Today was officially day 4 of the Third European Wood Fire Conference in LeBorne, France. It is just such a magical place. To reach LeBorne from Bourges, about a 40 minute drive using winding country roads, you pass through corn and sunflower fields. As you get closer, you enter the forests that have supplied the potters in the area with wood for centuries. Indeed, several Roman-Gallo kilns have been unearthed and the conference has recreated two of these for the participants to see how they were constructed. My very good friend, Dr Julia Nema from Budapest, spoke to the influences of Malevich and Moholgy-Nagy on her light sculptures while Fred Olsen provided everyone with a reason to use cartable for building a wood kiln instead of bricks. Other events included a round table discussion on the future of wood firing, tours to two local museums, and, of course, the numerous open studios of the potters living and working in LeBorne. You do not have to look far to find pottery sitting in gardens, on shelves of buildings or gracing gardens. The anagama kiln will be finished firing tomorrow and if the rain would stop we might actually see the bottle kiln finished!
The first conference was held in Brollin and my friend, Markus Boehm, who came to build the Bourry Box kiln for the School in June, headed up that committee. Priscilla Mouritzen was part of the team that hosted the second conference at the International Ceramic Research Centre in Skaelskor, Germany. At that time only Denmark was wanting to host the second one. It appears that was the case with the third being in LeBorne but, the events are so successful that this time there are four centres vying for the fourth conference in 2022. It reminds me now of the Olympics. But, I keep asking: who decides who will be the host? Since this has not been a problem previously, no one seems to be able to answer. The short list contenders are: Russia, Latvia, Barcelona, and Belgium. Everyone will find out Friday morning!
Meanwhile, I am staring at a stack of catalogues and books that I would never be able to readily find in Canada or on Amazon – as well as some pottery – and trying to figure out how I am going to get this back to Canada next week. The local potters would have sold much more to ‘the foreigners’ if someone had the foresight to have a ‘for charge’ packing and mailing business locally for this event.
Those of you reading my blog know that the idea for the new Bourry Box kiln came because there was a need for a ‘learning’ kiln. A kiln that is easy to load, clean, fire and that can be fired numerous times in a short period of time to cone 13/14 and by one or two persons. We just about did it. The bagwall will be adjusted, new shelves will be ordered (please don’t use old soda kiln shelves), and a nice coat of Adobe will be spread. Anyone have any ideas what colour we should tint that Adobe? And we need some new insulating bricks for the door – we used the ones we had but it takes far too long to mortar them if they are broken.
The kiln requires a proper shed or it will simply deteriorate. Putting a temporary one up is an option but then people begin to see that this might work and they give up on building one that would cover the space, the ware carts, and the students when they are loading and firing. Hopefully, we will have this before winter sets in. Then the lever and pulley system can be installed allowing for one person to fire. But, we also need to figure out a way to safely pre-heat the kiln in a public setting. But, for now, this chimney needs to be attached to the building!
The kiln went up as Markus and I had planned and as we knew that it would. But others were caught off guard. You cannot mortar a proper chimney and weld all of the metal supports in two days. It simply cannot happen with other demands such as the welding of the fibre board firebox lid. And then if the scaffolding company comes and you haven’t finished, well…I can’t do a tell-all in my blog because in about a year the story of this kiln is going to appear in Ceramics Monthly and, hopefully, it will help others planning a community build. What I will continue to do is to praise the participants who signed up to learn and help; they were very thankful and repeatedly told me and Markus what a good experience this was. As I have said many, many times in this blog, it was their motivation, respect, and desire to build something the right way that made this possible (and, of course, Markus).
For now, though, I have to move on. The ashes from the first firing have been fathered (yes I wore one of those horrible masks) for experiments with Nuka glazes. I am going to go and see my friend Gunda Stewart in Canyon, BC in mid-July. She has a beautiful manibigama kiln and her wood-fired domestic vessels are solid. Then it is Guldagergaard and finally, The Third European Wood Fire Conference is in Le Borne, France at the end of August. Check it out. Paul Davis is giving a workshop on Oribe at Sturt (Australia) in early July (won’t be there but some of you might be able to jump on a plane; there are a few spaces left). There are lots of things happening around the world within the wood fire community.
When you have a kiln building workshop, many things can happen. This firing has been ‘blessed’ as we have averted so many disasters. It was pouring for hours in South Osborne last Saturday (if it was Sunday, apologies as the days are beginning to run together) and we had only enough small drops to cool us off at the University. But, last night, it was the reverse. It poured and there was lightening. Still, things were ‘not so bad’. Then through a couple of heavy-duty miscommunications with the log provider and a hard drive that had crashed with supporting messages gone into the ether, we had to live with an assortment of logs instead of ones 1 metre long or 3 metres long. But, give it up to the group to just say ‘hey, things happen’. They all deserve several days at Thermae Spa here in the ‘peg. I wish I had free passes for them.
Ah, and there is something very different in pre-heating a kiln in Canada and one in the EU. Regulations require a propane torch with a thermocouple and a safety valve in the EU. In other words, you do not have to babysit the burner all night long. The folks over at Physical Plant looked – I think every department got involved from Plumbing to Heating trying to help me find a remedy. We do have safety valves on the new tanks but this is on the torch itself. I think when I go to the European Wood Fire Conference in LeBorne, France in August, I will pick one up for us. It would be so nice to skip one step. Still, there will be other security issues that might not allow a burner to be left unattended in a public building anyway.
Everyone was busy working on one thing or another today to make this firing on time. Tomorrow, the Director delivers pizza and Caesar Salad and, somehow, this evening I got a second wind and made lemon rosemary cupcakes. It will be hot so here’s hoping the icing will stand up. Speaking of standing up, everyone learned on day 1 to wear a hat in the sun. Did I? Today, 5 hours out there sent me home with one of those ‘you idiot you didn’t wear a hat, you had too much sun and got dehydrated sick feelings’. Tomorrow will be another day – with a hat. More photos of the action to come. Send us all your good wishes for the kiln firing as sweet as we think it will – and please send the rain somewhere it is needed, at least until late tomorrow night.
Everyone has either brought bisque work or created objects that will be loaded tomorrow. The kiln will be fired with dry Poplar logs on Thursday for about 14 hours so that we can reach cone 14.
Markus mixed up some amazing short bodied heavily grogged clay. All of the participants and Markus worked on the wheels (Diane Laluk made masks) and those vessels have been drying in the kiln room or out in the sun to be loaded tomorrow raw. Can’t wait to see how the lick of the flames changes them.
It has been a great experience. Everyone seems to have much more confidence, realized talents and muscles they hadn’t used for awhile, and made some new friends. You literally could feel the ‘cooperation and respect’.
Now if you are looking for some experience building a similar kiln and live near Maple Creek Saskatchewan, get in touch with Zach and Adrienne at Smiling Cow Studios. They already have their pad ready and will start the build in about a week. Zach is an incredibly nice guy – drive over and give them a hand. I am certain that they would come and help you! Pass along this information to anyone that you know.
This Bourry box kiln with the extended throat should fire beautifully using little wood. It is time to think of the environment and to slow down. Will post some of the images when the pieces come out of the kiln! There are going to be some beauties!
The old train kiln’s chimney was leaning like the tower of Pisa and, in fact, Markus Boehm called it the ‘Pisa chimney’ quite often as he thought about the design for our new wood kiln at the School. The brief was: had to be able to be fired by only 1 or 2 students in a period of time that they were not exhausted plus some ash effects. The old kiln was worn out, its bricks had expanded and contracted and without mortar, it was leaking air like a sieve. The last firing that the students did with Martin Tagseth’s special workshop for the Ceramics Club took around 48 hours but the temperature was uneven with the front reading cone 8/9 and the back cold and the work oxidized. Our director, Paul Hess, had already decided it was time for a new one in the fall of 2017.
Through a series of events, the School wound up having to get a permit at the 9th hour. Kudos to Scott Shank, Andrew Sinclair, and the amazing structural engineer whose name I forget (complete apologies). They took Markus’s sketch, turned it into a detailed drawing and it was stamped by the engineer and presented to the City of Winnipeg for approval. This was May 11. Our workshop starts on June 21. We need materials! What if we didn’t get our permit? Some of the participants already had their airline tickets. I never thought of myself as too anxious a person but this was beginning to cause me to worry. There were quite a number of people holding their breath. We kept the faith. Chris Pancoe ordered the materials that Markus had specified. Some were coming from Georgia in the US. The rail strike lingered but was resolved. Whew! Everything just seemed like it might be going our way. Accommodation for the workshop participants was found at St John’s College. Now, where can you stay for $55 a night including 3 meals? [They are even making box lunches for the five of them so that they can work through the standard time and not have to leave the construction site.] The permit came the third week of May. Materials were to arrive June 18 and 19 – and they did! It all came together. The workshop participants arrived from across Canada and from Winnipeg, many current or former students of either the School of Art or the Faculty of Architecture. They are a great team. It was inspiring to watch them learn from and work with Markus yesterday. Stay posted. The logs arrive today for our firing of the kiln on Thursday the 28th. I will keep you posted on the progress.
The permit is in hand, the materials are on site or on their way, and excitement is beginning to stir. It is just 16 days away from the first day of the wood kiln workshop at the School of Art, University of Manitoba. I have opened up 2 additional spaces for another lucky 2 people to join us. If you know of anyone, please let me know. The fee is $325 – a bargain. If you are coming from out of town, there is accommodation at St John College for $55 per day and that includes three meals. Feel free to contact me for further information or any questions you might have. It is a great group coming from Budapest, Vancouver, Maple Creek, Red Deer and Winnipeg!
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Every year the Interlake supports its makers with bi-annual open studio visits. This year the dates are June 9 and 10 and September 1 and 2. Go online, check out the map and visit the workplaces of the more than 29 plus talented individuals.
The Interlake has a history of creative individuals. The Wave tour began in 2002 when School of Art graduate and Winnipeg Beach painter, Helma RoggeRedhers, organized the event. RoggeRedhers joined forces with Sandy Driscoll, a graphic designer, creating a self-guided tour of studios along Manitoba north highways 8 and 9. The tour has grown successfully since its beginnings to encompass more than 29 artists (some years 40!). Pottery, painting, sculpture, textiles…there is something for everyone. Good luck to all of the artists this year!