Creating Containers: the process of wood firing kilns

firing crew 12.small

Wood firing crew at Joy Bridy Pottery, October 2017.

Twice a year, a small group of curious and hard working friends gather to fire my wood fired kiln for three days, round the clock.  It’s a holiday, retreat, vision quest, sacrament, ritual, work party…and quintessential process in the life of a wood firing ceramist.  We build these kilns that we can’t fire alone, and then we create a different kind of vessel.  Not a soup bowl or tea pitcher, but the more abstract and slippery container of community: the kiln firing crew.

Ursula Le Guin’s essay “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction” has been on my mind lately.  In it, she describes the difference between the story of the hero (with a knife, sword, long spikey thing of choice) who tells the exciting story of winning, and the story of the container (gathering, holding, sharing) that tells the story of living.

  “If it is a human thing to do to put something you want, because it’s useful, edible, or beautiful, into a bag, or a basket, or a bit of rolled bark or leaf, or a net woven of your own hair, or what have you, and then take it home with you, home being another, larger kind of pouch or bag, a container for people, and then later on you take it out and eat it or share it or store it up for winter in a solider container or put it in the medicine bundle or the shrine or the museum, the holy place, the area that contains what is sacred, and then next day you probably do much the same again–if to do that is human, if that’s what it takes, then I am a human being after all. Fully, freely, gladly, for the first time.”  -Le Guin

Wood firing is a creative act in so many ways, and no aspect is more abstract than the creating of this vessel, this firing weekend, that holds all of the participants within, allowing for their moods and preferences, strengths and weaknesses, to be.  We all show up as we are, get to know each other a bit deeper, cherish each other and the process, take care of ourselves and each other, live in rhythm of food and sleep, finish with a flourish, close the gate behind us, and go back to our daily being.  Definitely a ‘carrier bag’ experience.

cooling.horizontal.small

As the kiln cools, rain falls, Nina Simone sings her things in my ear, my thoughts meander around the significance of creating this community vessel of a firing experience.  It’s an art form, an honor, and a continually evolving experience that I could never do by myself.  Thank you to the crew of October 2017 for filling the vessel, and all of the crews that I have had the honor and privilege to create the vessel with in the past.  May there be many more.

Spring Clay Club…or hands in the mud

(snagged via clamblog on pinterest)

There’s something about the new gang of Robins picking through the ground layers this week, something about the tunes of birds I haven’t heard for months, something about oak buds swelling, wood piles dwindling, and the sun staying a little longer each day…

Spring is near, which means that Spring Clay Club is soon to start.  Do you want to get your hands in clay?  For 8 weeks, the studio is yours on tuesdays and thursdays.  All clay is provided.  Your challenge is to explore, test the limits, try something new, practice matching your mind’s ideas to your hands abilities, show up and play.

Join us.  Starting March 13, 1pm or 6pm.

Here’s the link to the details on my website.  (smile)

(And I’m so looking forward to having you here…)

Pay attention…

Sam Taylor, of Dog Bar Pottery, teapot

“Slow down, drink coffee from a handmade mug. Slow down when making the mug. Pay attention to the earthly processes that are involved and the full nature of what a mug has been and could be. Once again, it will be good for you and good for the planet. Buy from your local potter. Even if the handmade object is not utilitarian, it is a slow object. It still requires a stilling in the making and in the enjoying. Slow down; take it in on a sensual level. Add to that basic appeal whatever experience you have had with similar objects, be it resonance or the surprise of unexpected elements. Buy from a local artist. Attend your local gallery exhibitions. Clay sculptures, installations, conceptual works: they all ask us to slow down and pay attention, to examine our preconceptions.”

-Clary Illian

Chris Weaver, teapot with wooden handle

There’s nothing slower than a teapot on a chilly winter day.  Teapots have been on my mind this month, what with winter and wood stoves and contemplation.  These are some of my current mullings, and may they inspire you to pull out your favorite, boil up some hot water, and sip away…

Linda Sikora, teapot

From rocks come glazes

Algae glaze inpsirationFrom travel comes inspiration….looking at algae pools at Yellowstone National Park this spring brought to mind the complexities of glazes in wood kilns.  One of my favorite forms to fire is a wine decanter, side fired on shells, with multiple layers of glazes.  These glazes run, drip, combine, layer, and mingle with ash to highlight their complex history in the kiln.  I crave this.

Dango…

 

…one of the Japanese words for wads when wood firing pottery.  Wads are the little balls of clay that rest under each and every piece in my kiln, making sure that the pieces don’t stick to the shelves, the shelves don’t stick to the stilts (bricks that stack in between the shelves), lids don’t stick to jars, etc.

 

 

 

Luck has it that there are many coffee houses in Shepherdstown WV that are more than happy to share their wealth of used grounds, which are mixed with clay and silica grog to make the best smelling wadding around.  Glazing, wadding, then stacking…

 

After stacking, the door is built brick by brick, and the next morning early, flame hits twig, and we’re off!  (That’s tomorrow!)

A few pals are coming to stoke, soup ingredients are ready to go, and the wood is split and stacked.  Autumn is cooperating with a full-splendor show of leaves, and a gorgeous weekend on the horizon.  What more could a person want?