How one single event can change lives.

Today, was Markus Boehm’s last day in Winnipeg.  He will arrive at Berlin Tegel at 10:30 am on Tuesday (his time).  I hope that he understands fully how this single event of building a kiln and firing it in a week changed the lives of current and future students – and myself.  You see, for years I have either avoided or kicked the old train kiln.  Some days I kicked it really hard.  What the students knew of wood firing was ‘Thomas’, the train kiln, 58 hours of stoking every 90 seconds and never reaching temperature and eating up cords of wood.  Thomas also belched out black smoke from his stack.  But Thomas was tired, the bricks had expanded and contracted and I knew – from being at Markus’s that a wood kiln could reach temperature (cone 14), in less than 14 hours and use only a small amount of wood.  Even with so short a firing, there would be ash, depending on where the pots were stacked. For the students, whose lives often did not include being able to financially travel the world and visit wood fire potters, they did not understand that there was an alternative to Thomas or the anagamas that have become so prevalent in Canada.  John Chalke wrote in an article for The Log Book that Canadian wood firers wait for an outside influence to come in before change happens.  Well, Markus, you were that outside influence.  Bob Archambeau, one of Canada’s most recognized ceramic artists, even brought a German apple cake that his wife Merie made in celebration.  Bob watches.  He once told me that students learn more from watching professors thrown than those who ‘tell them’.  He is, of course, correct.  I wonder if he believed we would be successful?  Must ask him!  On Sunday, he joined us in celebration after the kiln opening (it reminded me of when the eye is painted in on the Buddha, the Daruma, or the Dragon boat). We were happy to have him with us.

Former student, Donna Garafolo, decided that Markus should be the kiln god.  She recognized in him what many of your friends and associates already know:  you do not ‘see’ a difference between men and women who fire with wood (or for that matter in any field).  Your view is strictly level or even.  You told me that this is an ‘East German feeling’.  All of the men and women had to work.  For me, to see that women potters were equal to the men, even at the beginning of the 20th century, in Germany but not elsewhere was an eye-opener.  My friend, Susan, tells me that women were not allowed to even use the welding torch until 1978 at the University of Saskatoon.  How sad.  Things are changing but…

I am giving a talk at the Third International Wood Fire Conference on women who fire wood kilns in Canada and how many have been marginalized – well, women in ceramics in general.  If you are reading this and have a story and do not mind sharing it with me, please write to me at maryannsteggles@icloud.com     Surely I am not the only one!

Author: maryannsteggles

I am a Professor at the School of Art, University of Manitoba where I teach art history and studio ceramics. My current research is on the history of Canadian wood firing, the marginalization of women within ceramics, and the impact of Vietnam era migrants on the history of Canadian ceramics. You can reach me at my e-mail address: maryann.steggles@umanitoba.ca

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