Living the Dream
In January of this year, almost a year into the lonely pandemic, 3 masked friends and I gathered around a bonfire and made a plan to give us a little light of hope and excitement during a difficult time: to build ourselves a small wood kiln. Shortly thereafter, things started to happen. In the spring, we dug a hole and poured a concrete slab. Then a friend offered me bricks! Once we were all fully vaccinated, our cohort took an exciting ferry ride in a large rental truck to fetch them. In the summer, we built a roof. And now it’s fall, and we’re stacking bricks into the shape of a kiln which we hope to finish and fire this winter.
If you know me at all, you know I’ve been firmly hooked on wood-firing since my first experience almost 9 years ago. So this is a big, dream-fulfilling deal to me. I’m going to compile photos and document the process here. There are already some funny stories that deserve sharing. I’ll keep you updated on the progress of the Coyote Kiln Project.
In March, I went to the annual NCECA (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) convention in Minneapolis. Land of the Mary Tyler Moore Show and Warren McKenzie. I found inspiration traveling by bus through the Upper St Croix River Valley, visiting the studios of Matthew Krousey, Will Swanson, Janel Jacobson, and Linda Christianson(one of the invited artists in our upcoming Good Earth Pottery pitcher show). The numerous gallery exhibitions offered drool-worthy and jaw-dropping examples of what ceramics has to offer, I even had the great pleasure of seeing my own work in an NCECA sponsored exhibition, "You've Been Served" organized by Clay Arts Vegas and the University of North Dakota ceramics department. The vast array of studio tools in the expo hall is overwhelming and covet-worthy. All in all, it's a highly stimulating and overwhelming experience, brought to its apex by the community of people that readily embraces each other. I feel fortunate to have found myself in this tribe of clay people, who understand the struggles and triumphs and why we keep repeating the madness that is ceramics. This, my 5th NCECA, did not disappoint when it came to the people. It strengthened existing friendships and built new ones, and was just what this working potter/gallery owner needed to energize herself for the coming year, both in the studio and the gallery--and life in general!
See you next year in Richmond, Virginia!
I'm pretty ecstatic to share that two photos of my work (with captions written by yours truly) are included in the new, revised edition of "The Encyclopedia of Pottery Techniques" by Peter Cosentino. I feel very honored to have been included--especially after seeing some of the other artists pictured within.
It wasn't all deep thoughts and deeper conversation (although there was plenty of that), we ate well, we laughed, we danced, we fortified friendships, we learned. Every wood-firing teaches me something new about the process, and about myself. (Who knew I'd love to wield a machete?)
I'll add more pictures of my work from Simon Levin's Thunder Train kiln to my wood-firing portfolio page soon.
If you follow me on Instagram (@annieoclay), you probably know I have a passion for wood-firing. That passion is always there, smoldering in the back of my heart and mind throughout the year between firings. It fully ignites when I have a firing on the horizon, or in this case, just past.
Recently I had the opportunity to fire with renowned Montana wood-firer, Tara Wilson, thanks to the Washington Clay Arts Association. As part of the WCA's annual Summer Social, we teamed up with Central Washington University in Ellensburg, WA, to host a workshop for WCA members, with Tara as our fire master. What a time we had! The weather was wild: cold, windy, hot, windy, cold, windy, windy. Did I mention windy? The participants varied in experience level, from newbies to experienced wood-firers. The anticipation, camaraderie and cooperation created a delightful firing atmosphere, despite the challenges we encountered along the way. Midway through the firing we struggled to even the heat of the kiln. The front roared beyond where we wanted, while the back remained too cool. Eventually we succeeded in balancing things out with a little Tara Wilson know-how, and we managed to get the back of the kiln up to a solid Cone 10 (which was our goal, although up front, Cone 11 was a puddle and we hit 2460 on the pyrometer). The roaring temperatures made for a lot of group sculptures, and the broken shelf in the front section didn't help those pots any, but there were some mighty fine survivors, and I think the newbies are hooked!
Thank you, Any Guelmann, for the slow-motion stoking video!
Here are a few more pieces that spoke to me. Sadly, I did not get the names of the first two artists pictured, but the wood-fired platter in picture three is by none other than American wood-firing icon, Jack Troy. (I'm seeing a trend in my favorites....🔥)
I'm a people person....and I didn't ever realize that until I became involved with ceramics. Since then I've discovered that I need my clay community, these conferences, these connections that help me be the best me--within my clay life and outside it (yes, I have that, too). I thrive on those familiar smiles and hellos in the hallways, the winks across the hotel lobby. 😉 Like many folks, I'm reserved at the start of an acquaintance, but once that connection is made, I'm all in. Apparently at this NCECA, I was so in that these are the only people pics I brought home (the first I borrowed from my friend, Karen Wise (so wise she always remembers to take photos in the moment). To all those of you whom I shared this experience, know that I treasure every moment--my roomies, fellow wanderers, drink sharers, dance partners: Liz, JJ, Meredith, Heather, Amy, Simon, Harry, Irene, Damian, George, Sudhi, Ellie, James, Liz, Erin, Mya, Zak, Karen, Sean, Jake, Rickie, Kimberly...and so many more, including the new folks I met and hope to get to know better at future conferences. And to those I didn't get to see or visit with longer, let's try for more next year!
I've been coiling clay for nearly 7 years. Historically, I've left the clay raw on the outside with just a hint of glaze between the coils to highlight the designs I painstakingly roll out with my hands. I love the natural look of the vitrified red clay, the texture and warmth beneath my fingers as I savor a cup of coffee. It's always felt so potterly to me. However, I know that the raw clay-ness isn't for everyone, and honestly, there's always been this little part of me that hungered for a bit more color in my work. Individually, my brown pots are intriguing; as a group display they lack that pizzazz that draws people over. Through the years I've experimented with different glazes and glaze thicknesses to encase my vessels, with disappointing results. More often than not the glaze has obliterated all or most of the coil lines, leaving a plain surface, which is obviously not the intent of my work.
2018 has been a chaotic year so far--around the world and in my personal life. I've felt the need for change, for hope, for simple pleasures to distract from the chaos. Not all of those needs are rapidly achievable, but in the grand scheme of things, some pretty quick gratification can happen in the clay studio. Over the last month I spent my studio time coiling a silky-smooth white stoneware--a soothing change in itself. I've been adding assorted shapes to break up the spirals. It's been a cold winter of late in Bellingham, bringing thoughts of warmer days to the forefront of my mind, thus flowers, butterflies and dragonflies have made an apperance, in addition to cheery stars and hearts. I did some research and selected glazes guaranteed to highlight the coil lines, in colors that sing out spring. Today I held my breath and opened my kiln and then, with glee, brought forth a new era of Kulshan Clayworks: Color Magic.
Winter Warmers~ Every January at Good Earth Pottery we like to give back to our community in a show of appreciation and sharing the love, for keeping us going all these [49!] years. This year, we raise a mug to you and ask you to raise a mug for your neighbors: Good Earth Pottery will donate 10% of every mug purchase in January to Maple Alley Inn, the Opportunity Council's hot meals program. Warm drinks, warm bellies, warm hearts. Cheers, Bellingham (and beyond)!