Each clay creation fired in a Woodkiln tells the story of that firing. It’s an individual experience for each pot. The flame’s path flows around each piece, with one pot affecting the flow of the flame on the pot behind it. The kiln must be fired by feeding the large slabs of wood into it. The flame flows through the kiln and brings the ash from the burning wood with it. The ash is deposited as brown speckles along finger ridges, textures, and carvings on the artworks. Sometimes the ash builds up so much it causes the glazes to run and drip, enriching the colors and sometimes leaving a perfect drip that doesn’t stick to the shelf underneath.
It is not a perfect place, inside the Woodkiln’s firebox. Often the kiln takes a sacrifice from those pots right on the edge as the firebox is an active and volatile place. It consumes more and more wood as the temperature rises, 2200, 2300, 2400!!!. You need fresh people at the end of the firing as you can end up stoking every 5 minutes or less. That unpredictability is part of the process and potential excitement in the results!!
My History with Woodfire
I actively explored woodfire in my independent post baccalaureate study from 1993 to 1999.
My 1st firing in a wood kiln was at Ben Owen’s house just after our graduation from ECU. We fired his grandfather’s old Groundhog kiln salting in the back chamber.
I then went to Penland School of Crafts and fired their Noborigama several times during the 2 week woodfiring workshop. Totally hooked, I went back to ECU and spent a year firing the Olsen Fast Fire there, finally figuring out how to get some nice juicy ash buildup!!
I then moved to the University of Iowa and fired their Anangama and Noborigama kilns for a year while I became a resident. I got to meet Peter Voulkos and Val Cushing and fire with Peter Callas. Unfortunately someone else got the graduate spot, so I started firing with Jim Kasper in Tilton, IA and started teaching high school. When I moved back to NC because of my Dad’s illness, I stopped woodfiring and had to focus on teaching.
I retired from teaching in public school in Feb of 2020 and in May of 2022, I had the amazing opportunity to wood fire again!!! I attended the International Woodfire Conference at STARworks Ceramics Center in Star, NC. I was also able to bond with like minded potters while firing my work specifically made for the 3 Pre-conference firings in Seagrove:
Ben Owen Pottery!!!
I received 3 cubic feet of kiln space in his big Anagama!! It was like old times!!!
Blue Hen Pottery with Anne Partna
I was able to put 5 pots in her Bourry-box Kiln. I was only able to help start this one as I had to teach at Sertoma the next day. The unglazed clay areas are a much warmer brown or tan color. Anne doesn’t use as much salt.
Luck’s Ware with Sid Luck and his sons Jason and Mathew.
I was able to put 4 pieces in his traditional Groundhog Kiln and camp at the studio in my camper. I paid by taking the overnight candling shift from 8:30pm to 3:30 am!! Sid uses a lot of salt as the traditional potters did/do. The work from his kiln is much shinier and the unglazed clay is gray in color.
Please enjoy my creations with fire!!
Visit the Cary Gallery of Artists July 29 – Aug 23.