Chemistry of pottery

When I was a kid, the street in front of me was torn up for reconstruction, and we neighborhood hoodlums dug in the exposed clay, a novelty for Iowans, and used it to make pots. We were engaging in some of the most basic chemistry, that is, allowing something to lose water and change its chemical structure. Most of chemistry is simply rearranging things and making pottery is no exception.

Clay begins as rocks which are dissolved by rain and water. The elements within are aluminum and silicon oxides that are held together with water. When the water is removed, the rocks reform as pottery. The most useful form of clay is kaolinite in which the aluminum and silicon oxides are in equal proportions.

Handling clay by throwing it on a wheel or pressing it together removes some of the water. With the water gone, the silicon and aluminum bond through the oxygens and not through wet hydrogen bonds. The new bonds are stronger. Firing the pot will drive off more water and change the chemical structure of the kaolinite from sheets to an amorphous glass.This process removes and locks out any water that might permeate the surface. Stoneware is fired at a higher temperature and contains less (no) water and is stronger than earthenware. Containing no water, it doesn’t heat up in the microwave.

IMG_5380

Above: an earthenware bowl from Sunflower Pottery. http://www.sunflowerpottery.com/home.html

Glazes are made from quartz and corundum, colorless forms of silica and aluminum oxides. Transition metals which take on various colors depending on their oxidation state and bonding, are added for color, and once again, firing the glaze allows bonds to form.

Of course, none of these technicalities can describe the art that goes into making beautiful pottery. Most recently, I visited Pewabic Pottery in Detroit.

 

IMG_5362

 

 

IMG_5363

 

 

IMG_5378 (1)
I decided I deserved a little treat. How do you like it?

 

One thing I love about pottery is that you can use it. It appeals to the practical side of me and the artistic side. Even the roughest of mornings can be brightened with the right tableware. And now, it’s time for breakfast.

IMG_5384

Thank you to the Royal Society of Chemistry for this article

As You Like It: Art in Detroit

Being in Detroit brings up the age old question: what is art? Detroit, best known for its music,  is a center of art, and sometimes, controversy. Here you’ll find a Satanic sculpture, a 17 foot tall cartoony bronze parent and childthe iconic Spirit of Detroit, and a host of other statues. It’s home to a 100 year old pottery studio. It’s an example of how investment in art and culture can be an investment in an entire city. If you like the arts, it’s a place to go. You’ll have a plethora of experiences and emotions.

Detroit has too much art for a short visit but I did what I could to take in the visual arts on my trip there. Entranced with the street murals, I headed to the Detroit Institute of Arts to see Diego Rivera’s 1932 masterpiece.

IMG_5067
Rivera painted people of all races working together–something that didn’t happen in 1932
IMG_5068
Characters from cartoons of the 1930s look on
IMG_5069
while boss man tells workers how to do their jobs.
IMG_5058
Up in the corner, scientists make vaccines while the diversity of Detroit is celebrated in the top center mural.
IMG_5057
Here it is to scale.

From start to finish, the mural took just nine months to complete. Rivera had assistants but he alone painted all of the people.

There was a lot more to see at the DIA.

IMG_5075 (2)
Get up close and personal with the classics.

 

IMG_5053
Or maybe you’re interested in traditional African masks This is a death mask, indicated by the color white–associated with death.

 

 

IMG_5080
I’m getting ready to celebrate my house’s 100th birthday. Here’s what a table setting looked like back then.

Or do you prefer your art more modern?

 

 

 

In contrast, and not too far away from the DIA is the Heidelberg Project, a city block made into street art. Part of the artistic value is the controversy. Is it beautiful? Ugly? Trashy? Transcending? What is it saying about consumerism? Why is it filled with clocks?

IMG_2773 (1)
The Heidelberg Project is on Heidelberg Street in Detroit.

The artist, Tyree Guyton, said that he’s attempting to create a new reality in his neighborhood AND get people to visit a place that they would be scared to visit otherwise.

Yes, this art brings people together and brings out emotions. 

It has inspired wallpaper.

It’s even a wedding venue.

There’s an ap to help visitors navigate it, understand it, and keep up with the changes. Profits go to promoting arts in the local schools.

If you are curious about Detroit and want to see its art but are scared, here is a crime risk assessment. With the exception of the Heidelberg Project, most tourist areas are in low crime spots. Crime is dropping in Detroit…it’s fallen to the 5th most dangerous city in the US.  Use caution. And keep your eyes open–especially for art.

 

Oh! Detroit!

There are things you might not expect when you visit Detroit.

Your cellphone might roam to Canada if you have a smaller carrier such as US Cellular.

You’ll find yourself watching Canadian television.

Parking is free, or nearly so.

The city is spread out and surrounded by woods, much like Portland.

But one surprising thing that doesn’t get enough press: there are 125 outdoor murals downtown.

That’s right. Detroit is ground zero for street art.

Many of these are funded by companies and crowdsourcing. There is an associated festival and a Facebook page.

Here are a few of the murals:

mural 1.png

IMG_4998
You’ll often see people posing in front of the murals.

mural 3

IMG_4973
Fate Favors the Fearless

 

kay mural

Businesses have murals

fox mural

ghostbeard

The photos above are ones I took when visiting the Eastern Market. They are a small fraction of the Detroit murals. Even parking garages have murals.

Click here for more. 

and also here.

And here.

And here.

Detroit has a long history of murals beginning with Diego Rivera in the 1930s. Yes, you can see a Diego Rivera mural in Detroit–inside the Detroit Institute of Art.

You can also spend a day outside staring at the art–everything from the bizarre to the political and even art from famous artists and street artistsHere’s a guide to more street art. Detroit is the #2 city to visit this year according to the Lonely Planet but in street art, it’s Number 1.

 

Michigan & Blueberries & Jam

photo-108

A quick trip to Michigan took me to the top of Mt. Pisgah and landed me so many blueberries that I tried canning for the first time.

Extra blueberries meant blueberry jam and ice cream topping.
Extra blueberries meant blueberry jam and ice cream topping.

Blueberries are known for lowering blood pressure, slowing cell damage, and improving insulin levels by keeping fat cells small. However, canning them with sugar as in jam changes their chemical composition, converting the chlorogenic acid, which imparts some of the good properties of blueberries (and might cause weight loss) into eleven different compounds. Cooking and sitting in a jar on the shelf also lowers the resveratrol in blueberries. This chemical is abundant in grapes and some claim it increases testosterone and can cut the risk of gastrointestinal cancers, although studies disagree.  Some food chemists recommend putting canned jam in the freezer to retain the health benefits. My jam isn’t as nutritious as fresh blueberries but it was fun to make and is so good that we had peanut butter and jam sandwiches for dinner.

.