Tuesday, April 12, 2011

buy a vase, support japan

Whenever a big earthquake happens in the world, I feel a special connection to the event because of my own experience of a devastating earthquake. I came through the Loma Prieta earthquake totally unscathed--I'm nothing if not lucky-- but it was still an event that changed my life. It made me realize how fragile life is, and how my own life is so small. It was a very good lesson for a 19-year old, and I am always grateful for the experience.

The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan was even more relevant to me because of my Japan connection. Some of you may remember that back in the summer of 2007 I went to Kanayama, Japan for a month to do a residency. It was, and remains, one of the highlights of my career. I was not overly concerned for the people who hosted me because they were far enough away from the epicenter, but I knew immediately that I must do something to help. My former hosts are doing something: they have pledged to make 15,000 cups to donate to the survivors of the earthquake and tsunami. Many people are homeless and have lost everything, and this is how they are helping people re-stock their cupboards. Cups are everything in Japan, daily tea drinking is part of the everyday culture, so this is not a small gesture.

By the way, 15,000 cups may seem like an impossible number, but the staff at Kanayama has been making 700 cups a day, and at last check they had completed 6,000 cups 12 days ago. This is between 5 people. They are probably done by now. I learned so much about production while I was working there.

I am sending my own donation of cups to Kanayama this week as a token gesture of support. I will also be sending straight cash from sales from a collection cherry blossom vases I made just for this effort. Cherry blossoms are a special symbol in Japanese culture. They also represent the relationship between the United States and Japan. The famous cherry blossom trees in Washington, DC were a gift from Japan in the early 20th century to symbolize the friendship between Japan and the United States. This is particularly poignant to me when I think about World War II, but I will save these thoughts for another day.

In case you have not figured it out yet, I want you to go buy one of my vases right now. 50% of the retail price will go to the Japan cause. They will only be available online until May 6, so don't sit around saying to yourself, "So pretty...!" because then they will be gone and you will lose your chance to get a gorgeous vase AND donate to people who need your money. And when I say "people" I mean myself, too. I need your money. So I can send it to Japan! The vases are moderately priced so they are affordable, not to mention beautiful, one-of-a-kind, and perfect for spring flowers.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

the cost

I just had to deal with a very clueless customer. He ordered a set of dinner plates from me that he clearly thought were too expensive because he wanted a discount (I didn't give him one,) then started hounding me within a week about when they would be done, and groused bitterly about how long he had to wait. This customer, by the way, will never be allowed to order anything from me again, I keep a blacklist right next to my bed and his name is on it. I made an attempt to explain the process of making a set of anything ceramic, why it costs what it does, and why it takes longer than 5 days, but I don't think I got through to him. In fact, this person seemed to think I was taking his money and putting him on the back burner just to make him wait even longer. Which, after that conversation, I did.

It must be said that this customer type is very rare for me, most of my people are incredibly patient and tolerant of delays. Recently, I was trying to send out a bird creamer/sugar set to a customer. It's almost always small stuff that ties me up in knots. First, the creamer comes out and the yellow glaze on the bird ran over onto the robin egg blue of the creamer itself. The yellow glaze is very runny, and you have to glaze it in a very particular way to mitigate the running issue. Sold that one as a second, contacted the customer that the order would be late, and went for round two.

This time, the bird comes out perfect, but there is a big pinhole on the side of the piece. At this point, it's been 14 days since the order was placed. I fill in the pinhole with a mix of clay and glaze-- a trick I learned from Joanna Mendicino-- and pop it into my baby kiln which can do a firing cycle in 12 hours from pressing the button to pulling out the pieces. The creamer comes out great-- no more pinhole-- but I put the handle up against the side of the kiln like a total rookie, so now I have some kiln brick attached to the handle. I stomp around in a circle of fury for 10 seconds, then grind the kiln brick off, touch it up with some more glaze, back into the baby kiln. Next day, a perfect piece. Final count for this one $44 creamer: 16 days, 2 separate pieces, 5 firings, including the bisque firing.

And for those of you wondering, this customer was totally cool about it and thanked me for my quality control. You are welcome! And the plates? Out of the seven I made, the four I actually needed came out perfect, shipped off to the persnickety customer, for which I received a half-hearted "thank you." You're welcome... I think.