Clear Plastic Box For A Flower That Had Been Dried Craft Shops on Military Posts

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Craft Shops on Military Posts

Craft shops on post offer everything from leatherworking to jewelry making and woodworking, and often these facilities were hidden in plain sight, giving us military brothers a chance to use our hands in a creative way.

Biggs Airport

In 1966, when I was 10 years old, we were living in El Paso, at Biggs Airport, where my father was a drill instructor. I still vividly remember how I went with my mother to the workshop to make ceramics. With summer daytime temperatures well over 100 degrees and virtually no humidity, there were plenty of fans blowing in the ceramic section of the craft workshop and when the sun went down it was actually bearable. Combined with the humid air from the drying newly cast pieces and the drying plaster molds used in the process, the craft workshop smelled of earth and an almost cool breeze as we worked in the evening.

Molds and castings

The craft shop had hundreds of molds to choose from and I remember looking through a catalog showing the finished product. I found it interesting that it was necessary to pour “slip” or liquid clay into the hole at the top of the mold and let it stand for a while so that the mold could draw water from the slip.

Then, after some time, the remaining slip was returned to the milk jug for another session. We would let the mold sit for another 30 or 40 minutes and then very carefully remove the large rubber bands holding the mold together to reveal our creation.

We have made everything from ashtrays to flower pots to candy containers, lamps, glasses and jewelry boxes. For a ten-year-old who worked with clay at school to make a simple twisted clay pot that turned out wrong, this process of using molds to create intricate pieces was the greatest thing since sliced ​​bread.

While the clay potter’s spindles remained mostly unused, many of us who were devoted to this form of artistic creation returned to the craft workshop day after day, trying out new molds and different colored glazes.

It was very quiet there in the workshop, with fans blowing and Dione Warwick playing on the radio, her clear voice singing, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” we worked away. While the newly cast molds sat on the tables soaking up water from the slip, we worked on the parts from our previous sessions.

Clean up

When a ceramic piece is cast with a plaster mold, there are several seams where the mold piece fits together, which must be carefully scraped and smoothed with a sponge. If you do this before firing the piece for the first time, you can remove the mold seams. If a piece is stitched, it’s there forever.

Sometimes someone would work a lump of clay on a potter’s spindle, which was a real joy to watch, especially if the potter was well experienced and quite advanced. Seeing a lump of clay transform into a tall vase or a wide bowl was truly inspiring, but a little intimidating for a 10-year-old.

After finishing the session and cleaning the previous batch of ceramics, we left our artwork to dry. As the newly created piece is actually a thin layer of clay, they are somewhat fragile and prone to nicking or losing their shape if handled too much at this stage.

The dry pieces, for which we cleaned all the seams, were ready for the first firing in the kiln. In general, we did not see this process – the pieces were given to one of the instructors and placed on a shelf to be loaded into the kiln and fired at night. Firing the pieces changed them from a dull gray to a bright white, giving the ceramic pieces a sculptural appearance.

Glazing

Once fired, the pieces were ready for glaze painting. Glazes are always a mystery to me. The colors we bought were always lifeless and dull, but when the piece was fired again, the glazes mysteriously changed to bright, shiny colors, sometimes with streaks appearing on the surface. Even if you could imagine the final color, there was always an element of surprise.

I don’t know how many things we did that year. I’m sure my dad thought we were just accumulating more junk to worry about breaking when we moved. Over the years, when the boxes were unpacked and old things came to light, something that my mother and I had made together appeared, and I would like to remember that special time that my mother and I spent together.

Before my mother died, she gave me a nativity scene that we made together. This set was always on display every year during the holidays and became a tradition. My initials, drawn into the surface of the figures when the clay was still wet, are as sharp and clear today as when I made them 34 years ago.

I’ve always been impressed that so many of our household gadgets have managed to make it through all the moves without getting hurt. Maybe it was luck or the fact that mom was watching the packing team like a hawk while they were packing.

Today I am truly glad that we had craft workshops on the bases where the sergeant’s wife and children, living on a shoestring budget, were able to make something that will last a lifetime.

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