Gary Jackson: Fire When Ready Pottery
A Chicago potter’s somewhat slanted view of clay & play
Categories: classes, lillstreet, olympics

The Great Lillstreet Throwdown : LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!!

With all of the fun going on in PyeongChang, South Korea…
it was only appropriate that we celebrate the Winter Olympics with our own version of competitive fun!

So I chose three team leaders… the forerunners in the weekly challenges!
They then in turn chose their teams in a schoolyard pick. Once the teams were chosen, I gave each Team Leader a sheet for them to fill out with their crew. It listed the ten challenges for the night with somewhat cryptic titles… and lines to fill in with the players who would be playing that game. Once the rosters were filled out… it was time to start the fun!!!

But first things first…. in addition to the Olympic OREOs…
possibly the best Carrot Cake Cupcakes ever… Thanks “Peggy Burnish-shine”!!!

And now that everyone’s all sugared up… on to the games…

Without the benefit of a scale… and only 10 minutes…
One player had to cut chunks off the bag of clay and guesstimate them be pre-determined weights. They could get advice & guidance from their team, but only the one person competing could actually touch the clay!
four @ 1-1/4 pounds  -  one @ 1-1/2 pounds  -  one @ 2-1/2 pounds
         one @ 3 pounds  -  two @ 4 pounds  -  one @ 5 pounds
When done, we actually weighed their guesses and compared to the list.
One point for each 1/4-pound off either way. Team with the LEAST points won the round!

Once we said GO… they had 10 minutes… the two players re-measured the clay balls WITH the scale! And then they wedged them all and put them back under plastic. Here’s the twist… only one person could wedge at a time and they must alternate taking turns. First team to finish wedging all of the correctly measured balls of clay won!

And if you look closely… like Jon Cusack in “Serendipity”… you’ll see “Joe Bowl-a” holding up his iPhone while playing the Olympics theme song to help set the tone!!! So funny!!!

CHALLENGE #3 – STRETCH ARMSTRONGRevisiting a Classic Throwdown Challenge!!!
With four pounds of clay… the chosen player had to make a good slab with no more than five pulls! No slab roller. No rolling pins. No ribs. No tools. We were measuring the largest continuous “rectangle” in the slab. Largest “area” wins.

And if nothing else…. we gave “Susie Greenware” the prize for best dismount!
Look at her hands.. the style… the flourish!

Get the reference?…. “Only You”… “Can make my dreams come true.”
Who sang the classic song “Only You”???

With five pounds of clay… and just 15 minutes… the chosen competitor had to throw the largest diameter platter… THE PLATTERS, get it?! An actual, legitimate platter… it must have a “viable” bottom. And not flopping down. We wired them off… with the guideline that if we see the wire you’re DQ’d!!! Widest diameter WINS!!!

It was so much fun to watch the teams working together so closely. They were all so supportive of each other… yet again with the rule that only the actual competitor could “touch” the clay!

CHALLENGE #5 – ON A ROLLRevisiting a Classic Throwdown Challenge!!!
With 1-1/2 pounds of clay and just five minutes… each contestant had to roll the longest continuous coil by hand. But if it broke, they were done and we measured the longest section left. No re-attaching. Longest coil wins!

With three pounds of clay… and just 15 minutes… each competitor had to throw the tallest cylinder. We were just measuring height. It had to be a traditional, hollow, free-standing cylinder. But here’s the twist… It’s had to be thrown while standing at the standing wheel. Which NONE of my students have ever done before!!! Challenge on!!!

And it was fun to see “Clay Eagerman” getting some tips and encouragement for his turn at the standing wheel. A little consultation before throwing.

With four pounds of clay… and 15 minutes… the next contestant needed to throw the largest serving bowl. “Largest” was measured as height plus width. And here’s the twist… BLINDFOLDED !!!

And again… part of the challenge was that ONLY the contestant could touch the clay. But their teammates could work as “sou chef” giving them advice, suggestions and handing them tools.

After the timer went off… it was HANDS UP and NO MORE CLAY!
So much fun to see the joy & excitement when the contestants got to take off their blindfolds to see their latest creations!

With four balls of clay each 1-1/4 pounds of clay… and 10 minutes… the two contestants took alternating turns of throwing a cylinder. Each player had to throw two cylinders. They had to work together to throw four matching cylinders. Height. Width. Shape.

Here’s the twist…
While one team member was throwing at the wheel…
the other player was operating the foot pedal for them!

With 2-1/2 pounds of clay… and just 10 minutes to throw… the three team members took turns working on the same cylinder. Switching places every 30 seconds. Tallest, free-standing, straight-sided cylinder wins. Yes, I said switching positions and rotating the person throwing on that cylinder every 30 seconds!!! Turns out to be a lot tougher than they expected.

With about eight pounds of clay… and the final ten minutes of class… the team had to work together to make the tallest handbuilt “structure” using just clay, plastic straws and toothpicks!!! Must be free-standing. No tools. No supports. Tallest wins with bonus for creative sculptures!!!

And “Kelly Bisque” getting into it…
shrouding their structure from the peering eyes of the the opposing teams!

And the winners of STICKS & STONES… with the tallest free-standing structure…

It was quite a busy night!!! A lot of fun… a lot of laughter… a LOT of camaraderie & teamwork!!! So much fun for my Throwdown class. Exactly the sort of fun that I was hoping this special Throwdown class would bring out. And it did.

So to finish up our night… we had our own Olympic Closing Ceremony where the contestants actually got their medals! The tally scoreboard was updated with the winners getting GOLD and 30 points!!! Silver got 20 points and Bronze got 10 points. And the fun continues next week with more Throwdown Fun!!!








Categories: classes, olympics

With the Rio Games coming to an end, it seemed only appropriate that we “celebrate” with our own Pottery Olympics. Tuesday night was the last class of the summer session. We typically have a potluck dinner, a pottery exchange and then we sit around without much to do. Typically there is no “wet work” during Week Nine. But in the name of “fun & games” I decided to introduce a little Olympic Throwdown into the mix!!!

So I had my class divide into two teams… choosing schoolyard style. Then I showed them what the seven challenges were going to be… kind of… with fairly cryptic messages. They needed to decide which of their team would be doing each challenge. We then went through them one by one. Seven challenges in all. Not quite a decathlon… but maybe a septathlon relay?!

ROUND ONE : Take a full bag of clay and divide it into even cubes that weigh 1-1/2 pounds each… without the assistance of a scale. They had to guess and even them out as much as possible. It was Catherine versus Taylore… with an initial lead taken by team Taylore!!!

ROUND TWO : Remember those 1-1/2 lb. blocks of clay… well now the race was to wedge them all. So it was Natalie versus Stephen. They were both a little overwhelmed, but impressed with themselves when they had accomplished the daunting task.

ROUND THREE : This bout was Rachel versus Erin to make the best bowl with a perfectly round bottom. At first glance Rachel was the clear winner… with bonus points “sucking up” to the judge (me) with a spiral in the bottom and a split rim pinched together. Two of my favorites. But… upon closer inspection, it was Erin who had a more rounded bottom. Rachel’s was actually a little flatter and wider, but still with a nice curve. Erin’s was more rounded as challenged.

ROUND FOUR : This round was the relay!!! A tag team bout of throwing ten cylinders the fastest. With each team member taking a turn, and then repeating until they had ten. I served as the judge to determine at what point it actually counted as a cylinder. They actually had to throw it, compress it, and make some thin walls before I would call it good.

ROUND FIVE : The challenge was to throw an enclosed form that is the closest to a perfect sphere. We’ve done enclosed forms in class… but never a sphere. Katie took a quick lead, while Sam never really got her’s together. She was close, and kept working at it… but it kind of self-imploded before she could finish the sphere!

ROUND SIX : Throw the tallest cylinder in five minutes.
They centered. They threw. We measured.

After measuring, they were pretty close… too close to call when we averaged out the two heights on Stacey’s angled rim. So I gave them each another minute to perfect it even more. And then we measured again! It was Melissa who won the point with the tallest cylinder she has EVER thrown!!! And now that I know she can do it… I’ll have “higher” expectations for her next session!

ROUND SEVEN : The final challenge… BLINDFOLDED!!!
It was Tony versus Natalie in the final round. They both looked as though they would be facing a firing squad. But instead, they challenge was to center & throw the best cylinder while blindfolded in ten minutes.

It was great to see the teamwork & support of their team members…

Such focus & determination… when I expected it to just be a fun & silly little exercise!!!

In the end it was Natalie who won the Blindfold Challenge. But each of them had a pretty amazing cylinder considering the lengths that I put them through.

It was a wonderful night of Pottery Olympics. And to tell you the truth, I;m not even sure which team won?! We all had so much fun, and everyone was so supportive and encouraging of each other. A great game. Several pots. A lot of clay… that has already been re-claimed & re-wedged. Thanks to everyone in my class for stepping up to the plate… err, podium… for a wonderful game. It was another great session of classes. Ending on a hug night of fun!!! You’re ALL gold medalists in my book!!!



Categories: olympics
Categories: olympics, special events

Looks like the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia are starting with a bang!
And as always, the Opening Ceremonies left us with some incredible visuals. Lots of floating islands. Incredible projection imagery. Thousands of performers. And an incredible gantry system that moved all of the hanging scenery pieces across the stadium. A little disconcerting to hear that this entire stadium, and the MILLIONS of dollars spent on it, is only being used for the Opening & Closing Ceremonies. No sports will be played in there. Seems like a waste… even though it was stunning for us to watch on TV. I can only imagine seeing it in person… some day…

And then there was the moment when they did the traditional “Dove Of Peace” representation that happens at every Olympic Opening Ceremony. However, they did it in an incredible, mesmerizing way… twirling, glowing, undulating… practically flying!

Of course, a production this huge can’t go off without a hitch somewhere. The only one I really saw was when the fifth snowflake didn’t open up into an Olympic ring as planned. No biggie… we still knew what they meant.

Now we leave it up to our American Athletes to go out and conquer Sochi.
Bring on the games!!!… and bring home the GOLD!!!

Categories: olympics, special events

Last night was the kick-off of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics… and I loved it.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of watching sports… that is until the Olympics roll around.
The human drama. The competition. The one-shot-at-making-your-dreams-come-true!
Much better than those professional athletes making millions of dollars for just showing up!
Every time, my favorite part is the Opening Ceremonies. And last night was great.
The excitement. The colors. The pageantry. The emotion. The visual creativity.

It started out a little slow, with four “frozen” totem poles and introductions of the local tribes
of Canada… ho hum… and then they introduced the official Olympic people… again, boring.
I was getting a little concerned. But then it kicked in… and the pageantry began. With a much
smaller budget than Beijing, I think they did a wonderful job. With a lot of lighting, a lot of
dancing, and a lot of projections on white fabric… they created a masterpiece of imagery
as they “toured” the Canadian countryside. From the mountains & prairies… from sea
to shining see. Trees sprouted out of nowhere. Mountains rose from the arena floor.
Prairie grasses waving. Snowboarders skiing from the ceiling. Snow. Leaves. A polar bear.
And a school of whales seemingly “swimming” across the floor spouting water as they
“crested” the ocean’s surface… which was actually the floor?… but appeared to be water?…
but wasn’t?… thanks to the magic of huge floor-covering LED lighting panels. Not to mention
the rockin’ violinists & cloggers who danced with sparks shooting out of their heels!!!

Everything was magical, the excitement and spirit of the Olympics was definitely there to get
the party started. Until the “technical difficulty”… at the climactic moment when all eyes are
upon the four Canadian sports legends holding the Olympic Flames… waiting… and waiting…
for the four supports for the Olympic Flame to rise from the floor… and waiting… as only
three of them came up – and after waiting anxiously, they went ahead with just the three!
The flames were finally lit, and then Wayne Gretsky went out to light the outdoor version
of the Olympic Cauldron… without hesitation, without drama, without technical difficulties!

Typically the Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics are a little less than impressive.
Compared to what they pull out for the Summer version, Winter pales by comparison.
Even without the fresh memories of the spectacular opening in Beijing last summer.
Possibly, the most incredible thing I have EVER seen on television!!! All in all, I think
Vancouver made a valiant effort in the painful “Beijing Follow-up” position. And now…
let the games begin!!!

Categories: Chicago, olympics

Without realizing it… today’s bike ride turned out to be a lakefront tour
of Chicago’s “hopeful” Olympic sporting venues! A quick look around the city
and it’s hard to miss that they’re pulling out all the stops for the 2016 Olympic bid.
Everything is covered… flags… banners… sides of buses… bridges… etc.
Plus, to show the International Olympic Committee where the sporting events would be,
they designated each of the venues with special Olympic flags!


While some are annoyed by the Olympics… concerned about taxes… concerned about
the temporary loss of nature on Northerly Island… issues… issues… issues.
Others are excited about the possibility of the Olympics coming to Chicago!!!
It’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity… and I’m one who’s very excited!!!




It’s a big deal here in Chicago regardless of which side you’re on!
And there’s no way they’re going to let you miss it!