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New Bern NC Bench by Janet Francoeur

In ceramics things can be more complicated than they first appear!

New Bern NC Bench by Janet Francoeur – A couple years ago when we were at UNC Hospital I saw benches in the garden. I knew immediately who did the metal work, one of our artists (we used to carry) at Carolina Creations, and sure enough when I called Cindy, she said yes, they had built the bench and a potter from Chapel Hill had made the tiles.

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I asked her to make two of them for me. Cindy said they wanted to make a few changes on the design and after a few months they arrived at our studio. That was a funny story in itself. These benches weigh A LOT! They are made of heavy gauge steel, zinc galvanized to prevent rusting,  painted with high quality marine grade epoxy paints, and like I said are heavy.

The trucker got them off the truck and onto the sidewalk. After some head scratching Michael and I got out two hand trucks and we managed to inch both of the benches closer to the studio door. It was a lot of work and we finally sat down on one of them to rest. Just then two young ladies came along and said “do you need some help?” They picked up each of the benches and carried them into the studio!

Then our lives got really complicated and they have been sitting in our entryway ever since. I’m finally at the point that I can tackle them. On one of the benches I decided to do a new bern scene like I’ve done for some back splashes and platters. The only problem is I use earthenware for the back splashes and platters – and it won’t hold up outside in freezing and thawing conditions.

So you would think I would just go and get other clay. It’s not that easy. There are lots of kinds of clay and they all are not appropriate for tile making. So you have to do a lot of testing, will they fire flat? Will my glazes hold their color at a higher temperature? If there is too much grog in it will I be able to draw a straight line?

Well the first clay I tried had way too much grog in it, I couldn’t get a smooth enough surface to draw on. I’ll use that clay to make some totems with. So I eventually bought 4 different kinds of clay and finally found one I liked.

The clay shrinks as it dries then more again when fired so I had to figure the shrinkage out. The people that blend the clay give you a shrinkage rate but like everything in ceramics you need to do your own testing.

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I rolled out a strip of clay and marked it off by 1/2 inch increments. Then I could use that to measure the bench opening to see how big my clay slab needed to be (also considering room for grout lines between the tiles).

So you can see in this photo that from wet to being fired to cone 5 it had shrunk by a whole inch . 

I made a test of my underglazes to see how the color holds up at the hotter cone 5. Usually the reds burn out but these Spectrum underglazes seemed to hold up. I had to find a clear glaze to go over my underglazes, since the one I’m used to using will not fire to the cone 5 that I need. I glazed half of the tiles with the cone 5 clear gloss and half with cone 5 clear matt. The right side is gloss the left mat, I like the gloss better. In some glazes you can’t see any difference in others you can.

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I got the tiles made….

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dried them, fired them to cone 04 then I drew the image onto the tiles with pencil…then colored with underglazes…

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then covered them with clear glaze and fired to cone 5, which is the vitrification temperature of this particular clay.

Vitrification is the hardening, tightening and finally the partial glassification of the clay. Vitrification results from fusions or melting of the various components of the clay. The strength of fired clay is increased by the formation of new crystalline growth within the clay body, particularly the growth of mullite crystals. Mullite is an aluminum silicate characterized by a long needlelike crystal. These lace the structure together, giving it cohesion and strength. (from The Big Ceramic Store Website)

Then there is the issue of attaching the tiles to the bench. I needed to build up the base and was not comfortable attaching them directly to the metal so I used Wedi Board, Wedi Board is lightweight, easy to cut, and a completely waterproof tile backer board.

I attached the Wedi Board to the bench with a urethane adhesive…I had to figure out what was the best for that – it had to be suitable for a wet application and outdoors.

…then I covered the board with adhesive and attached the tiles leaving even (well kind of even) grout lines.

Once the adhesive had dried I applied grout that I treated for outdoor use.

And DONE! It only took me a couple years to do.

Like I said, things sometimes are more complicated than they first appear.

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Road Trip Southern Italy Part 2 Lecce to Ostuni

Lecce is in the heel of Italy’s boot, with olive trees as far as the eye can see. It is called the Florence of the South because of its baroque architecture. As we found in Bari the shops close from 1-3 for siesta! I don’t remember them doing this in other parts of Italy I have visited. And it might just be in the old part of town that this happens.

While the history of Lecce goes way back the period Lecce is most famous for is the 17th century when the Palaces and churches were built in the Baroque style out of soft local limestone. The Basilica di Santa Croce is the focal point of the old city with its amazing facade. But there are many other fabulously decorated churches in this small space.


You can still see ruins of a Roman amphitheatre which is at the dividing line of the old and new city. The amphitheatre is surrounded by buildings put up by Batista – Fascist architecture – which we saw a lot of in Napoli. It is partly buried because other ancient building were built on top of it. In its day it would hold 20,000. It is still used today for concerts and celebrations. Only the lower tier of seats remain. Near the square theatre there is a pre-Roman necropolis where Messapian inscriptions have been found.

There are a lot of beautiful shops with local art. I don’t recall seeing the pumi before. Pumi are decorative elements in a form recalling a bud that is going to bloom. Symbolizing prosperity and fertility, in the folk culture of the Southern Italy they defend from evil. Deeply rooted in the traditional culture of the ‘heel of the boot’, Pumi are very popular in Puglia, decorating magnificent palaces as well as simple balconies. I could do without the fertility but had to have one to take home.

We had a great time shopping in Lecce, both Bobbi and I met artists and purchased there work. We saw a lot of earthenware sculpture with a white glaze – love it.

This region is also famous for its papier mâché.

Scenes from Lecce.

We went to Otranto for a quick visit, and had a wonderful farm to table meal and wine tasting close by.

We left Lecce the next day and drove to Ostuni – the White City on the top of a hill. Ostuni is located in a region that has been inhabited since the stone age. It is believed to have to been founded by the Messapii, destroyed by the armies of Hannibal during the Punic Wars and then re-built by the Greeks – hence the Ostuni name meaning “new town.”

Its whitewashed defensive walls and houses in the old town with many winding streets, steps and beautifully decorated, colorful window frames can make you think you’re somewhere in Greece. Ostuni’s history is shown predominately within it’s architecture; with many buildings still standing dating back as far as 990 AD when the city was sacked by the Normans and added to it’s own county. The majority of buildings date from 1300 to 1463.

Our guides recipe for limoncello
Translation 1 litre grain alcohol 96 proof
8 organic lemons
1 1/2 pounds sugar
1 litre water
Peel the lemons (use none of the white)
soak the peels in the alcohol for 2 weeks in a dry dark place
strain through a fine linen cloth
make a syrup with the sugar and 1 litre water
———-
for Christmas he adds a cinnamon stick and 16 cloves
strains again
and salute!
It must be drunk very cold – put it in the freezer and drink it from there.
Our lunch spot in Ostuni

As I discovered the last time I was in Italy the further south I got the more I liked the food and the fewer people there were – well once you get away from Napoli.

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Road Trip Southern Italy part 1

My trip started by arriving in Naples, one of the most densely populated cities in Europe. Before I left home I saw a couple of videos and heard people talk about Naples, or Napoli as we were instructed to say (because Naples is in Florida) they said it’s chaotic, dirty, and crowded. It’s all of that but I’m glad I got to walk the streets. The architecture, the street food, the graffiti, the people, all were wonderful (well maybe not the graffiti). Driving from the airport to our hotel, just off Toledo, made me glad I was not driving, it reminded me of driving around the Arc De Triomph in Paris, or pretty much anywhere in Mexico City. You just go and hope others will not hit you, no street lights, hardly any lane markings through some of the city. You walk that way as well, we were told, cross at the crosswalk and be assertive, just step out and they will stop.

There are 60 museums in the city, we visited the Muse o Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli which has many artifacts found at Herculaneum and Pompeii. Some of our group went to Herculaneum, I had been to Pompeii on a previous trip so chose to stroll the streets.

We only got to see one of the Subway stations but Line 1 and Line 6 of the Napoli subway system have become an open-air museum with masterpieces between the staircases and docks. The stations are filled with colors, mosaics, installations, sculptures and photographs. Architects were chosen from across the globe to design each of the stations and international and Italian artists to provide the art. It has made a significant impact on the surrounding areas of the stations they say. Read more about it.

Not on WW but had to have a sfogliatella – The sfogliatella Santa Rosa was created in the monastery of Santa Rosa in Conca dei Marini in the province of SalernoItaly, in the 17th century. Pasquale Pintauro, a pastry chef from Naples, acquired the original recipe and began selling the pastries in his shop in 1818. Yum!

We left Napoli and drove to the city of Benevento –A UNESCO World Heritage Site . They know the Romans were here in 298 BC, there is a large Roman theatre here and the Arch of Trajann. The Arch of Trajan is one of the best-preserved Roman structures in the Campania (as this region of Italy is called).
The church we visited was built in 760 – The Church of Santa Sofia, it’s circular of Lombard design. It was severely damaged in an earthquake a while back but has been restored. It’s interesting that in the construction they used artifacts as building materials, some from the Roman times. They also have a lot of artifacts from that period on their grounds. The church has a  cloister from the 12th century. The church interior was once totally frescoed by Byzantine artists: fragments of these paintings, portraying the Histories of Christ, can be still seen in the two side aps.

The Appian Way is one of the earliest and strategically most important Roman roads of the ancient republic. And it ran right through this arch.

From Benevento we headed east and stopped at an interesting Castle Castel del Monte  or Castle of the Mountain – built in the 13th-century it sits alone on a hill, no need for a moat because being the highest point in the area you could see the enemy coming, even from the sea. It was built by the Emperor Frederick II, who had inherited the lands from his mother Constance of Sicily. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (one of 54 in Italy – of the 1092 sites worldwide, Italy has the most of any country.

The Between Benevento and Bari were miles and miles and miles of olive trees and vineyards. Bari is on the Adriatic Sea. Again – reading about Bari on the internet people kind of pan it. But we were entralled. The ancient part of Bari – Bari Vecchia – is a maze of narrow alleys. It is fascinating. The homes are tiny and much of their living is on the street.

St Nicholas is the patron Saint of Bari. They were preparing for the twice yearly celebrated festival when we were there. If you go on a tour in Europe you invariably go to dozens of churches, the Basilica of San Nicola, is a treasure built in 1087 to house the relics of the patron saint of the city. Today it is a popular destination for pilgrims from all over the world, devoted to St. Nicholas, but especially Russian Orthodox citizens, with whom the city of Bari has important relationships. Putin had even visited there recently.


There is a pasta that they make here – the women sit in their doorways and cut and twist the pasta into shapes called orecchiette – little ears.  Click here to see a video of them cutting and twisting the pasta.

From Bari we headed to Monopoli – a town with heavy Greek influences. The Agean sea is less that 70 miles wide at this point with Albania and Greece being the closest countries to the east.



Our last stop of the day was to visit an olive farm – Masseria Brancati – This is the oldest masseria (fortified farmhouse) in the region. They gave us a tour of their ancient underground oil mill used throughout the Middle Ages and up until 1800. We saw olive trees that were 2000 years old. There are some in the region that are 4000 years old. The oldest trees are given a number and are protected – read about the Millenari Di Puglia. We tasted their oil and learned about the different qualities of them. The first press is the extra virgin and has the most antioxidants and is the strongest. Whether extra virgin or virgin has to do with the time the olive is harvested. Here in this region (maybe everywhere I don’t know) they are harvested first in October, then 2nd in November and 3rd in December. The December harvest is the mildest and the one you cook with. The October is the strongest flavor and most healthy. The November oil falls somewhere in-between.

The trunks of these ancient trees are amazing

We had some rain in the area of Italy “that it never rains” but it didn’t dampen our spirits or slow us down.

Next stop Lecce – called the Florence of the South – in Road Trip Southern Italy Part 2






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Ireland – Scotland Part 1

Exhausted from Hurricane Florence I guiltily decided to go on the trip I had signed up for last fall. I’m glad I did. We set off on a two day train trip from Dublin with Railtours Ireland. We traveled south west through the countryside of Co. Kildare.

We visited the Cliffs of Moher, among the highest sea cliffs in Europe. We were there for about an hour and by the time we left the fog had swept in and you couldn’t see any of the cliffs. This part of the country is breathtaking.

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We drove along “The Burren“. The word Burren means ‘rocky place’. It looks like a a lunar landscape of limestone. We were told that though it seems like there is no soil it’s noted for its diverse flora and fauna, more diverse than anywhere in Europe. Migrating birds from the North Pole and from theMediterranean and points further south bring the seeds that grow in the crevices in the rocks. This area also has many times more rainfall that Eastern Ireland.

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We stopped at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park in Co. Clare.   The castle was built in the 15th Century and is furnished with period furniture and artifacts. I found the grounds most interesting – a 19th century Irish village with buildings from around the region.

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We eventually arrived in Galway, where we had time to explore on our own. One of the highlights was hearing a group of young Irish musicians performing on the street.

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Galway has a lot of young people and lots of tech jobs, It’s history began with a fort built in 1142. Through the Middle Ages it was a thriving port, it was involved in many wars through the ages, the potato famine of the mid 19th century and never regained strong economic growth until the late 20th century.

On day two we went to the Connemara region. When thinking about the area these are the things that come to my mind – few trees – thousands of miles of stone fences – narrow roads – windswept landscapes – mountains – fuschia hedges – sheep – lots of lakes and the Atlantic Ocean.

We stopped at the Kylemore Abbey & Walled Victorian Gardens – which was built in the late 1800s by Mitchell Henry, a successful businessman and liberal politician. It changed hands several times and in 1920 it was taken over by Benedictine Nuns whose Abbey in Belgium had been destroyed in World War II. They opened a world renowned boarding school for girls and restored the Abbey and Garden. The Walled Garden covers 6 acres and had fallen into ruin. In 1995 the Nuns began restoring it and it was opened to the public in 2000. The garden had 21 heated glass houses and a work force of 40 gardeners when it was first established and was compared in magnificence to Kew Gardens.

We continued on the Connemara Loop which was hauntingly beautiful.

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There are only a few towns in the area and my favorite is Clifden.

We heard that if the sheep are on top of the mountain (in this case cows) the weather is going to be good….

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There are a lot of sheep in the area, and they are free range, so you have to be very careful driving on the narrow winding roads because you never know what’s around the corner.
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I loved this area – it’s kind of other worldly.
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We went back to Galway and caught the train to Dublin.

I realize that I know little about the history of Ireland, as part of my blogging after a trip I go back and research the places I’ve been. It was interesting that  looking around Dublin looks like a pretty new city, I made a stupid comment about maybe because it was bombed during WWII. I was corrected – Ireland was neutral during the war so was never bombed. I wondered what else I didn’t know! So have been reading up on their history.

Here is a great timeline.

My mom was a genealogist and I read in some of her papers that our ancestors came from Ireland way back during the time of tribes and clans around 200 A.D. in present-day Ireland. At that time the area a tribe or clan occupied was called a Lyne or Lynne. When the leader of the clan wanted to gather the people they blew a horn, our clan was near the sea and made use of conch shells for their horns, thus “Conchlynne.”  This tribe – Conchlynne – was located where the city of Belfast now stands. for some reason members of the tribe migrated across to Scotland and then south to Nottinghamshire, England where the name is found in the 1600’s. The name turned into Conklin somewhere along the line in the US. When first coming to the US they were glassmakers.

We aren’t going to make it to Belfast on this trip – that will have to wait until next time.

I wasn’t in love with Dublin but did find a few areas I liked. Here are few photos from around town.

Two things that have made a huge impact on this city – Heineken and the musical group U2.
Signs and decorations on buildings…

Learning about the book of Kells at Trinity College (founded in 1592) was really more interesting than seeing it to me, since you can only see two pages, but the lengths the monks went through to make it were extraordinary.  They made it on the isle of Iona, where we are headed when we meet up with others from New Bern.

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The best part about the visit to Trinity College was seeing the long room, the library in the same building (which houses 200,000 of the Universities oldest books). You would recognize it from the Harry Potter movies, They weren’t allowed to use the library in their filming but they based the one they created on it.

Next post….. traveling north to the Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland, and then Scotland. We really didn’t see a lot of either country but what we did see we really like.

 

 

 

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How a piece comes together

I’m often asked to do commemorative pieces to be given as gifts for retirements, birthdays, weddings, etc. The piece I’m showing here was for someone whose career lasted over 30 years and she was involved in many of the projects that have shaped the way our downtown looks today.

First we started with a list of the projects…

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…I took reference photos…


…I built this pot using slabs of clay…

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…bisque fired it to 1950 degrees…
…did rough sketches of the places that were to be included on the pot…


…figured out how they could work together on the piece…
…sketched them on the pot – btw the pencil lines burn out in the kiln…
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…using underglazes painted the image then outlined the image with black line…


…covered the entire pot with a clear glaze…
…fired it again, this time to 1911 degrees…
…and it’s done!
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A one of a kind, special gift.
If you have an idea for a special gift for someone let me know! In my next post I’ll show some other pieces I’ve done for people that aren’t quite so elaborate!