“Viagra Wood Firing: Mine is the biggest and the dirtiest and I fire the longest”.

The quote is from the Australian ceramist, Paul Davis.  Markus Boehm told it to me and it fits my talk at the Third European Wood Firing Conference in LeBorn perfectly.  If you know Paul Davis (great guy, great sense of humour), you will understand that this statement was partly made in jest.  Still, for many, wood firing is all part of the male realm and the building of wood kilns and the firing of them has to be the biggest, the longest, and the dirtiest consuming vast quantities of wood for days and weeks.  As the School of Art and I began to plan for a new wood kiln that would be a learning tool, large kilns with firing schedules more than twelve hours were rejected.  We wanted a kiln that the students could fire in less than a day and fire so often that they could learn through experience.  There was also a huge desire to be kinder to Mother Earth.

Does anyone out there think that this would be a controversial issue?

Over the course of my research on the impact of the Vietnam resisters on Canadian ceramics, it became very clear that many of the men who immigrated believed and still understand that the women who came with them – whether it was a supportive partner, sister, mom, or friend – gave up nothing.  I was told so many times that the women could go back and forth freely without fear of going to jail that I almost took those statements for granted.  But, it is not true.  I was one of those women.  I left behind a very elderly grandmother who had raised me, my parents, and friends.  Others left behind careers, studios, and commissions.  The voices of those women were quite literally silenced.

There are only two Japanese women who fire with wood.  Why?  There is an ancient myth that the kilns will blow up if the women take part in the firing process.  Really?

Ironically, if you look at the percentage of women firing wood kilns, many alone, in Germany’s Mecklenburg-Vorpommern region, north of Berlin, you will discover that there are more women firing wood kilns than men.  Over the years I have been fortunate to meet some of these talented individuals and I am grateful.  They have shown me that women can manage trees, cut them down, haul them to the area for cutting, stacking, and drying.  And, finally, they can fuel their kilns with these logs.  Ute Dreist is only one of many women working in the field.  Others include Birke Kastner, Charis Lober, Katrin Otolski, Angelika Reich, Silwia Barke, Regine Schonemann, and Christiane Lambertz amongst others.  There are similar percentages in other parts of Northern Europe, France, and Scandinavia.  Indeed, a survey in Canada shows that the number of women who choose to wood fire their ceramics is growing steadily.

So what is the problem?  Is it just me?  Or is the books and the journals in North America that continue to feature more men than women?  How about exhibitions that focus solely on wood fired vessels or sculpture?  It is the same.  This is surely bothersome.  In ceramics classes across Canada today, the vast majority are female students.  Last year I had only one male student out of twenty-one in my class.  There are currently no male students registered in my fall wood firing class.  I haven’t gotten to the point – yet- where I am going to start to count the number of women featured in journals, books, and exhibitions like the Guerrilla Girls did when they took on the New York City Fine Art establishment and started a movement —- but I am almost there.  The examples of wood fired work in the display cases at the School of Art have only the work of men.  So who are these young women to look up to? And who is giving these young students ‘their’ vision of wood fired ceramics?

It all comes back to the featured image of the new wood kiln.  The whispers behind my back were not only about the size of the kiln but its style along with great disbelief that a kiln could be built and fired in a week.  I mean the ole’ girl went off her rocker, right?  That is the male view.  And it is that male view that is dominant in Canada.  If I could take these young women and transport them to see Priscilla Mouritzen firing a similar wood kiln or let them have coffee with Julia Nema, then they would have some role models.  But, in Canada and especially in the Prairies where we don’t have anything but planted trees, the ideal kiln is the anagama.  Apparently there are at least twelve of them in the neighbouring province of Saskatchewan.  Now, I have nothing against these medieval Japanese kilns who hurl smoke in the air and consume large quantities of wood except for just that – they hurl vast amounts of black smoke in the air, consumming larger and larger quantities of wood.  There are alternatives.  Paul Davis, who studied in Japan for years, will tell you that there are a lot of “ugly brown pots” coming out of those anagamas.  So why are they so privileged?  I wonder.

Stay tuned.  This whole issue was being discussed by some men back in 1973 including Fred Olsen.

 

 

 

 

 

The South Osborne Farmer’s Market Rocks with local honey, fresh veggies, free parking, Salvadorean tamales, Artisan breads…

I am embarrassed.  We have lived in South Osborne for two decades.  We got tired of the hassle of the St Norbert Market with the paid parking, the lineups and sometimes wondering if the veggies were local or coming out a box from the suppliers.  We wanted something a little simpler.  The fact that it was a short walk away from our house is why the head is held in shame today…but never again.

There is free parking.  That is a plus.  Mind you, it was busy.  You might have to walk a half block.  Several stalls selling fresh local veggies – corn, every kind of beet, beans, tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli (and more).  A stall with nothing but Artisan bread.  After your shopping, you can sit down and listen to the free music with a pint from one of Winnipeg’s microbreweries, Half Pint.  There is also fresh lemonade.  If you are hungry, check out the Salvadorean food truck with its tamales, tacos, empanadas, etc.  I say ‘etc’ because I can’t remember everything on their blackboard.  Next time, I will take a photo. There are the usual soft drinks and hot dogs, speciality coffees, a few jewellers stalls, and one that had ceramics.  I apologize if I really missed anyone.  But, you have to have a favourite and the young lady who has the bees on Beresford and produces South Osborne Honey gets my vote.  I hope that the bees who come to visit our Cosmos are hers!  And, by the way, this South Osborne honey is a lovely yellow with a delicate flavour reminding me of lavender.

Summer. Thinking ice cream? If you are in Winnipeg, head down to Chaeban in South Osborne

If you headed to my site today wanting to know what is going on in the world of ceramics, I am sorry.  It is summer and after watching a glaze kiln all day I needed a bit of a treat and what better than ice cream.

We are so lucky in the South Osborne area.  Chaeban opened in the winter and even then there were lineups for their handmade ice cream.  Read their story on their website.  It is heart warming.  And, as Canadians, it is a positive sign that we welcome refugees from the war-torn Middle East into our country and our lives by visiting this local shop which, by the way, brings a bunch of happiness into its customers lives (like mine).

The flavour of the week is Louis Riel Lavender, a blend of luscious infused lavender with the freshest of Saskatoons.  It is seriously amazing.

If you haven’t been to Chaeban, you need to go.  It reminds me of the old-fashioned ice cream parlours that we had when I was growing up in Oklahoma.  Everything is white and clean.  You stand in line inside in the cool.  The place is full of children with big smiles digging into their bowls.  It is just a happy place.  And now it even has free wifi.

You can’t buy the flavours at the local supermarket but they do have containers to take home.  If you are Vegan, no problem.  There is at least one flavour on hand just for you.  One day it was a deep dark chocolate with avocado.  The Plain Jane is anything but your old boring vanilla.  It is sweetened with local honey and is full of sour cream giving it a tang that you don’t find elsewhere.

Now…if they only had handmade pottery bowls…………………..Back to ceramics tomorrow but for now remember that ice cream is a wonderful way to cool down from the summer heat we have been experiencing.

 

Making Progress!

Adrienne Gradaur and Zach Quin have been making good use of the sunny days in Saskatchewan.  Look how far they have come in their new kiln build – the flue arch is up and curing.  You have to give these two young potters a round of applause.  The bricks they are using are heavy and much larger than those in the plans that were used for the School of Art’s new Bourry Box kiln.  But as anyone reading this knows, if you are a potter with a studio at home and a young family, you take what you can get your hands on and make it work!  They are doing just that.  Can’t wait to see where the pair will be in another couple of weeks.

If you are around Lloydminster and want to lend a hand, even for a few hours and you know what you are doing, track them down.  You can also contact them through Smiling Cow Pottery.  Well done you two.  So proud of you.

It’s no secret, I really like Gunda Stewart’s wood-fired​ vessels

I have written about Gunda Stewart before.  If you missed it, here is a little synopsis.  Stewart studied with Tam Irving and Sally Michener at the Vancouver School of Art.  She works on a treadle wheel and is a great follower of the Leach tradition.  Both of us love the rich temmoku pots that come out of her wood kiln in Canyon, BC.  Her ash glazes and her Shinos are also spot on.  Lately, she has been experimenting with ‘blue’.  Some of the results are now sitting on a few new shelves in my kitchen.  They are lovely soft grey blues, far distant cousins from the coldness of the cobalt I have seen elsewhere.  Stewart has been firing her large Manabigama kiln designed by John Thies and Bill van Gilder for ten years.  I like it because it is easy to fire, using less wood and human hours than many kilns of the same size.  The results are also stunning.  What I don’t like about it is the crawling inside to stack the shelves.  That has to be the only drawback and Stewart is wondering herself, even though she is in fantastic physical shape, how long she will be able to wood fire her work.  For me, I hope it is much, much longer.  Stewart used to sell her work to a gallery in St Louis and the Gardiner Museum of Ceramics shop in Toronto.  I say ‘used to’.  Many potters/ceramists, clay artists (what each individual cares to call themselves) rely on prestigious shops such as these not only for large sales such as the market in Toronto affords but also as a validation that their work is ‘excellent’.  Stewart now sells all her work locally, either at the Saturday market or through her studio.  Her buyers are repeat customers, often several generations from the same family, and tourists that come to the East Kootenays.  She has trouble keeping stock and her recent, lovely ‘blues’ fly off the shelves as do the more traditional Sung dynasty glazes.  How satisfying it must be to know that in an area with a small population your work is valued, even cherished.  If you are in the Canyon area, follow the blue artisan signs.  Her shop is open most days from 11-7 during the summer and fall.

As for me, I want to publicly thank her for hosting me, for talking pots, sharing her recipe for Quinoa brownies (delicious), and taking me for a walk in the beautiful cedar forests.  I envy her the quiet tranquillity that surrounds her in addition to the reasonable, very reasonable, indeed, cost of wood in the East Kootenays.  The wood here is not as good and is 5x more expensive – but, hey, we don’t have the trees that they do.  It was also very refreshing that when I asked her if she ever felt marginalized as a woman wanting to work in the world of wood firing that she said ‘never really.’  Tam Irving was super supportive to her as a student and both Cam Stewart and Robin du Pont, wood firers from the Winlaw area, have been nothing but great and giving.  Fabulous!

 

The Birth of Another Bourry Box – So Excited!

Adrienne Gradauer and Zach Quinn, the owners of Smiling Cow Studios in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan are building a new wood kiln – a Bourry Box!  Zach came to Markus Boehm’s Workshop and left so excited.  He has only been back a week and look at the progress.  The pad, the first layer of cinder blocks and well, I will keep you posted on their progress.  This kiln is so sweet.  Hoping others will take advantage of Boehm’s environmentally friendly design:  smokeless, uses only a half cord of wood (or less if you have hardwood).  We got cone 14 flat in thirteen hours but, when we are not drying out the kiln, I believe it could be a little faster.  She is a rocket!  I would personally like to see if we can get the same results in 10.  Stay tuned/

Meanwhile, if you are out there and hankering to help someone build their kiln and you are in the area of Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, Google Smiling Cow Studio, and chat with Adrienne or Zach about helping.  And if you are in the area and looking for unique ceramics (or online), support this young couple.  They are very deserving.

So excited to be a part of the Open Forum (with discussions and debates) at the Third European Wood Fire Conference in LeBorne, France

The French organisers of the Third European Wood Fire Conference in LeBorne, France have selected the speakers for the Open Forums and Discussions.  I am so pleased to be amongst so many talented wood firers including Julia Nema, Fred Olsen, Coll Minogue, and Ben Richardson.  It is going to be such an exciting time to be in this French village in the Loire Valley, home to wood firing kilns since the medieval era.

It is still not too late to register.  If you are into wood firing and want to be in ‘the place’, then check out the conference, find a flight, get some accommodation and go!  There is a week full of talks, demonstrations, discussions and debates and, of course, the meeting of old friends and the making of new ones.  The Third European Wood Fire Conference is August 25-September 1 at the Ceramique Contemporaine LaBorne Centre.  The website is at laborne.org

This is the listing for my talk…the more I research the marginalization of women in Ceramics the more that I am finding it is NOT a phenomena known in the area north of Berlin where women have been expected to work and have been equal in their training and their ability to supervise workshops for decades.  My talk focuses on North America with a nod to what has systematically happened in wood firing in Japan.

Thursday 30 August 10.45 – 11.15 am
Mary Ann Steggles

Mary Ann Steggles is Professor of Ceramic History and Ceramics at the School of Art, University of Manitoba, in Winnipeg.  Alongside her teaching, she curates, researches and writes on the history of wood firing and contemporary ceramics in Canada for various ceramics journals. She is working on a research project about the silencing of women ceramists and the marginalization of both women and ceramics in the world of contemporary art.

 

Her talk will focus on the marginalization of women within the world of wood fired ceramics.  In Japan, women are not allowed to fire the large wood kilns.  In Canada, the world of wood firing is dominated by a male view.  Historically, men have been the only visiting wood fire artists, their stories are predominant in the publications, even attempts to build a smaller kiln become controversial because the students see through male eyes.  The kiln has to be ever bigger, firing even longer, consuming more wood to get layer upon layer of fly ash on the surface.  Mary Ann students are women.  It is time they had women role models.  What are the experiences of other women wood firers?  and how can we create an aesthetic that counters that of this male view?