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Handmade plates with kid made drawings.

custom_kid_plates

For my daughter Ada’s birthday, she asked to do a pottery project as part of her 5th birthday celebration.  We brainstormed ideas for a while.  We weren’t going to be able to do a hands on / wet clay project this year.  So we decided to do kid drawings on plates.

I made a 7″ circle on paper as their template for their plate designs.  They had pencils, thick Sharpies and thin Sharpies and all dove into drawing quite quickly.  I love the confidence and lack of inhibitions they had when they did their drawings.  I know at some point in time, most kids become more self conscious with their art. I’m trying to preserve that confidence that my kids have for as long as possible.  I turned the images into decals and applied them to the plates  and fired them onto plates glazed in the colors that the kids picked out.

Ada's 5th birthday

 

They turned out great.  It was a fun collaboration with Ada and her friends. I love that there is a big group of kids eating their meals off of handmade plates that they decorated!

Here is the collection of each of the kids’ finished plates.  You can click on any of them to see them larger.

A few little notes:

  • Don’t forget, you can get kid sized dishes  as well as many other pots in my Etsy Shop. I’ve been busy are restocking it several times a week with new pots!
  • Be sure to check out Pots in Action on Instagram this week.  I’m guest hosting with the theme #PIAurban.
  • Follow me on Facebook and Instagram for regular updates!

    Emily Murphy Pottery porcelain mug

I’m guest hosting Pots in Action this week!

I’m honored and excited to be guest hosting this week’s Pots in Action challenge, #PIAurban.

#PIAurban

Ayumi Horie started the @potsinaction Instagram feed over a year ago. I’ve been a fan of Ayumi’s work for years.  Both her pots and also her approach to sharing clay in the world – both online and in the community.  Innovative videos like this and this.  And exciting projects like Portland Brick. Not to mention activism such as Handmade for Japan. Years ago, she started a collection of photos on her website of her pottery being used by their owners/ collectors submitted by those using them. She entitled this project, Pots in Action.

In part, I’m a potter because I see pots as having the incredible privilege of being part of people’s private, everyday lives. Because of this intimacy, we let our guard down around pots, allowing them to convey ideas about aesthetics, function, and social issues. Through repeated use, pots can create habit and be comforting, creating memory for those using the pots. They are objects of service and conduits between people.

These pots are independent of me; they are finding their own way and accumulating histories with various people, in various homes, in various places around the world. Many thanks to all those who use my pots and contributed to this project. Keep the pictures coming.

Her “Pots in Action” project grew and developed and took on another form with the Instagram feed, @potsinaction.  It is not limited to her work.  It is open to anyone’s work.  Each week there is a guest host who chooses a theme (with Ayumi’s help and guidance) to challenge followers. From PIA’s Facebook page:

Pots In Action is a crowdsourcing project that collects and features the best images of handmade pottery in use by potters and ceramic appreciators all over the world. Some are candid, others are posed; what they have in common is taking the pot off the shelf and putting it to work in the kitchen, out of the kitchen, wherever pots can be found…. Part of our mission is to help potters and lovers of ceramics to take better photographs. We want to help people make images that are as compelling and exciting as the work itself.

This week’s challenge, #PIAurban, debuted tonight with this write-up shared by Ayumi:

Before most potters even had websites, Emily Murphy (@potteryblog) was blogging about ceramics. This week, she tours cities for us with #PIAurban. After studying ceramics and metalsmithing at Earlham College, she spent 10 years in Chicago at Lillstreet where she taught and had a studio. She’s now based in Minneapolis where she’s made the switch to soda-fired stoneware to cone 10 porcelain. Being true to the material and firing continues to be at the heart of her work.

Emily writes, “I’m fascinated by pots, potters, studios and kilns in cities. When I first started making pots, the image of the potter that was impressed upon me was that of the country potter. Further education was through apprenticeship until you were ready to set up your own shop on your own piece of land and continue the tradition of the country potter. In the city, expensive real estate, zoning laws, close neighbors and a fast pace aren’t necessarily conducive to making ceramic objects, but because of those constraints, interesting solutions often evolve. With this week’s #PIAchallenge, I’m interested to see the influence of the city on the maker. How does the density of an urban setting encourage collaboration and shared spaces and equipment? How does the space in a city influence the scale of ceramic objects? What are the ways that the approach to clay is similar or different to a rural potter? Are there any urban potters using locally sourced clay? What’s happening with clay in the urban environment that isn’t happening elsewhere? Who is thriving BECAUSE they are in a city? What’s happening with clay in urban centers, internationally? It’s been inspiring to research the city side of clay with #PIAUrban and I’m excited to see how others interpret and respond to this theme.” A round of 👏👏👏 for Sarah Archer @sarcherize for#PIAadoptedcountry! –@ayumihorie

#PIAguesthostEmilyMurphy #emilymurphy #urbanpotter#urbanpottery #cityceramics #minneapolis #mpls #minnesotapottery #potterystudio #pottery#ceramics #keramik #陶器 #céramique #cerámica #陶瓷 #도기류 #도예 #keramikk #craft#contemporarycraft #handmade #potsinaction

I hope you’ll follow along this week and share some images with the hashtag #PIAurban! I’m really excited to see what folks share and how the interpret this week’s theme!

Pots in Action on Instagram

Lastly, my intermittent blogging is about to be more regular now.  I have lots of posts in progress! Watch out for the updates!

2015 Holiday Gift Guide

If you’re like me, you pride yourself in finding the perfect gift for your friends and family! You’re on a quest to find something that is both unique and a great match for their personality and interests and sometimes that’s really hard!  I’m here to help you make a match!

My Etsy shop is well stocked for all of your holiday gift needs.  Use coupon code: STAR2015 for 20% off of your purchase. Please note: all orders placed between Dec 3-12 will be shipped on Dec 14-15.  Orders on other dates will ship, as usual, in 1-3 business days.  

Here are a roundup of ideas if you’re stumped on what to get some folks on your holiday list!


For your favorite knitter:
This mug has a rich surface both visually and physically.  The dots feel great in your hands when you’re cupping the bottom of this mug. Available in my Etsy shop and at Lillstreet Gallery in Chicago.  Emily Murphy Pottery knit mug


For households with (or without!) kids:
These foaming soap dispensers are great for anyone who uses soap (which is everyone!), and they are especially great for households with kids.  The foam is really easy for them to spread on their hands, and the heft of the dispenser means it’ll stay put and not get knocked over easily.  I also have a selection of non-foaming dispensers in my shop. Both are available at Gallery 360 in Minneapolis.Emily Murphy Pottery porcelain foam soap dispensers


For folks with kids or with pets:
Travel mugs / lidded cups are great when you have little beings (kids or furry friends) running around and running the risk of knocking over your precious, and much needed cup of coffee.  These lids will help minimize the spillage and keep your drink hot! They can be used with or without the lid and are microwave/ dishwasher safe.  They come in a variety of sizes of styles/ sizes/ shapes. Emily Murphy Pottery porcelain travel mug


For those on the go:
These travel tumblers with silicone lids are perfect for that special someone who is always on the go- commuting to work, heading off to a pottery class or hanging out in the back yard and want to keep the bees out of their beverage! They come in a rainbow of colors and the texture of the dots keep this handle-less mug from slipping in your hand.Emily Murphy Pottery porcelain travel tumblers


For the special kid in your life:
Kids love using real pots and I love making special pots just for them!  As adults, we try to limit the exposure kids have to plastic and what is a better alternative to our plastic saturated world than one of a kind, handmade porcelain mugs!  These mini-mugs sell out quickly and I’m continually making more, so be sure to check back regularly for more colors and designs!
Emily Murphy Pottery kid sized cups


For your favorite gardener:
These vintage seed packet mugs are generous in size (they hold a whole pint!).  Fill the mug with a selection of actual packets of seeds or some hand tools  and help your favorite gardener dream of spring! 
IMG_1353


For a graphic designer:
This thrown and altered “cut and paste” plate is the perfect gift for the graphic designer in your life!
Emily Murphy Pottery porcelain squared plate


For the host(ess) with the mostess:
It can be hard to find a small, inexpensive AND handmade gift! You might need one for your kid’s teacher, for a host(ess), for a neighbor that brings in your mail when you’re away or to have on hand in case someone unexpectedly gives you a thoughtful gift and you want to have one to be able to reciprocate! These little dishes  are just $20 (plus 20% off that with coupon code STAR2015). They’re perfect for dipping dishes, spoon rest + teabag holder, jewelry holders or an infinite number of other uses! Chopsticks not included – but you could add a couple of pairs or a box of tea to make a sweet little gift! Emily Murphy Pottery dipping dishes


For the new homeowner (or apartment dweller):
My porcelain honey pots are the perfect gift for someone who has just moved into a new home.  Or maybe you know that they LOVE honey. Pair with a jar of local honey to make a thoughtful wedding gift or housewarming gift!
Emily Murphy Pottery porcelain honey pots with dots
Emily Murphy Pottery porcelain honey pots


For the coffee lover:
And of course the perfect gift for the coffee lover in your life is a handmade porcelain mug! Everyone has a preference for the perfect type of mug.  Some like a BIG mug.  Others like a smaller, americano sized cup.  Some prefer mugs with a narrow opening to keep their beverage extra hot.  And some like a mug with a tactile surface that they can feel while quietly enjoying their morning tea.

You can pair a handmade mug with a bag of your favorite coffee. Mine is Terra Nova which is my brother’s coffee roasting company located in Surry, NH.  You can buy some here
Emily Murphy Pottery curvy mugs
Emily Murphy Pottery americano cups

Or you can pair it with a print of this this and include it with their new mug.  I include the ounces that each cup holds in the descriptions in my Etsy shop so if you know someone’s favorite beverage, you can use this chart to be sure you’re getting a mug that fits their favorite espresso drink (you just have to convert ML to OZ).
espresso


*Don’t forget that orders placed between Dec 3-12 will ship on Dec 14-15.  All other orders will ship in the usual 1-3 business days.  Plenty of time to arrive before Christmas!

Emily Murphy Pottery sale

Thank you so much for supporting me throughout the years! It brings me so much joy to be able to do what I love and send my pots out into the world!

If there is something that you’re wishing that you could find, but don’t see in my shop, just ask.  My full inventory is not listed online and I still have 1 decal firing to go before Christmas!

Spring Sale! And some news…

I’m having a little impromptu sale this week in my Etsy shop until Monday! Screen shot 2014-04-07 at 10.48.11 AM

Just head over to my Etsy shop, and when you are checking out, use coupon code SPRING2014 to get 20% off your order, plus $5 flat shipping.  Sale ends next Monday, April 14th, so don’t wait!

The reason why my shop will be closed again after the sale is because I’m expecting another daughter in just 2 weeks!

This was me in Milwaukee for NCECA a few weeks ago:
Emily Murphy
Ada
 is super excited to be a big sister!

Big sister
I have been working like crazy to get a bunch of work done before I get lost in the world of a newborn.  Right now everything is just greenware or bisque.  So when I do get back into the studio, eventually, I’ll be glazing up a storm! 

I’ve been working on a squared dinnerware set.  These are the mugs part of the series:
squared mugs Emily Murphy Pottery

Ada has been hanging out with me in my studio, getting her hands a little  dirty… and tiring herself out!
kids and clay

I’ve been having a great time throwing… wishing that there were either a few more hours in the day, or I had a little more energy at the end of my pregnancy :)diner mugs

I did somehow manage to have enough energy to get to NCECA in Milwaukee last month.  It was so fun to see so many friends and meet some folks that I have only know through this blog or my Facebook page. Not to mention some great talks, demos and exhibitions!  And I picked up a few new tools, like these MKM rollers:
MKM pottery tools
So now you can see why I haven’t been posting on here much lately. But I do post regularly on Facebook, Twitter and starting to post a little more regularly on Instagram too.

It’s holiday sale time! 20% off on Etsy starting Nov 30… and studio sale the following week!

It’s that time of the year again! Starting this Saturday, November 30th, using coupon code, JINGLE, you can get 20% off your whole purchase in my Etsy shop.  Plus, $5 shipping per address.  If you want it shipped to multiple recipients, it’ll be $5/ per shipment.honey pots, travel mugs and soap dispensers1Much of the work is posted up in my Etsy shop already, so you can “pre-shop” and pick out your favorite pieces so you’re ready to snag a great deal when the sale goes live!

Here are some pieces that are listed (or soon to be!).  A new design of honey pots! Comes with a 6″ honey dipper.  You could substitute a spoon for the dipper and use it as a chutney jar.
Blue glazed porcelain honey pot with slip trailed dots by Emily Murphy Pottery

Blue glazed porcelain honey pot

And here are some new pieces.  Travel mugs with silicone lids.  The great thing about the design of these mugs is that they are great to drink from with or without the lid!
Creamy yellow glazed porcelain travel mug with circle pattern and silicone lid

Creamy yellow glazed porcelain travel mug with circle pattern and brown silicone lid
Aquamarine glazed porcelain travel mug with branch pattern
Aquamarine glazed porcelain travel mug with flowering branch pattern

And here is another new item… a foam soap dispenser! I love using foam soap, and it took me a long time to find pumps that I could use with my pieces.  The foam is so great to use with kids because they can coat their hands easily when washing by themselves.

Tomato red foam soap dispenser with butterflies and brushed nickel pump
Tomato red foam soap dispenser with butterflies and brushed nickel pump

And these honey pots have been flying off the virtual shelves. Luck for you, I made lots of them for the holiday season!Celadon glazed porcelain honey pot with bees buzzing and honey comb

Celadon glazed porcelain honey pot with bees buzzing and honey comb

And here are couple of my favorite mugs! Aquamarine glazed porcelain mugs with floral pattern

Pair of aquamarine glazed porcelain mugs with floral pattern

I love the brushed copper soap pumps! Amber glazed porcelain soap dispenser with leaves falling and brushed copper pump

Amber glazed porcelain soap dispenser with leaves falling and brushed copper pump.

So there is a little sneak peak of my Etsy sale! Saturday is Small Business Saturday.  I hope you’ll swing by between November 30th – December 18th and do some shopping!

If you’re local to the Minneapolis/ St. Paul area, you can shop via Etsy and use coupon code: LOCAL PICKUP to make arrangements with me to pick up your items from my studio!

Also, I’ll be having a Studio Sale next week for anyone who is local.

If you’re in the Minneapolis/ St. Paul area, I hope you’ll stop by my studio sale! 20% off of everything in my studio, including my seconds and samples that are already marked down!
Emily Murphy Pottery Studio Sale

Thursday :: December 5 :: 5pm – 7pm
Saturday :: December 7 :: 10am – 5pm
Sunday :: December 8 :: 12 noon – 4pm

3015 10th Avenue South. Follow the “Pottery” signs to the back of the house to my basement studio. More information to come!

In the studio and out of the studio.

I know it has been a while (too long…) since I’ve posted here. I have been busily working away in my studio and spending time with my family. Life has been good. But something had to give, and it was the blog this time. I’ve been overwhelmed with blog updates that are only in my head, and way overdue updates to my website. So I’ve just been hiding from it all. That’s the best way to deal with things, right?

Anyway…back to the pots for a moment! Here is a favorite pair of mugs from an earlier firing.

Emily Murphy Porcelain Pottery_mugs_yellow_circles
Creamy yellow mugs with interwoven circles by Emily Murphy pottery. Glaze fired to cone 10, decal firing.

Since I’m gearing up for a busy holiday season, I just finished several back to back glaze firings and decal firings.  I’ve been photographing, sanding, measuring and packing up pots and sending them out to various corners of the country. It’s definitely the busiest time of the year for me, and most potters!

And for a non-studio update… This fall I got myself a new sewing machine and decided I should break it in by making some super fun Halloween costumes for my daughter, Ada and nephew, Shiya. I tried to have this post up the day before Halloween, but ended up having to do a big blog overhaul to fix a bunch of things that was causing problems.  Luckily it is almost all fixed and working again!

Both Ada and Shiya picked out the themes of their costumes. I present to you: Ada Rainbow (as she called herself!) and Shiya the Most Awesome Viking Warrior ever (also his self appointed name). I love how Ada was mimicking Shiya’s fierce look.  Does that make her a fierce rainbow?

Fierce Rainbow and Viking Pottery Blog

The rainbow is all felt. It’s a mirror front to back.  We found oodles of images online and I made up my own pattern to fit Ada. It’s basically an a-line dress with straps.  And I found a long sleeved red shirt at the 2nd hand store.  The awesome rainbow hat was one that we already had from Zulily.

The cutest rainbow costume ever Emily Murphy Pottery Blog

Shiya’s viking costume was super fun and came together really easily.  We live near the Midtown Global Market where there is a little Swedish/ Scandinavian shop that always has viking helmets! I got a nice neutral shirt and sweater from a 2nd hand shop.  He already had a pair of brown pants.  The rest are layers of fur, felt and leather.  I found some really cool bronze buttons to attach his fur cape together. My favorite part is the fur wrapped boots.  I just wrapped the fake fur around his boots and wrapped some leather cording to secure it on.  Such an awesome look… I might need to steal it for my own boots! Same thing was done around his arms.  Anyway, it was the perfect Minnesota Halloween costume.  Nice and warm!  
Homemade Viking Costume

And while we’re on the topic of handmade costumes… Last year Ian and I made the kids’ costumes together.  They were both owls.  Really adorable owls.

owl costumes at the petting zoo

Ada the owl… She’s grown so much this past year! And yes, those are owl sneakers on her feet! 
homemade owl costume Emily Murphy Pottery Blog

We made our own owl faces  with felt onto fleece hats.  And used lots of different patterned fabrics to make up all of the feathers… so many feathers! 
DIY Owl costume Emily Murphy Pottery Blog
When I was a kid, we always made our Halloween costumes (except for 2nd grade when I really really wanted a store bought Strawberry Shortcake). I think it instills a love and excitement for handmade things at an early age. 

Ok, back to the pots….Here are some photos from my earlier firings.  I realized that I never posted these! Some of these will soon be up in my Etsy shop or  are already on their way to a gallery near you!

Emily Murphy Porcelain Pottery_oval_vases

Emily Murphy Porcelain Pottery_squared_platter_with_circles

Emily Murphy Porcelain Pottery_honey_pot_bees 

Emily Murphy Porcelain Pottery_square_platter_with_dandelion

So that should catch you up just a little bit as to where I’ve been during my absence from this blog! And even though I haven’t been blogging, I do keep my Emily Murphy Pottery Facebook page pretty up to date! It’s a little easier to post a photo as I’m working. I’ll be posting more soon now that my technical difficulties are mostly resolved.  Hope all has been well in your corner of the world.

a successful first bisque

I wrote this post just over a month ago, but for some reason, I never posted it. So here it goes (and there is more to follow).
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I’m declaring my first bisque firing a success.

I have never been so excited to fire a bisque before. But after more than a year of producing nothing but green-ware, it’s a big milestone to fire this bisque.

The process of getting to this point has been long. The house renovations, the studio building, etc… all took a long time. But it was the end part- of getting all the electric service upgraded and everything hooked up and running really seemed to take forever! It really did take a long time, but I do know that my anxiousness about it made it feel like it dragged out even longer.

After many phone calls to the electric company to finish the hook-up of the upgraded service, it took the crew 3 tries to get the work done. First time they got to our house, rang our bell and said “we can’t stay, we have another appointment.” Next day: “We only have one tall ladder and we don’t have it with us today.” Then a few days later, they finally came with all the right equipment.


View from our 2nd floor balcony.

A huge thanks to Paul Randall from The Pottery @ Raccoon Highway.  He did a lot of things to help get me to the point of firing including chiseling a hole through our foundation to install the kiln vent. That was not an easy thing to do! Thank you Paul!

I took my time loading the kiln. For the past 10 years, when firing at Lillstreet, I had to sign up for a time to load the kiln whether it was electric, soda or straight reduction. More often than not, you’d be loading a warm kiln that had just been unloaded by a class or another studio member. And then there was usually a time deadline that the kiln had to be unloaded so the next person renting the kiln could load and start up their firing. So I decided to luxuriously load my kiln. (yes, that’s what I consider a luxury!). So when I knew the first firing was in sight, I started loading her up. I ended up making more pieces to ensure a nicely loaded kiln. I hate wasting space!

After all the electric was done, and the venting was hooked up, I wanted to do a few things to ensure that the ceiling and kiln room didn’t get too hot.

While we were building out the space, we did put up cement board on the walls near the kiln. It is spaced off the wall so there is both a heat resistant barrier, and also the air space helps with insulation. Luckily there are 4 windows in the room, so I wasn’t worried about air intake and exhaust. And of course there is the Envirovent exhaust fan that is installed on my kiln.

Two things that I did need to figure out- A heat deflector and a fan that could keep the air moving in the room.

I knew from previous experience how important a heat deflector above a kiln is. It’s summer, and the room above the kiln room is my sister’s dining room. The floor above is wood (obvious concerns) and I also didn’t want to make their living space too uncomfortable to be in. So I took a piece of thick pink foam insulation, high heat spray adhesive and some wide aluminum foil and attached the foil to one side of the foam (side facing the kiln). The foam and the adhesive were left over from our previous construction and the foil was leftover from Thanksgiving. There are radiator pipes above the kiln (a bonus is that they don’t mind getting hot!). I used the pipes to suspend the foam over the kiln and have a nice air space between the foam/deflector and the ceiling/floor above.

I don’t know if you can tell, but the foam is a full 4′ x 8′ sheet. If you don’t happen to have a piece of pink foam insulation around, you can buy a sheet that has foil on 1 side. But since I already had some, I didn’t want to have to buy a new sheet.

The next thing was air movement. I wanted a really good fan that could keep air constantly flowing over the kiln (by the ceiling). I ended up getting a Vornado fan. I had it next to a similar size/design Honeywell fan and the difference was pretty shocking. The Vornado fan is many many many times stronger than the Honeywell (both were from Target).  So we aimed the fan from across the room, angled up at the ceiling, and towards the windows. Sure enough, at the height of the firing, the air space above the heat deflector was *cool.* It was actually the coolest spot in the room. And I kept checking in the dining room by walking on the floor with my bare feet and I didn’t feel like it was a single degree warmer than anywhere else. Amazing! Of course this is just a bisque. The c.10 firing is next. But I feel like this was a really successful test run. (spoiler alert: I’ve since fired the kiln to c.5 and c.10 and both were successful, and the heat deflector/fan combo worked like a charm.)

This photo is a little funny, but it gives you an idea of the set up. The way the Vornado fans work is that there is a very directed column of air.  So by aiming it up at the ceiling, it gave a constant flow of air over the heat deflector for the whole firing. Super simple and low tech- but it worked.

Next step is mixing up some glazes, finishing building the spray booth and finally firing a glaze firing. Yay!

In non-clay news, I’ve been spending a lot of time gardening. At the beginning of the spring, we didn’t have a single plant growing in the yard, and no grass. It’s so satisfying to have a lush green space now. Last summer we were so deep into the construction, our yard was a total mess- nails, scraps of wood and broken glass was scattered about. We didn’t spend any more time in our yard than it took to walk from the driveway to the house.

I planted a vegetable garden in our front yard. I’ve always wanted to have a veggie garden in the front yard- frees up the back yard for play space and it’s a nice way to get to know the neighbors.  Plus, it’s quite sunny. I started off kind of small this year, but it’s been a great success, so I’m planning on expanding it quite a bit next summer.

Pottery Clearance Sale!

As moving day draws closer, my studio gets a little emptier. I’m officially past the point where I could make any work. My wheels, tools and (most importantly) clay are all packed onto our first Pod. It feels very strange to be without a studio to work in. It’s been a long time since I’ve been without. The house renovations and getting ready for our move to Minneapolis is keeping me plenty busy, but I’m seriously missing making pots.

I’m excited about starting fresh with a whole new body of work from my new studio and (future) new kiln. So I’m selling off most of my inventory. I’m having one last (last minute) Moving Sale this Friday, June 5th from 4pm – 7pm. Everything is at least 50% off. Much of it is marked down even further. I’m finding new gems as I clear off my shelves during the packing process.  If you’re in Chicago, swing by on Friday  after work and say hello and maybe pick up a pot or two. One for yourself and one for that wedding you’re going to this summer!

img_5405

The Details:

Moving Sale – Final Clearance
**everything must go!**

Emily Murphy’s Pottery Studio
Friday, June 5
4pm – 7pm

studio 205 west – Lillstreet Studios
Chicago, IL 60640

German ceramics anyone?

I’ve been traveling for the last several weeks and that pattern is going to continue. In a couple of weeks, Ian and I are hopping on a plane and heading to Germany for two weeks. Most of our time will be spent in Berlin and the end of the trip will be in Amsterdam. We’re in the process of actually making plans and we’re looking for and recommendations- specifically clay related. If you have any thoughts or specifics of clay related things in Berlin, just leave me a comment. Potters, galleries, museums, etc… And if you have any recommendations that are not clay related, we’d love those too.

(Regular postings will resume in the next 24 hrs. I have a whole bunch of posts that I started on our road trip, but now I just have to finish them up and post them.)