing used to be done by hand (or rather by foot), but the pug-mill makes the process much faster, not to mention more appealing.
Final clay preparation is always by hand.  Getting the right consistency is critical to making good pots.
And likely the best living potter in Avanos at present (though his arthritis keeps him from working much) is 86 year old Ahmet.  This piece will form the bottom third of a huge storage pot.  Each remaining part will be added on after the part below it has been allowed to harden for a day or so; and the resulting pot will be about 5 feet tall.
 Görkan, co-owner of this workshop, shows off the far less ambitious pots that are destined for the southern US, likely for use as garden ornamentation.
 Regardless of its size or function, each pot must be trimmed and generally cleaned up before it is ready to be fired.
 Avanos industrial kilns are wood-fired, and hold massive amounts of pots. The pots in this pic are still hot from firing; and they are but the bottom layer of a load that was stacked all the way to the ceiling of the kiln.
Back at the pottery shop, Hakan spends evening hours trimming, burnishing, and putting pierced designs on small pieces that will then go back to the sanay to be fired. And that's after he's worked in the shop all day! The shop is open 365 days a year, all day & into the evening; and Hakan is there every day. When there are no customers, he's decorating pots. It's difficult to make a good living as a pottery shop in Avanos.  But, after years of saving and hard work, the addition of their large Sanay workshop and expansion into American and European markets has made Hakan and his brother Görkan one of the more successful families carrying on this thousands-years' old tradition in the cradle of civilization.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Tales from Turkey #3

As promised, here's an account of our second day of sightseeing.  There is SO much to see and absorb here that two days is only time enough for a brief overview and a couple of highlights; so that was our plan.  Seems to have worked out just fine.
In case you've been having a hard time imagining exactly what üchisar castle looks like, here is a shot of it to put things in perspective.  It truly is a castle built out of the existing rock.
Imagine seeing this while sipping your morning coffee..... There must be something we could learn about sustainable building from this....
I just love these chimney caps.
As I said, our second day of touring began with a visit to Pasabag, and the famous Peribacesi, or Fairy Chimneys. It's lucky that Cappadocia is not an earthquake zone, or these fragile-looking formations of tufa and basalt would have long since tumbled into oblivion.
Although people once made their homes in caves in these rocks, they have remained uninhabited since the 1950's at least.  The tufa is rich in silicone dust, which is extremely hazardous to breathe.  Even later houses made of natural stone are whitewashed inside to limit the stone dust hazard.

Following Pasabag, our trusty driver, Ismail, took us the short drive to Göreme and its outdoor museum. The museum is a UESCO World Heritage site, comprising a huge collection of churches carved into the stone.
Although these caves are doubtless many thousands of years old, it was not until about the 10th century, when (now Saint) Gregory began the monastic tradition of Christianity, seeing this tucked-away region as the perfect area for quiet contemplation and a simplified austere lifestyle for Christian monks.
Early church decoration comprised very simple designs painted with the readily-available iron oxide onto the stone walls, ceilings, and niches.
Notice the Byzantine-style cross, chicken, and what appears to be an enormous cockroach......

Later adornment was much more complicated, rendered in many beautiful colours.  Several of these frescoes remain in remarkably good condition, thanks to their location in windowless caverns that are rarely visited.

After Göreme, we ventured off to the underground city of Derinküyü.  Above the ground, this community sits on a flat and fairly uninteresting plain of wheatfields, with only one high point to be seen for miles around.  Under the ground, however, is quite a different story.  Initially only one level below ground, the caves are thought to have been permanent homes to the Hittites who lived here a couple of millenia before Christ.  Later, however, the "city" was dug out to at least 5, and perhaps up to 8, levels under the earth, forming a refuge where many hundreds of people could escape the armies and tax collectors of everyone from Ghengis Kahn to the Romans.

School, anyone?  Students sat on these long benches, while the teacher taught from a raised platform.  At the end of the room is the teacher's sleeping quarters, while the students' dorm is through a small door off to the left.

This photo, actually from the neighbouring city of Kaymakli, illustrates some of the vessels used for storage of grain, water, wine, and preserved food.

Not wanting company? Just roll this huge stone door across the passageway, lock it into place, and, voila! The peep hole in the centre does double duty as a spear hole, should the visitors prove especially undesirable.  
These cities could house hundreds of people for up to a month; although two or three days was the average stay.  Lookouts were posted atop the only hill in the area to warn of approaching intruders, allowing plenty of time for the town's inhabitants to take refuge in the underground warrens.  Air and supplies entered by way of well-disguised and circuitous 'wells'.  Smoke exited similarly, making the location of the populace difficult to pinpoint.  And of course the entrances were well camouflaged. And these folks could well have been some of the first users of composting toilets! 
In all likelihood, it was more trouble that it was worth for marauders and passing armies to extract taxes and 'assistance' from these hardy, well-hidden folks.

Our second day of touring ended with a brief visit to Avanos' commercial pottery production zone.  But, I'll leave that for tomorrow's post.........

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Tales from Turkey, #2

I've spent the last couple of days playing tour-guide for 4 Canadian friends.  Two are from Vancouver, and two are from Gibsons.  They are thoroughly enjoying their visit to this amazing country; and I must admit that trips are more special when one makes connections with 'real' residents of a place.
Ismail, our driver for the two days of touring, was ever so patient with us wanting to stop everywhere and taking much longer than expected at all the sites we visited.
Our first port of call was üçhisar, the highest town in the vicinity.  This photo shows some of the older houses as seen from the high viewpoint.  If you look closely, you can also see a cave or two in the rocks.  These could be former homes, animal shelters, storage units, and even dovecotes, depending on their height from the ground & potential for building stairs inside the rock formations.
Within the castle that tops the town are myriad caves and passageways, now only explored by the many tourists who visit the site each year.
A pathway encircles the castle at its base, for those of us who don't wish to pay a fee to enter the main part of the ruin. (This is Nick Caputo, by the way -- former owner of the Flying Cow Restaurant in Gibsons, and now property-maintenance guy extraordinaire.)
Nick's partner, Julia, sports smart headgear for the intense heat.  Behind Julia are the beautiful volcanic tufa formations and dovecotes of "Pigeon Valley". For many centuries, resident rock doves (our very common pigeon) have provided fertilizer for the grape vines and other crops in this semi-arid region.
Our day ended with a stop in Göreme, a very touristic town that has made the most of its unique surroundings.  This collection of caves and windows is actually a rather unique hotel.  They've done a remarkable job of preserving the exterior rock features while reforming existing caves into comfortable guest rooms.
And, most definitely, Coca Cola is international, and adapts its advertising accordingly.  I couldn't resist photographing this Cappadocian take on the ubiquitous beverage.

Our next day of touring took us a bit farther afield, to get up close and personal with the legendary Fairy Chimneys, 10th century Christian churches carved into caves, and one of the several underground cities in the region.  Stay tuned for more photos tomorrow.......

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tales from Turkey 2011, #1

Time to stop procrastinating and get down to the serious work of daily writing.....

I arrived safe and sound in Istanbul on September 13 and zoomed down here to beautiful Avanos in the heart of Cappadocia, where I began my annual clay sabbatical on the 15th.
Since I've been thinking "tiles" lately, wondering what on earth I can do with my own kitchen backsplash, I began by doing up some 6" terracotta pieces with whimsical (read: juvenile) images.

The designs are intentionally very simple, using the very gritty red clay, white slip, and some thickly applied copper oxide (which will remain black on firing).  Carving and sgraffito in this clay is rough at best, because the clay is so coarse; so keeping the designs simple is necessary.  This is the same clay used for the güveç pots that must withstand high and very uneven temperatures when cooking the traditional Turkish meat and veggie stew over open fires. The coarse grog (bits of previously fired clay, rather like sand or gravel) 'opens' up the clay body to allow expansion & shrinkage with heat without cracking. These are extremely durable pots, and the clay would make for tough tiles.  However, I'm not sure I'd want that coarse a texture on my kitchen walls.  I might...... but haven't decided yet.

It's hard not to be influenced by the traditional Hittite designs, like the stag, when doing these.  The designs are everywhere; and I find it hard to call up shapes and images from back home when I'm here surrounded by all this ancient artwork.

At the risk of offending my Turkish friends, some of whom have very beautiful homes, I can't help but alter the perspective when sketching these great houses.  There's barely a square corner or a straight line to be found -- surely a renovator's nightmare!  But every brick, every stone block, every roof tile simply oozes with character and wonderful textures, making these houses a wonderful subject for clay work of any sort.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Summer Projects

After our return from Arizona, one might have thought I'd have used all that inspiration to create some marvy pieces in a pre-historic southwestern theme. Not yet.  Those images are still percolating somewhere in the nether-reaches of my mind, and will appear who-knows-when in who-knows-what.....

In the early summer my attention invariably wanders to my full garden, with its shady green niches and overflowing flowerbeds. Since there is too much growth to see any weeds (thank heaven!), I spend a lot of time looking at things, and tweaking -- moving this little thing here, trying that little thing there, and wondering what I can do to make things more interesting for me, for the birds, and for passersby.

I managed to create a new welcoming energy at the entrance to our house, even with limited space and more limited budget. Widening the entry on either side of the old cement footpath using found slate slabs and beach stones proved to be great exercise, and the result is pleasing, and much safer.

I used my studio time to create accessories for other people's gardens.

This waterbath for our feathered friends is one of five I've taken to Woods Showcase gallery in Gibsons' Sunnycreasy Mall.  I think there are only two left, which is gratifying. I like stoneware for outdoor pieces, since we can use it year-round.  I do store the baths over the winter, since the birds don't need them then.  But I could leave them out all year with no fear of weather damage.

Birds may not need baths during the winter, but they do appreciate being fed.  My stoneware feeders have nice wide trays, eaves to keep the rain off the food in the tray, and they are easy to fill and clean out, as the roof-lids slide up easily to completely open the top of the feeders.

In the same vein as my feeders, my stoneware birdhouses are weatherproof. The perches and entrances are rain-protected by the overhanging roof, which opens with ease to clean out the house for new tenants. Square models hang easily on a tree or wall: round houses are designed to hang free, like the feeders.

Of course, every garden should have some critters in it.  I chose terracotta clay for these because I like the colour, especially for amphibians. In a protected location like a porch or covered deck, terracotta winters outside beautifully in our wet coast climate. It even does well in the rain.  But the combination of being soaked and freezing will cause damage.

I'm usually blessed with a large population of Pacific Tree Frogs -- but not this year.  I missed their overwhelming choruses in the early spring, and miss seeing them sunning themselves on the phlox leaves by my deck in the later summer mornings. But, no mind.  I conjured up some frogs of my own.

They are a far cry from the 1.5 inch tree frogs, being anywhere from 4 inches to 6 or more inches long.  But, they seem to be popular with visitors to the Woods Showcase shop.

A nod to my Arizona trip, and to warmer climes in general (the Gibsons weather being so horrid for the month of July), I thought some lizard-ish types might be useful.  And who knew? Maybe they'd call up some sun!

This little fellow sits in a water fountain at Woods Showcase, until someone gives him a good home.

Finally, since every garden has its faeries (or so I'm told), I created a couple of those as well.

This little sprite (who's actually not so little, at almost 12 inches tall) is attracting lots of attention at Woods Showcase.  He'll look great tucked under a shrub peeping out amongst the flowers.  But, like all the terracotta pieces, he'll enjoy the shelter of the covered deck or a spot indoors over the winter.  He has been water-sealed, and can take the damp (unlike me!), but his terracotta clay body is still porous, and staying wet in the freeze-thaw over the winter could crack him or cause his beautiful green skin to flake.

And so ends Salamander Studio's summer session of work.  Stay tuned for tales from Turkey, where I am once again privileged to stay and work in the studio of my good friend, ceramic artist Erdogan Güleç until mid October.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Where the heck have I been??

I suspect it's rather a common theme among bloggers that they write like crazy when they are on adventures, and then go quiet once they get back home & into their routines.  Since I'm about to embark upon my annual Turkish sojourn, I thought I'd better get back into the swing of things, blog-wise.
May was a time to finally get warm after the abominable winter we had here on Canada's West Coast.  Seems like the whole planet has screwy weather this year.  Arizona seemed like a good place to dry out, so I headed off with husband André to northern Arizona.  After flying to Las Vegas, we headed out along Route 66.......

And then of course to Grand Canyon....
One of my most favourite places.  The grandeur of the canyon is slightly overwhelming.  Rather makes my heart skip a beat.

We decided against covering huge distances in favour of soaking in a couple of special locales; so, much of our Arizona time was spent in the Sedona and Red Rocks area.  The rock formations are so red and dramatic. It was a challenge for me to watch where my feet were going while my eyes kept drifting upwards to the rock faces all around!

My passion for prehistoric art and all things ancient demanded that we visit a couple of rock-art sites in the Sedona Valley.  Indigenous people who inhabited Arizona's Verde Valley for hundreds of years before Europeans arrived (since about 11,500 BC) produced both pictographs (painting on the rock) and petroglyphs (etching into the rock) which are wonderfully preserved at several sites.
 Pictographs predominate in a cliff dwelling at Palatki, just outside Sedona.

Petroglyphs at the V-V (Vee Bar Vee) Ranch south of Sedona were conscientiously preserved by the Ranch owners over the years, and are now entrusted to the US Forest Service.

I took innumerable photos of these amazing designs, in different light situations, at slightly different times, from a zillion different angles.  I now have a great collection of inspirational snippets for tile and panel design.

And of course I had to photograph wildflowers and animals wherever I found them (my family says I'm famous for this.......).
So, we managed to get ourselves nicely warmed up, and I got re-inspired. Our trip was capped off with an evening of ogling the sights in Vegas.  Quite a contrast from the natural desert -- certainly a different kind of 'wow'!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

After Cheering the Goddess.....

The show is done, and I realize that I've never published all the photos!

Phoenix Rising is a classic representation of femaleness, and embodies all the strength & power with which we endow the Goddess figure.  This beautiful bird is fearless in protecting her young from all danger. Her eyes are full of fire. When danger is too great, or as her life is threatened or nears its end, she sets her nest alight, and is consumed with it in the fiery blaze.  And then, from the ashes of her former life, she rises again in all her glory.

One of the hallmarks of the Goddess through history is Wisdom. Wisdom, as we know, isn't inherent, or instant, or instinctive.  It's garnered bit by bit through life (hopefully), and is traditionally viewed as the realm of the aged.  Historically, women have been viewed as the keepers of tribal & cultural wisdom.
The Crone is old and wrinkled.  She sits serenely beneath a tree by the water, ready to impart her bits of wisdom to any who come to her.

And here is the Crone, in a more modern iteration.  Titled "Blue Ribbon Hat", this piece is good-humoured in its depiction of aging.  Undoubtedly old, the woman sits tall and proud in her peaceful garden. She is slightly defiant....... "I may be old, but I have a new hat!"

The Iconic Patchwork is a collection of Goddess images from different cultures.  I based the tiles on actual images found in archeological sites in Europe, Asia, and the Americas, and gave them my own twist.
The tiles are strung together with steel wire, giving the whole piece a quirky, off-kilter look which I like. Added to the bottom corners are a pair of embossed tin 'milagros' from southern Mexico.

I find early drawings & reliefs exceedingly beautiful.  The art we call 'primitive' is to me very sophisticated in its ability to capture the essence of a form with a minimum of fuss.  My ultimate goal in my work is to convey a feeling, a mood, an idea, through a shape or image that is purified down to its essence.

And one last piece for today -- a fun pair of Hittite-based figurative tiles........
And that's it for now.