Thursday, November 29, 2007

The best laid plans

I had hoped to test out Etsy and some of the new giftware this holiday season. Unfortunately, my laptop was not on board with this program. In its defense, it had been sending me signals for some time that it was not up to long hours and tight deadlines. (Needing to give a little diagonal torque to the monitor to remove white noise from the screen is not usually considered a good sign.)

I did learn from my adventure during the last holiday season, so at least all my data is on a separate hard drive. But the programs I use for photos and website updates are all on their way to wherever it is that computers go for hardware fixes these days. I don't know where that is (other than the fact that it is not, apparently, Charlotte!), but it is a place where they don't seem to know about same day service or next day shipping. The closest estimate I could get was "a few weeks" and "we'll call you".

So I am retreating to the studio to play with clay. Nice, simple, never-needs-a-technician clay!

Friday, November 23, 2007

The new shop!

I Took The Handmade Pledge!

Today was the day I planned to open my new Etsy shop with some of the ceramic giftware I have been making here in the studio. I am now questioning the wisdom of planning a grand opening - or a grand anything! - for the holiday season. The items have been made for a long time now, but I sure didn't allow for enough time to get photos and write descriptions, nevermind learn a new interface. There are just a few things in the store at the moment, but more will be added as I get the listings set up.

And if you haven't explored Etsy yet, please do. As my little badge above shows, I have taken the "Buy Handmade Pledge" this year. Or perhaps I should say I've taken a partial pledge, and will be getting handmade items for most of the women in my life. (Guys are too hard to do this for!) In a world full of out-sourcing and questionable items made in distant countries, it seems like a small, positive step I can take. And Etsy is one of the best places to find unusual, handmade items.

I'll leave off with a picture of the chaos I created while I was working on some of the jewelry destined for the Etsy shop.

Belated Thanksgiving wishes

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I know - I'm a day late. I need all the holidays to be like the Anglican version of Christmas. A twelve day spread gives you a lot of room to fudge things!

We had a lovely holiday here. We spent the morning installing a saddle rack at the new barn. Or rather, my husband installed it while the boys and I visited all the horses and enjoyed the fall leaves (we are just a week or so past peak color) and the unusually warm weather. And now I have a polished wood rack that collapses to save space. The joys of German craftsman husbands!

Afterwards we went home to prepare the feast. Some years ago I had set up an Election Day poll to teach my oldest son (then six or seven) about voting. Since it was early November, we voted on the main dish for Thanksgiving. It was so popular that it has now become a family tradition. Alan and I form the nominating committee that draws up the ballot. Nomination committe members have to be over the age of 30 so we don't end up having pizza and pasta for Thanksgiving. Sometimes we end up with the traditional turkey, but often it is something less common. The most consistent winner has been Cornish game hens, which are referred to in our family as TPCs (Tiny Personal Chickens). This year ham was a first-time winner.

I had never cooked a ham before. I figured it couldn't be hard, after all the thing is technically already cooked! And it was easy, but I sure did miscalculate when I bought it. A ten-pound turkey and a ten-pound ham are two very different things! Needless to say, we'll be looking for a lot of creative ham recipes. Or Emma is going to be a very happy dog.

I hope all my friends and customers had an equally good holiday (and a more reasonable level of leftovers). One of the things I listed as being thankful for was the chance to do what I most love for a living, and to do so surrounded by people whose company I enjoy and whose qualities I admire. Not enough people are so blessed. So thank you to all who make that possible for me.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Veering off into horse color again...

Model horse folks will probably recognize this picture as the infamous "skjevet" Fjord. The picture comes from Dutch book De Haarkleur bij Het Paard, written by Reiner Geurts and published in 1973. Geurts refers to this as a "unique form of spotting with large white marks" that was "found in Norway, among certain strains of Fjord horses".

I have long suspected that this "unique form of spotting" was in fact tobiano. The description given in the book sounds like tobiano, especially when you factor in how the pattern behaves in other Nordic breeds like the Shetland and the Icelandic. The pattern has a "white oblong patch, running diagonally from the neck over the wither and the shoulder downwards" that is sometimes linked to "spots on the back and ribs". "Not infrequently" there is "white on the legs". The Norse term skjevet even sounds similar to the Icelandic term for tobiano, skjottur. And older texts on Shetland Ponies often refer to the pattern as coming from ancient "Norse ponies". With the pattern appearing in related breeds, it seemed more likely than a completely new pattern.

But it was hard to know for sure, with just one photo to go on. (And with the horse in knee-high grass no less!) So I was especially happy to learn of this thread on one of the Fjord forums. If you scroll down, you'll see a historical photo of a skjevet Fjord. This horse is completely visible, though, and obviously a tobiano. Now that we know that tobiano was once part of the Fjord gene pool, I think its safe to assume that the horse from the Geurts book was also a tobiano. And since he mentions that white legs were "not infrequent" (rather than uniformly present), it's probably likely that the expression was often minimal like it is in present-day Shetlands and Icelandics.

There are also non-dun Fjords pictured in that thread. Unfortunately a lot of inaccurate information has been spread, often in popular general-market horse books, that the uniform dun color was proof of the "ancient" nature of the breed. The truth is that the breed varied in color much like any other until the 1920s, when the influence of a few popular sire lines changed that.

What I do find interesting is that the thread appears to have started with someone mentioning that their horse had a white foot. If there are, indeed, white feet in the breed then it is likely that some type of pinto pattern remains - or has entered the gene pool. Much has been written about lower lips as markers for sabino, but what I have seen is that in breeds where no form of sabino is thought to exist (primarily the primitive ponies) what you do not see is leg white. In breeds with just tobiano, any leg white at all is indicative of the tobiano pattern. In breeds with just splash overo, any white on the feet indicates the horse is a (heterozygous) splash. Which leads me to wonder if the tobiano pattern has truly been lost in the breed.

For a look at just how minimal the pattern can be in the Shetland, here is a good example. We tend to think of tobiano as a pattern that, unlike the overos, cannot "hide" across generations. But in breeds where tobiano can look like this, perhaps it is possible.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Lottery wrap-up and a thank-you

The Fall Lottery is now over, and all the winners have been contacted. Whew!

We had a record number of participants this time around. I also received a lot of comments, both with the entries and afterwards, about how much people appreciate the lottery system.

Recently lotteries have used more high-tech methods, but when I started the names were literally drawn from a hat. I would write the names on bits of paper, and then have my son pull one out. The first time we did this, I had the entries for each horse in a separate plastic cup, which I would pour into the hat when it was time to get a name. My son - who was probably about five at the time - would pull out a name and read it, and then dump the rest of the papers on the floor so we could fill the hat for the next horse. When it was all done, I had the half-dozen or so names laid out and he asked what we did next. I told him I was going to call these people and tell them they each got a horse. He then looked over at the (now rather large!) pile of papers that he had been dumping out each time, and asked "And now what do these people get?" I explained that this time around, they hadn't won anything. "They don't get anything?" I explained that no, not this time. "But Mom, do you think that's really FAIR?" He pestered me for days about how I was going to make it up to all those people! "You can't just let them be sad," he told me.

That's always stuck with me, each time I do the lottery. So I really do appreciate how gracious everyone is about the odds, and about not having their name pulled yet again. I really do have wonderful customers!

And now I will get back to work. I have so many things planned for the holiday season and beyond!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fall Lottery!

The 2007 Fall Lottery has started! You can see all the horses here.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Not a lottery horse

This fellow isn't one of the Fall Lottery horses, but he was finished just recently and I wanted to share him. If you look really carefully on his sides, you might be able to see faint dappling. (I'm not sure how visible it will be once Blogger shrinks the image.) I really like this color on Finn - it flatters him.

(Oh, and there are some new teaser photos on the website.)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Silver in the Welsh Mountain Ponies

I thought I'd share a little horse color news while I put the finishing touches on the lottery horses.

There have been confirmed silver dapple Welsh in this country, but many British breeders suspected outside influence and doubted the purity of the ponies involved. And a number have prominant Welsh breeders have publicly insisted that the color did not exist in purebreds. Add in the fact that many bay Welsh sport flaxen tails, and it could be hard to be sure.

Still, I have long suspected that some of the Forlan ponies were truly red silvers, particularly the stallion Fronbach Hello Charlie. So many of his descendants - and quite a few of his relatives - looked silver to me. It turns out that it was there all along, with Charlie now the first Welsh in Europe to have tested positive for silver. This is especially neat because he comes from very old lines, which suggests that the color has been within the breed for some time.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Getting close to the wire

The 2007 Fall Lottery is only a little more than a week away! In the meantime, I've posted another teaser photo (a full picture this time) to the website. He's the only non-Finn, non-Al-Hadiye piece in this particular group.

I originally wanted to sneak him in here, on the blog, as a "hidden" lottery piece. But the lottery is going to be small this time around, so I decided it was best to put him in with the rest of them. Maybe next time, though!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

A fun challenge

A few months ago, some other ceramic artists and I were discussing techniques, and I thought it would be fun to see how each one of us might approach the same color. I picked this guy as our guinea pig, since he had a lot of things going on with his pattern that might highlight our different methods.

Here is the first one that was completed - a "Jitterbug" by Addi Velasquez. (He's even for sale.) Addi says she will post her step-by-step process to her blog.

My guy - a "Finn" - is also finished, though I haven't gotten a chance to get his final pictures yet. I will have a step-by-step, too, though I probably won't have time to compose it until after the lottery is finished. And I did jump off a bit from the pictured color, so it will probably be as much a look at how I design colors and patterns as much as how I glaze things. I'm not sure my actual techniques are that much different from Addi or any of the other "Pour Horse School" glazier, so perhaps that will be more interesting that way.

And please tell me if the blog gets too focused on technical things - or if I get too pedantic! Because blog conversations tend to be rather one-sided, there isn't the normal feedback that lets you know that you are maddening to others!