Time flies…

The first month of my apprenticeship has flown by! We three apprentices have now cycled through all of the tasks several times and have decided which tasks we look forward to most.   Working with the local terra cotta we’re using has been, erm, interesting. It has characteristics that one doesn’t usually encounter with commercial clay. You can do some of the things that we’re accustomed to doing but not everything such as fine detail sculpting. The techniques at MPTW were developed to deal with its pros and cons. I call it fluffy because it tears apart very easily and does not like to be mended or smoothed. Even I can wedge up a huge bag of it at once with less effort than that needed for commercial clay of the same size block. It is dark brown and fluffy because has a lot of organic matter in it as it was dredged from a nearby lake and then stockpiled for months before it was brought to the back door to be filtered and mixed on site. And of course, some of this matter acquires a special aroma if you will, once you’ve opened a bag and use it for several days.

The production staff are very knowledgeable and patiently brainstorm with me about my own work. Despite driving back home for a couple days each week, I think I have been fairly productive. I’ve created some new molds and used cookie cutters to make field tile for a small future project yet to be determined. I’ve also brought molds from home to recreate tiles using this fluffy clay for a look altogether different from previous commercial clay versions from the same molds. One mold I brought is of a medieval tile pattern that I used on the Mansion in May fireplace surround. It cries out to be done in the encaustic style and luckily MPTW has recreated its own method to make those that I’ve now learned. (see photo below of unfired encaustic tiles on the left). I hope to have some photos of my own encaustic tiles in the coming weeks. I have a lot of glazing to do and I’ve not yet finished making!

The glaze palette at MPTW seems a bit limited at first blush but it’s enough.  When mixed together, the colors create a unified aesthetic, albeit a bit on the dark side. They don’t seem dark in situ at Fonthill thanks to the terrific number of windows throughout each room. Natural light and heat radiate through them lighting up the floors and walls and reflecting off shiny and colorful glazed tiles.

Speaking of windows, a staff member pointed out where the occasional bat sleeps snugly between concrete and windowpanes of the Tile Works. I finally spotted one this week.  Luckily, he was on the outside and as long as we don’t pull out the windowpane, he will stay that way. There are certainly plenty of gnats flying around at dusk to serve as his evening breakfast when he wakes up. By the way, dusk on a sunny day in the fall season is a beautiful time to admire Fonthill and maybe see a bat or two.

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