Beholding Beauty Art Center hosts reception for multiple art installations in May

by: Matthew Caine

There are three amazing artists, each a virtuoso of their chosen forms, exhibiting for the month of May at the Willits Center for the Arts. The latest shows, which both had an opening reception on Saturday night, are an eclectic blend of creativity and expression. Upstairs are the paintings and texture studies of Holly Cratty, a fine artist and poet who unfortunately passed away in 2012. In the main gallery downstairs is the show collectively known as “Vessels,” which is a juxtaposition of HP Bloomer’s ceramic vessels and Craig Gardner’s photographs of the “vessels” that are pregnant and nursing mothers. Holly Cratty, who was known locally through her work at the Blue Sky Gallery, was a renaissance artist who practiced various forms of paintings, from stunning sunsets and seascapes, to deep texture studies. According to her husband, Scott Cratty, she would obsess on one form of painting until she exhausted her energy and interest in that form. Then she would find another discipline and work on that form until she would find another technique that would interest her. Her dedication is evident in the work that is being shown in the upstairs gallery. She also wrote books of poetry, one of which is available at the gallery. Gallery manager Holly Madrigal reached out to Scott Cratty to fill the space, which was a challenge, as Holly Cratty’s work is being shown in seven galleries concurrently and there was – at a first look – little left to show other than some “juvenilia and intense geometric abstract stuff” which may not have been apt for the space. Luckily, Scott Cratty was able to find some excellent examples of his wife’s work, which will be exhibited for two months in her show titled, “One of a Kind.” The Crattys are known in the area for opening the Westside Renaissance Market in Ukiah at 1003 West Clay Street. The market is the “last neighborhood market in Ukiah,” specializing in local foods and a vast variety of beer. HP Bloomer IV’s work, in the lower gallery, is a blending of various forms of ceramics, which are decorated with iconic and primitive-seeming designs. “[The] patterns originate from an interest in interior design, fashion design, architecture and painting,” reveals Bloomer. “The patterns, through repetition, become narrative for me. I use them in the context of personal language as it relates to people close to me, experience, or geography. I use them to tell my story.” Bloomer comes from a creative ceramic family in Texas. He was exposed to the art form at an early age by his mother who has a master’s in ceramics. He now lives in Cobb and teaches ceramics and sculpture as an adjunct professor at Mendocino College in Ukiah. He originally pursued a degree in painting and drawing, but ended up with a master’s in ceramics. Bloomer asked the gallery to place flowers in some of his pieces. He likes his work to have function as well as form. “There is something nice about ceramics that, when it’s approached correctly, is a bit subversive, in that most of the objects are generally very accessible to the viewer,” he shares. “Anyone can relate to a mug, or a cup, or a butter dish. Our society is so far away from handmade objects that in some regards, I consider it a rebellious act to make an art object that is a functional, everyday piece of art that the owner can interact with in very personal spaces in their lives. Bloomer concludes: “So I’m kind of putting that message into their hands and sending it out into the world. People then can be creative in the way they display the piece, where they place it, and how they use it.” Photographer Craig Gardner has been an integral member of the Willits Center for the Arts for several years, participating in the Willits Photo Club and their yearly shows. He came up with the concept for this show a few years ago when he observed controversy concerning mothers nursing in public – an act that he considers a beautiful rite between mother and child, and one that should not be stigmatized and vilified by the misperceptions of people who fail to see the beauty.


Here is a link to the original and full article:


These are a few clays that I have tested for shrinkage and temperature range from around the Cobb Mountain Arts & Ecology Project area. This area is rich in volcanic activity and many of the clays are derived from rhyolites, which are silica rich volcanic rocks, formed during those actives.  It would seem that several of them are quite similar when fired but will often have slight nuances in texture and particle size or inclusion. These are all tests that I ran a few months back and am just getting to publishing now.  All tests were run in electric/oxidation except for the final cone 10 tiles which were fired in gas reduction. There are a few more clays that I have not shared in this post but may add later on. I hope that this can become a resource for future makers in the Cobb area and a inspiration for those of you who are interested in finding local clays.


Adams Springs Bluff Clay

GPS: 38.857996, -122.719689

Very coarse grained clay that begins to vitrify at cone 6 and starts sticking to surfaces at cone 10. It may need some amending to be workable but has a lot of potential.  I did not make a shrinkage bar for this clay.


Big Creek 175 washout 2

Big Creek/175 Wash Out Clay

GPS: 38.857517, -122.722183

This is a very fine but slightly sandy clay found in the banks of Big Creek as it intersects CA Highway 175 less than a mile from Cobb Mountain Arts & Ecology Project. Because it is from active alluvial deposits its reliably is questionable.  It begins to become vitrified around cone 6 and starts sticking to the shelf at cone 8. By cone 10 the clay has become glossy and is more actively fluxing. This was not tested for shrinkage.



Bottle Rock Road Dark Brown Clay (mile marker 3.6 East Side of road)

GPS: 38.899102, -122.790808

A very sticky dark chocolate brown when raw and full of obsidian inclusions from the east side of the pull out at Bottle Rock road near mile marker 3.60. In tests the clay started vitrifying after cone 6 and started sticking to the shelf/trays around cone 8 although this might have been due to the melting of the pervasive obsidian inclusions common to clays from this source. This clay was not tested for shrinkage.



Bottle Rock Road Light Brown Clay (West side of road near mile marker 3.60)

GPS: 38.898739, -122.791109

This is a very sticky clay very similar to the dark brown clay. It is slightly lighter in color when raw but fires to the same statistics as the dark brown.  It is undoubtedly the same vein of material as the previous clay although it may be easier to source as it is more readily available at the surface. It still has quite a bit of obsidian in it and would need to be screened. No shrinkage information is available for this clay.


Bottle Rock MM3.6 clay

Bottle Rock Road Clay 1

GPS: 38.898559, -122.791181

This clay comes from a feeder creek that runs parallel to the west side of Bottle Rock road and empties into the source for the dark and light brown clays previously mentioned. Although it fires to a much lower temperature it is much cleaner and has much less obsidian in it. It vitrifies around cone 3-4 and bloats and melts after cone 5. It would make a nice clay body for anyone working at cone 2-3 and with some amendments could certainly be useful at cone 5. The source is easily dug and just off the road. No shrinkage tests were done for this clay.



Bottle Rock Road White Inclusion Clay (mile marker 3.60)

GPS: 38.899108, -122.791128

This very white, sticky, and plastic clay is found in small inclusion in the sandy obsidian riddled cliff at the mm 3.60 pull out on Bottle Rock road. It is a very sandy but very nice clay but does not come in any great quantity and using it as a source material may add to cliff deterioration. It begins to vitrify at cone 8 and is nice even up to cone 10. No shrinkage data was collected for this clay.



Bottle Rock Road North (mile marker 1.9)

GPS: 38.920129, -122.804331

This is a very nice, smooth, fine clay from just north of the previous Bottle Rock samples. It is on the west side of Bottle Rock road and just before another sandy white exposure. The clay is underneath a grassy outcropping and is a yellowish tan color when raw. With a little testing and work it would be a good low to midrange clay. Although the test samples we took were relatively free of any obsidian inclusions it might need a little bit of screening to insure that all debris is removed. This clay seems to loose its porosoty around cone 4-5 and by cone 6 it is starting to bloat and become brittle. All samples fired to cone 8 & 10 were unidentifiable puddles. so it might work well as a glaze component.

Shrinkage: Cone 01: 5%, Cone 2: 10%, Cone 4: 11.5%, Cone 6: 9% (at cone 6 it starts bloating and expanding.)



Glenbrook Clay

GPS: 38.852581, -122.757539

This is another clay from Bottle Rock Rd here in the Cobb area. Its less than 3 miles from the Cobb Mountain Arts & Ecology Project and accessible from a road cut. The Glenbrook clay is on the east side of Bottle Rock near the Glenbrook intersection. It fires very similarly to the previous Bottle Rock sample from mile marker 1.9 but is slightly redder and melts at a lower temperature. It has a very nice and slightly sandy quality and would be nice for working with in the cone 1-2 temperature range. It was porous in tests up to cone 4 and then bloated and slumped but cone 6. So it is a very open clay body that could use some amendments if one wanted to use it in their work. The cone 8-10 tiles melted completely and might be suitable as glaze components for those working at that temperature.

Shrinkage: Cone 01: 5%, Cone 2: 6%, Cone 4: 6%, Cone 6:8%



Running Trail Clay 1

GPS:  38.857720, -122.731303

The Running Trail Clay is from a property that abuts the Cobb Mountain property to the south and may be part of the parent material for the Big Creek Clay. This clay is pretty irregular in particle size and has a 10-12% shrinkage rate. Although it holds together quite well up to cone 6 it does crack quite a bit making it impractical for functional items but potentially useful for sculptural use. In these tests the clay had completely vitrified by cone 6 and started sticking to the test trays by cone 8. It may need some kaolin additions to make it a workable cone 10 clay.

Shrinkage: Cone 01: 10%, Cone 2: 12%, Cone 4: 12%, Cone 6: 10%, shrinkage bars warped and were unreadable beyond cone 6.



South Side Parady Property Clay 1

GPS: 38.859771, -122.727677

This is a extremely thixotropic clay from the south most side of the Cobb Mountain property. It would need to be blended with a more utilitarian clay to make it it workable but might provide a source of clay to use for amending shorter, lower firing clays. It has some inclusions in it and would need to bee screened before use. It seems to be relitively refractory as far as clays in this area go and only starts to vitrify at cone 8. It has a relitively low shrinkage rate coming in under 10% up to cone 8.

Shrinkage: Cone 01: 7.5%, Cone 2: 8%, Cone 4: 8%, Cone 6: 9.3%, Cone 8: 9.5%



South Side Parady Clay 2

GPS: 38.859771, -122.727677

This is a clean (obsidian free) but slightly short clay just a few meters away from the previous sample. It is exposed in a road cut along the firebreak that defines the south side of the property. It has a slightly higher shrinkage rate than the previous sample but is much more workable. This clay starts vitrifying at cone 6 and is vitreous by cone 8. Both this sample and the prior are slightly less accessible and would require bagging and a hike up a steep hill to access.

Shrinkage: Cone 01: 10%, Cone 2: 11%, Cone 4: 11%, Cone 6: 12%, Cone 8: 12%, Cone 10: 12.5%

Well that is all the clays I have tested from the area thus far. I hope you enjoyed the results.

I am editing a few images. Mostly of work from my firing last week. Here are a few images of pieces that are in my show at Willits Center for the Arts.


Here is a small sampling of work from the last firing. I dont have a good photo set up here yet and am making due in the gallery so there are lots of shadows. Enjoy!


I was finally able to get a soda firing in after I got back from Texas from the holidays. I made a few changes to the bag wall before I loaded. In previous firings the heat was not being pulled through the kiln evenly so I loosened up the bag wall to help with this distribution. The previous two firings had been with other people and this was the first time I had the kiln all to myself. On the first firing we had green work in the kiln and fired until 2000° F solely with wood and then hooked up and turned on the burner system. The second firing I shared with Scott Parady who put green work in again so we had to go slow but only used gas. No kiln logs were kept for either of these firings unfortunately. This firing I fired cold with no preheat as I bisque all of my work and wasn’t firing anything of a large scale. I let the kiln warm with one burner on low for the first half hour and then slowly started adding wood. I continued adding wood consistently until around 1500° F and had turned on all three burners within the first hour and a half. Although I continued to add wood sporadically through out the day the wood seemed to be more of a hindrance than a help in gaining temperature. I added a little more soda than I had in the previous firing as well as a small amount of salt. The last firing was overly dry. I had cut the amount of soda from 3 lbs to 2 lbs in firings 1 & 2 but went back to 3 lbs sprayed in near the end of the firing as well as about a cup or so of salt which I spread on a log that I stoked. I am pleased with the amount of surface I got through out the kiln, although it was a little dry near the stoke door where I was spraying.

This firing was 5-6 hours shorter than the previous two firings, had no preheat, and was more even temperature  and atmosphere wise throughout the ware chamber. I would like to have used more wood to get more ash effect but I am happy with the outcome overall.

Here is the kiln log if you want to look at it:



First Firing of the Cobb Mtn Art & Ecology Wood/Gas Soda Kiln Designed by HP Bloomer & Scott Parady

Back in October I designed a soda kiln for Cobb Mtn Art & Ecology Project with Scott Parady. We had a limited amount of space and needed to tie into the stack that already existed for the train kiln, as well as keep the kiln as versatile as possible. Initially Scott wanted to have the kiln exclusively gas fired, but we eventually decided to make it a hybrid that could do both gas and wood but did not need one exclusively over the other.  We have fired the kiln twice so far and are still making adjustments to the bag wall in order to create a more even distribution of heat from top to bottom. The design was initially to be a catenary arch, but as I got into drawing up the plans we realized that the space would be greatly limited by having a completely catenary arch. This is why the flue side of the arch is a barrel arch and the firebox side is a catenary. Choosing to do this was quite an adventure for me, especially since we were building completely with straight bricks and did not have any arch bricks.

I decided on a cross draft and down draft hybrid based on personal experiences I have had with both types of kilns. The cross draft style of kiln gives great directional effects but frequently is inefficient in fuel use and has cold spots. Having cold spots in a kiln means that there are points where the flame is not heating efficiently. To resolve this you either have to over-fire the rest of the work or sustain a peak temperature for longer in order to let the heat “soak” in these areas which can also be equivalent to over-firing the rest of the kiln. By dropping the flue below the ware chamber the flame is drawn down and through the wares, and so the flame heats the ware chamber more efficiently.   Since we have no natural gas lines in this area and have to run off of propane, which is more expensive, it seemed to make sense to have a more efficient type of kiln that gave the option of being woodfired or gas fired.

Overall this is proving to be a great little kiln that can be filled fairly quickly. Firings have also proven to be less expensive than I had initially thought they might be. My previous experiences with propane to cone 10 have cost $180-200 per firing. We started the first firing without the gas and fired up to bisque temperature solely with wood. This didn’t seem to use too much wood and took us about 16 hours to get to ~2075° at the top of the arch. We turned on the gas around midnight and took it up to 2400° in three hours.  The last firing I shared with Scott before our Studio Open House and Sale in November was only propane fueled and used only $148 in propane. I think that we can speed the firing up when firing only bisqued work. I am gradually opening up the bag wall so that the kiln fires more evenly top to bottom, and am waiting for the shelves that this kiln was designed for. It was designed to use the standard 12″ x 24″ silicon carbide shelf instead of the shelves that we are currently using.

Fun things we did with this kiln that were new to me:

  • King brick as grate system. Used 13.5″ King brick as the grate instead of steel bars. We did this because we already had the brick and did not want to have to buy steel bars which would more quickly erode when exposed to the soda in the kiln.
  • Complex arch. This was done to give more usable loading space for work.
  • No arch brick. The arch was also built, as mentioned above, with no arch brick. This means that all bricks are straight and not keyed. All adjustments to the curvature were done with mortar.
  • Doglegged flue. The flue is at a 45 degrees to the kiln and the stack. This was because we needed to move the kiln over so that it would not block a spy on the train kiln and to give us more space in the kiln area.
  • Burner Manifold. We included a manifold between the propane line and the burners. We did this to equalize pressure so all burners received a equal amount of fuel.
  • Excavated firebox. Because we were tying in to a preexisting kiln our flue level was already at a fixed position. This meant that we had to excavate the firebox to have it be at the appropriate height. That is why we have a bricked-in clean-out pit in front of the kiln. Normally potters get around this by having the kiln elevated on cinder blocks and building individual chimneys for each kiln but this requires a great number of bricks and space. Tying two kilns together can limit firings to one at a time but can save a lot of space an bricks.

If I were to build this kiln again:

  • If I were to build this design again with more time and resources I would include more primary airs for the coal bed and firebox.
  • I would take more time to build a more complex floor that further recessed a channel for the flue into the floor.
  • I would like to make the firebox a little wider with a deeper recess for the coal bed.
  • I would give more space for a shelf to slide in behind the kiln and close it off. This is not something I want to allocate a pristine new shelf to, and older shelves have a tendency have a curve or accumulation on them that need to be accommodated with a slightly wider slot.
  • I like catenary arches for larger kilns and even more so when the arch is perpendicular to the stack. If I were to build this kiln again I would go with a sprung arch or a barrel arch to accommodate more room for work, the firebox, and the stoke hole. Building these types of kilns requires more steel for a frame to brace the arch.

I never posted this when I left New Mexico in August and am now in Cobb California, a very small community in Northern California which is home to the Cobb Mountain Art & Ecology Project. I began a residency at the end of August and have been helping around the property and with various other projects. This semester I will begin to teach at Mendocino College in Ukiah as a replacement for Doug Browe while he is on vacation for the semester.

The goals of the Cobb Mountain Art & Ecology Project as set forth by Scott Parady, who owns the property, are to 1) encourage art making and experimentation in ceramic art, 2) teach stewardship of the land, 3) promote sustainable living , and 4) build community. We have had 6 long term resident artist since this summer and just said goodbye to Zach Wollert who has accepted a tech job in Iowa. The overarching structure is to have 3 long term (1 year or more) residents and 2-3 short term residents or guest artists who stay live and work at the 3,000 sq ft studio space. We currently have a woodfired train kiln, a wood/gas soda kiln, two Bailey updraft gas kilns and a electric Cress kiln for bisqueing and midrange firings.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Prehistoric porridge? First pots for plant cooking found

  • Seeds found during the excavationsImage copyrightSAPIENZA, UNIVERSITY OF ROME
Image captionSeeds found during the excavations

Prehistoric people may have cooked wild grains and plants in pots as early as 10,000 years ago, according to new evidence.

Scientists say the food was “a kind of porridge”, acting as the staple diet when there was no meat from hunting.

The pottery fragments were found at two sites in the Libyan Sahara, which was then green and fertile.

The ability to prepare plants and grains in pots would have been a big advance at the time.

Dr Julie Dunne, of the University of Bristol, said: “This is the first direct evidence of plant processing globally, and, remarkably, shows that these early North African hunter-gatherers consumed many different types of plants, including grains/seeds, leafy plants and aquatic plants.”

Green Sahara

The Sahara was then a green savannah dotted with lakes and rivers.

It was populated by herds of large animals, including hippos and elephants.

The people living there would have gathered wild grains from grasses, leafy plants and aquatic plants.

“The invention of thermally resistant pottery, which allowed plants to be boiled for prolonged periods, considerably broadens the range of plants prehistoric people could eat, including previously unpalatable or even toxic plants,” Dr Dunne added.

The Libyan Sahara looks very different todayImage copyrightTHINKSTOCK
Image captionThe Libyan Sahara looks very different today

Stones used for grinding have also been found near the fragmented pottery, suggesting grains were pounded into flour.

“Or they may have just boiled the grains for prolonged periods and made a kind of porridge,” Dr Dunne said.

“Interestingly enough, that is one of the staples in Africa today – it may be that this has a very long history.”

Pots were invented twice in human history – in East Asia about 16,000 years ago, then in North Africa some 12,000 years ago.

The researchers studied more than 100 broken pieces of ceramic material from archaeological sites at Takarkori and Uan Afuda in the Libyan Sahara.

They found that the pots were used to process a wide variety of vegetation.

The researchers discovered this by analysing the carbon isotope ratios of oily residues preserved in the pottery.

A fragment of potteryImage copyrightSAPIENZA, UNIVERSITY OF ROME
Image captionA fragment of pottery

The pots predate plant domestication and agriculture in the area by at least 4,000 years.

“The finding of extensive plant wax and oil residues in early prehistoric pottery provides us with an entirely different picture of the way early pottery was used in the Sahara compared to other regions in the ancient world,” said co-researcher Prof Richard Evershed, also from the school of chemistry at the University of Bristol.

The pots were later used to process animal products including milk.

Plant diets

Early humans had been eating plants for as long as three million years.

Plants from Takarkori - grass (d), cassia (e), fruit (f), grass (g) and grain (e)Image copyrightARCHAEOLOGICAL MISSION IN THE SAHARA. SAPIENZA UNI
Image captionPlants from one of the sites: grass (d), cassia (e), fruit (f), grass and grain (g and e)

At first, ancient people would have dined on fruits and berries which are soft and easy to digest.

Later, woody parts of plants may have been charred on fires, perhaps in open pits, to make them more edible.

The invention of pottery made it possible to cook plants by boiling, making them much more palatable and less toxic.

This would have been hugely significant in human history.

Starchy foods are a good source of energy and nutrients.

Cooked plants and grains could also have been preserved for future use.

They would also have been soft enough to feed to babies, perhaps leading to earlier weaning of infants thus boosting the fertility of women.

The research is published in the journal, Nature Plants.

Follow Helen on Twitter.

I finally got a few pieces through a few electric firings and will share some images with on but I also wanted to say a little about a group show I just did with Neil Celani, Virgil Ortiz, Adam Field, Forrest Middleton, Ben Carter, Rachel Donner and Justin Crowe. The ClayScope show was organized to explore the physical communities that digital social networks provide. We had a great reception on Friday and will be opening up our online shop this Monday (8.1.16). You should be able to visit the shop through the clayscope website.


ClayScope Particpants: (L-R) Justin Crowe, Rachel Donner, HP Bloomer, Virgil Ortiz, Neil Celani, Adam Field, Ben Carter, & Joe (Sorry Joe I dont know your last name) from Periscope.

I will be making a few brief Periscope appearances as I am packing up my house over the next two weeks and hitting the road August 12 to move to California. My Periscope handle is hpbloomer so please go download the app and follow me.

Here are some images of new work some of which will be available in the Clayscope store.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.