Wood Fire Ceramics

Fire
Swift, Bright
Dancing, Swirling, Melting
Furnace, Flare, Mud, Ash
Remaining, Hardening, Enduring
Stable, Brittle
Stone

For anyone who was unaware, NAU is sponsering a fairly important event next week (October 11-14), 20 + 1 Years of the Tozan Kilns, An International Wood Fire Conference, and are firing all the wood kilns this week to prepare and give conference participants a chance to experience a firing and experiment with their own ceramics pieces. It’s going to be pretty exciting; watch for updates over the next couple of weeks. You may want to stop by the kiln site too, as there will be some evening slide presentations, demonstrations, and a whole lot of fire.

Ceramic Artist Jason Hess

Jason Hess is a ceramics professor here at NAU, specializing in wood fire; he’s been apparently been doing it for some 20 years. Besides being a pretty cool guy, he’s the guy responsible for a great deal of the work that’s gone into getting this conference together and running smoothly. Lately he’s been making these non-functional, tall, corked bottles, several feet high, which he wood fires (as I recall they’re tumble stacked) with a bunch of ash to get a very crusty, textured finish. Jason’s prefers making pieces that are functional or nearly so to purely sculptural forms. I think they’re awfully cool.

From one of his shows:

A desire to have objects that fulfill specific purposes inspires me to make functional pots. The infinite and elusive variety of texture and color attainable through the various making and firing processes that I use has generated an interest in the notion of presentation. I enjoy presenting my work so that a viewer might notice and appreciate subtle diversities in for and surface. By grouping similar forms of differing size and color I hope to compose a visually dynamic display, which invites the viewer to enjoy the tactile nature of each individual piece and how they relate to one another.

Question: what if I wanted to teach about artwork like his? How would I introduce it; under what banner of meaning? Since the interaction of texture, form, and function isn’t really enough, if I understand the concept of the Enduring Idea correctly. Would it be “all of us produce and consume?” I’m haveing the same difficulty with many ceramic artists who are more focused on technique than message. How do we teach them?

Nogorigama Kiln Lighting

The ceramics pre-conference firings officially started last night when everyone present (about 70 people) took part in lighting the Noborigama wood kiln (the really huge one that only gets fired every couple years), each person throwing in a piece of burning paper. right before the actual fire started they had a little ceremony, involving a platter with an apple, sea salt, and a bottle of Saki, and then a brief Shinto blessing, where everyone faced the kiln, bowed twice, clapped, then bowed again. It was pretty interesting.

I was on stoking duty for the Anagama this morning and arrived just as it was being lit; it was started as a little camp-fire on the door ledge, and gradually built up until it could be pushed into the kiln without danger of going out. Two bricks were removed from the bottom at that point to allow enough oxygen to be pulled in to keep the fire going steadily. After that, we just added a small log and some kindling about every 10 minutes, just enough to keep it going as a cheery little blaze of the marsh-mellow roasting variety.

Another shift at the kiln

I had a stoke shift on the Tozan Anagama tonight from 8PM to midnight. For being as hot hot as it was (around cone 6 near the back, I think; single side stoke, and just beginning double side stoke when I left), things were very laid back because of the number of people around helping. For that I am most grateful, since I was very tired from quite a long school day. I’m hoping it’s somewhat similar tomorrow morning since I have the 8AM shift on the Noborigama. The atmosphere was somewhat contradictory; I couldn’t decide whether I was in Saruman’s underground factories, or some warm and cheery woodland forge someone in a fairy tale might stumble upon. There was smoke and fire leaking out of every concievable crevice; raging from the top of smokestacks, escaping through stoke holes, raging in the doors, glaring from cracks. It was warm and bright too — probably 68-70 degrees, and nearly a full moon, reflecting its light into a light cloud covering. All quite lovely and creepy and industrial and pre-industrial. One thing I found very striking, especially at night, was the brightness of the fire. In three of the kilns it almost couldn’t be looked at without sunglasses, and one woman was even wearing a welding mask. When I think of fires, I tend to see their light as something secondary; they possess it, but only as something rather mild and tame, like a table lamp. This light was something else entirely: it was the Sun when it hides itself in a smokey haze. Brilliant and alarming, and better not apprehended directly.

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