“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.

 

 

 

 

 

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?

Julia Nema, Budapest ceramic artist, will join Markus Boehm in Winnipeg to build the new wood kiln for the School

Julia Nema is one of the most respected wood fire potters.  She has a studio in Budapest and was recently featured in an article ‘Welcome to Budapest’.  Julia has been firing her work in a Phoenix Fast Fire Kiln.  She now needs to build a new kiln in an urban area, so she is joining us to learn how to build this smokeless kiln designed by Markus Boehm.

I am so pumped that she will be able to join us.  You can check out her work online.  Really beautiful dinnerware used by some of the finest restaurants in the Budapest.  If you go to Budapest, please check out her studio.  And if you are thinking about joining us for the wood kiln building workshop and firing from June 21-30, she is another reason to come.  We had two cancellations so spread the word there is now another opportunity if you thought you missed out!  Contact me:  maryannsteggles@icloud.com

Photo credit:  LB9 kep