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.
The work coming out of the first firing of the new Bourry box kiln was fantastic. It was just a wonderful group of people who will stay in touch. Mike Astill has his own wood kiln in Ile des Chenes but joined us (he is a fabulous former student from the School) and entertained many of the crew while they were here from out of town. Thanks, Mike and Maria!
The firing survived the old soda shelves that oozed soda and are so brittle they could cut someone’s arm off if broken. We love Markus’s wadding recipe because it flakes off easily. His glazes were amazing as were some of the ones the crew brought. There is good biidoro at the lower level which reached well beyond cone 13. And the kiln fires like a rocket. Might have said, we had to slow it down by soaking the poplar logs. We will modify the bagwall, use a smaller shelf on the top and not load the pots so near the roof to even out the temperature. Everyone was happy! What a way to end 9 days together – not wanting to leave.
Believe it or not, with all the heat, the sweat, the need for a shower – when the kiln reached temperature, it was almost disbelief by those standing doing the last shifts. Amazing group of people who then dug in and cleaned up the kiln pad and who can’t wait to hear a talk by Markus tomorrow and see the results late Saturday.
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!
It is Day 4. The arch of the main chamber is up and cast. Tomorrow there will be lots of welding and the chimney will go up while the lid to the firebox is cast…everything looks like it is a go for a firing on Thursday. Fingers crossed!
If you are looking for a great kiln builder that knows the importance of using good materials so your kiln will last, the need to save the environment (less wood) and someone who can truly build a smokeless kiln, then look no further than Markus Boehm.
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!
Sadly, one of our participants is unable due to an illness in their family. So if you have been hoping to be part of this amazing workshop with Markus Boehm and missed out, now is your chance. The cost is $325. If you are coming from out of town, we have arranged accommodation and three meals per day at St John’s College for only $55. What a bargain! And their food is good, too. Best on campus most days.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org