I had a nice little round of Raku this past week. Among other odds and  ends, I fired three drums intended for my 'Last Chance to See' project.

Just as a quick re-cap, 'Last Chance to See' celebrates a set of critically endangered species. I'm making twelve indigenous musical instruments from the natal countries of these beasts.

For a general overview, see my original project overviewFor some musings on the specific drums that I'll be talking about in this entry, go here.

Unfortunately, one of the pieces that I was most excited about shattered- literally shattered- as I was lifting it out of the kiln. Always exciting to dodge shards of 1700 degree ceramic (especially when it's 90 degrees out, and your legs are bare).

Raku is a hit-miss sort of proposition, unfortunately, and some catastrophic losses are inevitable. This piece may have been structurally compromised because it was a composite vessel (two pieces joined together). It was also over three feet tall... and there seems to be a correlation between size and failure rate in raku.

It's too bad. I threw a couple chunks in the reduction chamber for giggles, and they came out looking quite tantalizing. The also offer an interesting perspective on the difference between reduced and oxidized raku glazes... note the contrast in the photo in the right.

Anyhow, it looks like I get to do more gorillas!

Fortunately, one of my other drums (a conga with a white rhino design) came out looking pretty spectacular (if I'm allowed to say such things). I'm quite delighted with the balance of the design... it has a certain massiveness that evokes the organism.

Factor in the subtle interplay of color, and I think it's one of the nicest things I've done in Raku.

It also sounds staccato and brash, and plays beautifully.

I'm a little less thrilled with the other conga... in part because I'm less pleased with the basic form, and in part because I think the proportions are a bit off. Oh well.

On the whole, it was a very successful firing. I won't show all of the pieces, but I was particularly pleased with this planter.

Raku is infuriating, in that it sometimes yields serendipitous and wholly inexplicable results.

Why, in this particular case, did I get the copper flashing in the interstitial spaces between the carved lines? The effect highlights the design brilliantly, but I'm baffled as to how to replicate it.

Just to briefly mention a few ongoing projects... I'm currently finishing an improved version of the fountain design I commented on in my last entry.

Aside from being larger, this version features a broader basin (to better display rocks or other found objects). It also has a sharper, steeper lip for the pour-over from the top vessel, and should thus be more of a cascade and less of a dribbler.

Finally, my pop (who's a garage sale hound extraordinaire) found me a lovely coffee table for 15 clams. After taking out the 10-inch glass panels, I'm going to fire a set of tiles and grout them into the top.

I haven't decided yet whether to make the tiles themselves in raku or hi-fire... I'll probably make four of each and them decide.

Tiles are harder then you'd think. If you're not careful, they crack and warp like cane toad licking Australians. I've figured out that it works best to throw slabs on the wheel and then cut them to size.

Updates as things move forward.
This rambling entry was inspired by two superficially disconnected ‘events’- the Superbowl, and the discovery of the world’s smallest vertebrate, Paedophryne amauensis.
Let me explain
Another Superbowl, another ear-melting love-fest at the great American altar. A few random thoughts…
  1. I sure hope that the Coca Cola is writing hefty royalty checks to the Natural Resources Defense Council, because they’re sure been milking that ‘happy polar bear’ image with a vengeance.
  2. How many ways will Anheuser Busch try to re-package the same rice-flavored dishwater?  Budeiswer Platinum, I ask you?  (Mind- the fact that I even remember the product name is pretty disturbing). 
  3. It was arguably a pretty exciting, gritty sort of game… and somehow I can’t remember a single detail with any vitality. I don’t know if this says something about the atrophy in my gray matter, or my evolving feelings about football.

My mind kept wandering into strange, stream-of-consciousness cul-de-sacs. One of the oddest related to an advertisement that featured the apparent aftermath of a nuclear free for all in a major city. I have no idea what they were selling… tires perhaps… or maybe time shares on the ‘Church Universal and Triumphant’ ranch in Montana.

I loved the rain of frogs at the end of the piece however.
***Edit- it’s a Chevy commercial. I looked it up. I’m not brain-washed. Honestly.***

Copyright: Ronald and Sonya's Photostream
I don’t tend to think of frogs as particularly apocalyptical. After all, these are fragile creatures with bones like rice noodles and skin like wet silk, creatures that inhale every environmental toxin and pathogen through their epidermis.  Not to mention their relentless cuteness. If they're not staring at you off the front of someone's shirt with their big, googly eyes, they’re puffing at you with those endearing little vocal sacs.

This makes it all the more remarkable to consider the many ways in which frogs have been cast as portents of destruction.

Anyone who’s been to Sunday school is familiar with the seven plagues of Egypt. In the second plague, Moses unleashes a moving wall of frogs on the Nile Delta. My childhood bible featured a picture of an Egyptian woman picking frogs out of her falafel.  The irony is that the ancient Egyptians viewed frogs as symbols of life and rebirth. In fact, the Egyptian goddess Heqet was involved in ‘resurrecting the deceased’. The circularity of ‘religion’ and the notion of a Frog-headed messiah boggle the mind.

Frogs were cast as symbols of the devil in medieval Europe (because of their hypothetical association with witches, and because of their cameo appearances in the Book of Revelation). 

(Note- I’m ignoring a lot of positive frog imagery. The Scots, for instance, kept stone frogs in their yards as luck symbols. An old Pictish custom, apparently. The Scots have always moved to a different drummer.)

It’s impossible to talk about frog apocalypse without citing Cane Toads (Bufo marinus).  Toads, of course, are in a slightly different league than frogs, but any family member that single-handedly monkey-wrenches a entire continental ecology leaves the clan guilty by association.

(My stepkids once inadvertently terrorized our Costa-Rican host family with a shirt-full of cane toads… but that’s another story).
On a related note, one of the most potent metaphors in ecology is the classic ‘frog in the boiling pot’ story. Frogs, of course, are ectotherms (cold-blooded).  In theory, a frog placed in a kettle would blithely ignore a slow increase in temperature, to the point where it could complacently allow itself to boil to death.

I personally know no one who’s conducted this experiment (nor do I wish to know any such person).  The story has, however, informed marine biologist Daniel Pauly’s theory of ‘shifting baselines’- the idea that societies gradually acclimate to deteriorating environmental conditions.  

Finally, it’s worth mentioning an old Iranian proverb: "When the snake gets old, the frog gets him by the balls."  (See Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi). I can’t claim to understand the nuances of that particular maxim, but it sounds ominous.

The truth, of course, is that frogs ARE symbols of apocalypse… but only because they’re a mine-canary. Frogs have little effective separation from their environment. They exist in a perpetual state of osmosis, drinking every toxin, pathogen, and ray of ultraviolet light through their skin. 

Therefore, when chytrid fungus starts decimating ponds all throughout Idaho (and the world), or when chimeric, multi-legged mutant frogs start scaring school kids sick, we’d better be asking ourselves some serious questions about the root causes.

Which is why it’s all the more soul-satisfying to read about Paedophryne amauensis.

Little Paedophryne (the word literally means ‘child-like toad’) all but vanishes into the surface of a dime.  The researchers who were surveying the back corners of New Guinea initially detected it through a whispering of untraceable, insectile vocalizations. It wasn’t until they hand-filtered a couple metric tons of forest duff that the found the frogs themselves.

There are whole worlds of ramified life in places like New Guinea that we’ve only begun to catalog. Many are smaller than a dime, but there’s still the odd Saola or Northern Sierra Madre Forest Monitor Lizard out there.
Anyhow, Chevy can keep its end-times hysteria. There’s something in the discovery of a 3/10 inch frog that elicits the opposite emotion.