Tag Archives | recycle

Red Hook Trading Post


Today I’m hosting an event in my hood with my dear friend Natalie at her creative workspace, Supersmith. If you live in NYC and you’re looking for an excuse to visit Red Hook this evening, come join us. Bring underused items of value such as books, apparel, kitchen stuffs, art/office supplies, holiday gifts that missed the mark, and more to swap for new-to-you items. Or just bring yourself! We’ll have a fire burning, snacks and libations, a sweet dog named Bones, and an 9-week-old kitten named Julio at the Trading Post.

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The clay scraps collection bucket. All of this clay will be rewedged and recycled.

The clay scraps collection bucket. All of this clay will be rewedged and recycled.

Slab pots drying, soon to be bisque fired in the kiln. I like the canvas texture impression on these.

Slab pots drying, soon to be bisque fired in the kiln. I like the canvas texture impression on these.

Thrown and slab bowls.

Thrown and slab bowls.

The urge to make things wells up in me regularly. It’s real and tangible and may even be called a need. Sometimes I’m able to fill that need by cooking a meal, scribbling a drawing in my sketchbook, through photography, or by writing. Other times I’m consumed by a desire to make objects. Useful, functional, quality, beautiful objects. But No Trash practice can be extremely difficult when it comes to studio work.

Lately, while washing my cheaply made, chipped and cracked bowls in the kitchen sink, I’ve been wondering about ceramic production processes on a large and small scale. And as the official start of winter draws near and my seasonal inclination to maximize the amount of green life in my apartment grows, I find myself scrounging for more vessels to accommodate cuttings, separated plant pups, and newly acquired greenhouse perennials. I have been daydreaming of lean windowsill-sized, handmade pots to display them in. The itch to make some ceramics lead me on a trip to the North Shore of Massachusetts this past weekend.

My best friend heads a high school art department in a beautiful seaside town not far from where I was born. I drove up to see her with the intent to make some bowls and pots and to donate four brimming boxes of books (a pile my parents decided to get rid of during their recent move) to her classroom. Books have always stuck to my family and together we’ve amassed quite a collection over the years… and over the years, many of them have sat unopened on shelves. My friend and I sifted through the boxes with one of her students and they happily accepted most of the contents. I like to imagine young art students breathing new life into the books, smearing them with charcoal as they rummage for inspiration.

On Sunday we spent all day and a good part of the night in the classroom studio making ceramic gifts for friends and family. I hadn’t worked with clay since my own high school art class and I had so much fun relearning the basics. A company originally based in Laguna Beach, California called Laguna Clay manufactures the high fire white stoneware clay in Ohio. It comes in a large wedged (kneaded) brick inside a stretch plastic bag. The bricks are shipped to the high school in cardboard boxes from Portland Pottery of Portland, Maine.

Curious about the ingredients and manufacturing processes of clay, I called up the Laguna Clay national headquarters in Los Angeles County and was able to connect with Clay Manager Jon Pacini. He graciously and patiently answered my questions. He told me that the company uses about 8 common minerals mixed in different compositions to create clays with varying properties and characteristics. All of the minerals are obtained from mining companies in the states who distribute them to clay manufacturers, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and livestock feed manufactures. Clay minerals are used as binders to pelletize feed. Yep, as Jon put it, “clay is used in a whole myriad of things we don’t think about.” He was able to break down the white stoneware clay I worked with on Sunday, which is meant to be durable enough to be used for tableware. It’s comprised of fire clay from Missouri, ball clay from Kentucky and Tennessee, silica from Illinois, and feldspar from South Carolina. These minerals are combined with water, mixed in a “pugmill” and compressed into bricks. Pretty simple. The base ingredient in ceramic glazes is silica sand, which is the same sand used to make window glass. Other glaze ingredients include feldspar, zinc, barium, limestone, and calcium carbonate. The pigments come from metal oxides, like iron, nickel, and cobalt oxide. Jon explained that glazes used today are not so dissimilar from glazes that Japanese potters were experimenting with 2,000 years ago.

Under my friend’s instruction, I tried my hand at throwing some small bowls on the wheel. She told me not to worry about messing up because the scrapped clay is rewedged and completely recycled. And it’s a good thing because my first few attempts collapsed. But after sticking with it for a couple hours, I produced a set of small bowls. Through all the fails and few successes, I had a blast! I also made some small slab pots by rolling pounded clay through a press and then wrapping and seaming it around a plaster mould. Once the vessels are dry, they will be fired in the electric kiln for 8-12 hours at 2,000 degrees! The high heat permanently alters the soft porous material, causing the particles to melt and flow together, strengthening the clay. After the bisque firing (the first firing) glaze is applied to seal the still somewhat porous pieces and they are fired again for another 8+ hours.

I love this kind of meditative, careful work, during which time seems to melt off the clock. I was lucky to be able to experience this every day at woodworking school this past summer. While we busied our hands shaping and forming the clay, we played the Ken Burns National Parks documentary series on the classroom computer, rarely glancing up at the monitor, but listening intently to narrated stories of John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt and their work to establish protected “reservoirs” of the natural world. It was a wonderful Sunday.

Since beginning my No Trash Project, I’ve become deeply interested in the life cycle of objects, from the creation or harvesting of source materials used to make each thing I encounter, to the recyclability and biodegradability of those materials once they are disposed of. Taking on different “make my own” projects has led me to a greater understanding of the resources and processes required to produce the quotidian items I possess. My appreciation for the belongings I choose to keep, and my relationships with the objects I use daily continues to grow. So much energy and so many resources are required to bring ceramic making materials (and the packaging surrounding them) to me. So much time, labor, water, and electricity goes into creating each piece of pottery. The things I learned this weekend have changed the way I will look at every ceramic object I meet from this point forward.  

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Along with books from my childhood, I also brought back a diary, which I will keep. It was given to me when I was 5 years old, so as you might imagine, there aren’t a lot of lengthy recordings of my day-to-day activities. Instead, several brief entries like the one above are scattered throughout the book of mostly blank pages. In case you can’t make out the entry, it reads:

“Dear Diary let me tel you about Dolphin. Did you know that there were more than fifdy kind”

Sifting through the belongings I saved growing up, it appears there are some fundamental similarities between the child I was and the adult I’ve become. And I’m filled with the sense that perhaps we’re more than a product of our experiences.

I plan to use the rest of the pages. The paper is good and even in this age of personal electronic devices, I still hand draw and write notes, lists, and ideas on a daily basis. So I figure I might as well fill every inch of this precious little book. Plus I kind of dig the floral fabric cover.

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Book seller

My parents are getting ready to move and one of the reasons for my visit with them last week was to collect some belongings that they’ve generously stored for me over the years. I’ve talked about paring back the items in my apartment to make my No Trash Project run more efficiently, but I left out the fact that I still had a closet full of things in another location. Getting my immediate space down to a carefully curated collection of objects—both essential and beautiful, has felt wonderful. But knowing that there was another out of sight pile that needed to be sorted and unloaded was always a bit daunting, especially since I knew these keepsakes from my childhood would be difficult for me to make decisions about. Nostalgia is a mechanism that operates strongly within me.

Before the electricity went out in the storm, I got through the first of what will probably be several passes. My mom and I sifted through the boxes together, which was not always productive, but very enjoyable. There was a great deal of giggling over construction paper elementary school projects, earnest diary entries by my six-year-old self (brimming with spelling errors), loved and battered stuffed animals and dolls, letters from first boyfriends, and sketchbooks full of drawings and poems. Though everything in those boxes was at one time precious, I was able to fill my car trunk with items to let go of.

The stack pictured above is a sample from two boxes of books I brought back to Providence to sell and donate. These books were at one time well adored (I was really into Roald Dahl), but they have been sitting unread and unopened for years. I decided it’s time to put them back into circulation so that they may have a chance to be enjoyed once again. Today I took the boxes to Cellar Stories—a used bookstore downtown. I like the idea of supporting small local booksellers… and of course it’s always nice to get a little cash in exchange. While the shopkeepers looked through my books I perused the aisles of treasures. Just over half of my collection was accepted and I received about $60. I wasn’t able to leave the shop without purchasing a beautiful vintage botanical book that I will share with a friend. But my load is much lighter. I will try to sell the rest at Paper Nautilus (formerly Myopic Books) in Wayland Square, and whatever they wont take I will donate The Salvation Army.

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It’s trash night on the east side. I’m always amazed by what people put out on the curb, especially with a Salvation Army within a mile of so many homes on the hill. Considering the white piece for studio shelving…

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Bed frame

Built a planting box today for my tomatoes. My landlady suggested the project and I took her up on it. I will put it in a corner in the driveway that gets a lot of sun and hopefully they’ll grow well there. The wood is salvaged from outside the Ajay Land Company building where I share a studio. There was some slight warping to the found boards, so the box turned out a bit wonky, but it will serve it’s purpose well. Now I need some dirt!

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Rubber bands

Finding completely naked produce isn’t easy. Plastic bags, mesh sacks, cellophane, twist ties, tags, stickers, baskets, boxes, and even Styrofoam trays fill the display stands and shelves of nearly every grocery store in the country. Even at my local farmer’s markets, some venders use plastic bags to parcel out salad mix and berry boxes to hold berries and cherry tomatoes.

I’ve learned to avoid all of these offenders and still eat a huge variety of fruits and vegetables, but I decided a while ago to make an exception for the rubber bands that tie together bunches of herbs, dark leafy greens, beets, radishes, and stalky vegetables. A rubber band is a useful thing, but I’ve found that I seldom have a reason to use them and I’m having trouble finding anyone else who does. The grocery store won’t take them back, and I have stocked my office supply closet at work with at least a year’s supply for the entire staff. I’ve also been trying to pass them off to other artists in the building where my studio is located, but no one seems to be chomping at the bit for rubber bands.

I plan to ask venders at the farmer’s market this Saturday (the first outdoor market of the season!) if anyone can reuse them. The best case scenario would be to return them to the source. I’ll post an update when I find a solution.

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Market goods

At the farmer’s market yesterday I picked up some chard from Dave of Schartner Farms. It was a little wilted by the time I got it home but the leaves perked up in some water in the fridge.

I also picked up my stainless steel container from guys at The Local Catch. This week they filled it with fresh scallops from Block Island. I’m so grateful that they have agreed to tote my container to and from the market every week.

I couldn’t resist picking up some herbs from another stand I passed. Lemon balm and mint. The woman helping me said that they would gladly take back the plastic containers to be reused if I return them after repotting.

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So far this holiday season, gift-giving hasn’t been the completely trash-free picture I envisioned several months ago. But this year my family and I managed to make less waste than we’ve made in years past.

The tradition of giving gifts on Christmas, birthdays, mother’s and father’s day runs deep in my family. When we were kids, my parents gave me and my siblings toys in big boxes that spilled out from under the Christmas tree. My mom refers to those years as our pink plastic Christmases, as my sister and I would often receive dolls and doll accessories packaged in pink cardboard boxes with cellophane windows. As we grew older the spectacular gift display under the tree diminished and my siblings and I assumed the duty of giving back to our parents and to each other. Now that we’ve become adults with our own many financial responsibilities, the pressure to give several things has dissipated. This year we all pooled our money to get each person one thing that they wanted. I was in charge of coordinating my mom’s gift–a pair of English leather boots that she can wear hiking in the woods near my parents’ house. I felt good giving this particular gift because I know that if she takes care of them, she’ll have the boots for the rest of her life.

For many years now I’ve been wrapping gifts in unbleached craft paper from rolls I’ve bought at art supply stores. This was in part an effort to save money on gift-wrapping, but also to use a material that was less taxing on the environment than glossy wrapping paper. I also prefer the look to most patterned papers. This year I had grand plans to wrap all my gifts in fabric with different furoshiki techniques. But I ran out of time and decided to use a large piece of craft paper that my friend Kara had used to wrap the beautiful gift (two ceramic hanging planters) she made for me this year. The piece was just large enough to wrap my mom’s boots in, but because it had been used to wrap the planters, it was creased in many places. So I decided to give the paper a more deliberate, even texture and I crinkled it all over. I used paper tape in a few select places instead of plastic scotch tape. I finished it with a white ribbon from my ribbon stash–a jar full of fabric ribbons I’ve collected and re-used over the years.

Stockings are also a part of our tradition, but this year I didn’t give any stuffers. Mindful of my No Trash Project, my mom didn’t fill my stocking with packaged goods. Instead she gave me the wool running socks I had asked for and an olivewood spoon for my kitchen.

I’ve been making hemp cloths for friends, which I will give without any wrapping when I see them. I have many loved ones with birthdays coming up in January. I plan to give homemade and home cooked gifts. Homemade granola in glass jars wrapped in furoshiki cloth is what I’m imagining. I also love the idea of giving an experience as a gift–particularly surprise experiences, which I’ve been doing lately, even though some of my squirmy kidnapped friends find the trip to an unknown destination torturous. The looks on their faces when we arrive at a special place or event is totally worth it.

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