Thursday, March 1, 2012


Dried Clay Tags Ready for the Kiln

In my prior blog, I talked about making ceramic dog tags to gift at Burning Man in 2011. I got the crazy notion to bring back a bucket of Black Rock City playa dust to somehow incorporate with the 2012 dog tags. That bucket of dust sat quietly in my studio for months.

In December, I got out the bucket. I dumped ashes from the One Mile Clock into the bucket. I sifted both through a fine mesh screen. Playa dust is an extremely fine power; about the consistency of talcum powder. I saved the larger bits that didn’t go through the screen: there wasn’t much but I didn’t want to waste it. In a large ceramic pot, I pounded the clumps and put it through the screen again. I used most of the Playa dust, throwing away only a few ounces of small pebbles.

I now had 5 pounds of fine powder. I mixed it with water, shaking it in a plastic jar like a martini. I poured it into large, shallow pans. OK, I used cake pans. My mother would NOT have approved of using cooking pans to make mud. Over the course of several weeks, the water evaporated from the mud. I watched it carefully to be sure it dried evenly. When it reached the proper consistency, I bagged the clay to prevent further evaporation. With water added, I ended up with about 15 pounds of clay.

The color of the clay is interesting. It’s a peculiar shade of green, almost chartreus. I took a couple pounds of clay with me to a friend’s ceramic studio to experiment. My first inclination was to mix the clay with commercial clay such as stoneware or earthenware.

Before mixing into commercial clay, I had to knead my Playa clay to make sure it was thoroughly mixed and consistent in texture. As I kneaded the clay, I was amazed at its smooth texture: it has the consistency and feel of porcelain. My potter friend, William, was extremely interested in the clay, too.

I began to wonder if I needed to mix it with the commercial clay. William thought not. I decided to test the clay. After kneading the clay for about an hour, I rolled out a slab and stamped out some experimental dog tags to dry. Over the course of a week, the tags dried and William fired them for me.

William called to let me know they had been fired. All he said was, “They’re fired.” He would say nothing more. I anxiously drove to William’s studio with a hundred questions running through my head. Did they explode in the kiln? Did they melt? What color did the clay turn in the kiln? Are they strong? Was the temperature too low? Was the temperature too high? Such questions!

With a sly grin, William showed me the pile of dog tags. “I think you will be surprised and pleased.” The tags came out beautifully! I was truly surprised at the color of the ceramic tags. They fired to a deep red-purple color, which indicates a significant iron content in the clay. The tags are hard, too! I tried to break several of them and only two with existing cracks broke. Klutz that I am , I accidently dropped the bag of tags on the concrete floor: none broke.

I designed a stamp for the 2012 tags and sent it to Socwell, LLC, ( who made a laser cut stamp for me. The stamp, itself, is a piece of art. It’s stunning. I used this stamp to make my sample tags. However, in use, my design was not all that great.

In the slab, the stamp looks great. Cut out of the slab, it’s not a successful design. Back to the drawing board. I wanted a smaller dog tag: a more compact & simpler design. I decide to use two stamps: one with the Burning Man symbol and another with the date (year). Working with Socwell, LLC, we came up with workable stamps.

With the smaller size I’m dropping the "dog" from "tag"; these are ceramic tags, no where near the size or shape of my military dog tags.

This year, making Burning Man tags has a broader meaning for me. More than just gifts, these tags are from me; from Burning Man; from the Black Rock City Playa; from my art. I am acutely aware these tags are made with ashes from my burned artwork and Black Rock City dust. The clay and ash from Black Rock City and my art will be burned and transformed back into Art once again. This is my personal Phoenix: my gift to Burning Man.

Thank you for listening

Jerry L. Hanson

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dust & Ashes

Last year, about this same time of the year, I was making ceramic dog tags as gifts for Burning Man. Dogs are not allowed in Black Rock City during Burning Man so perhaps the term “dog tag” is a bit misleading. I based the shape and size of my ceramic tags on my USAF dog tags: the military dog tags issued me when I enlisted in the USAF in 1971. Yes, I still have them.

I had serious doubts that my gifts were “cool” or even desirable. Two friends, upon seeing the finished dog tags begged me for one. Their reaction stilled my introverted, self-doubting mind. I made 1,000 ceramic dog tags last year. Yes, I counted them. I’d actually made 1,008 tags and exactly 8 of them broke before I made it to Burning Man.

However, it was the reaction of fellow Burners who reassured me that my gifts were not simple trinkets. It was rather nice to see hundreds of Burners wearing my dog tags out on the Playa. Many stopped me to thank me again for the gift! I was touched. I gave these gifts out with wild abandon during the week of Burning Man and still did not manage to gift them all. I have about 200 left.

On the last morning of Burning Man, I filled an empty bucket with Black Rock City dust. I scooped up about 5 pounds of dust from around my campsite and brought it back to Palm Springs with me. I had this crazy idea that I would incorporate that dust in with some regular clay to make dog tags for Burning Man 2012.

On that same day, I met my Tribe at the burn site of the One Mile Clock, which we had burned the night before. The burning of the One Mile Clock was an emotional experience for me. Artwork I made for the clock was being burned. I brought to Black Rock City a meaningful sculpture I’d made nearly 45 years ago. It had disintegrated significantly over the years. I could not bear parting with it. But I did. I threw it into the roaring fire and through my tears watched as it burst into flame. It was emotional and liberating.

We met the next morning to clean the ashes of foreign materials left over from the burn. We picked up nails, screws, staples and other materials to leave no trace behind – one of the 10 tenants of Burning Man. I scooped up a baggie full of ash: ash from the One Mile Clock that I helped create, build and burn. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it but I collected it none-the-less. Those ashes contained part of me; my artwork.

I stuck the bucket of dust and baggie of ash in a corner of my studio. It sat there quietly while I pondered how to use it.

Thank you for listening,

Jerry L. Hanson

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Tortuga in the News!

This is a cut & paste of the Palm Springs' Desert Sun Pet of the Week article featuring Tortuga, our African Sulcata Tortoise. I attempted to copy the article from the Palm Springs Desert Sun into this blog but it's just not cooperating. The article ran on Thursday, December 29th.

Les had submitted the article and a iPhone photo of Tortuga for consideration in the weekly feature. The Desert Sun was interested saying they had never featured a tortoise as Pet of the Week and would do so provided we could submit a good quality photograph. I guess iPhones don't provide good enough quality for newspapers.

I got out my camera and began taking photos of Tortuga. I cleaned them up and sent about five of them for the editor's consideration. This is the photograph and the article that ran in the Desert Sun.

THURSDAY, December 29, 2011

Submitted by Jerry L. Hanson

Meet Tortuga. The 17 year-old tortoise lives in Palm Springs with Les Zendle and Jerry Hanson.

Unlike other breeds of tortoises that hibernate, Tortuga is an African Spur Thigh breed who “spends winter days in the sun and winter nights in an underground ‘bunker' with heating bulbs to keep warm,” Zendle said in an email to MyDesert.

And when he's out and about, he is social.

“He is friendly and walks toward people, especially if they are wearing bright colors,” Zendle said.

Tortuga's diet consists of two heads of romaine lettuce and a few carrots a day, and he also enjoys Bermuda and winter rye grass.

Written by: MyDesert