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 email@example.com Surely I am not the only one!
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.
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.
Thursday afternoon Markus was checking the state of the ember bed in the firebox of the kiln he designed for the School of Art. For those who have been reading this blog, you will know that we set out to build a new Bourry Box for the ceramics students that would be highly efficient to fire. Our deadline was building the kiln and firing it in 7 days. The team succeeded. A visitor today asked me how I felt. My first response was ‘Vindicated’ because no one believed that this could really happen. But what I really feel, after the adrenalin rush of the success, is sheer joy for the students who will enjoy the dedication and hard work of the team for years to come. Now we need a kiln shed, a cover for the wood, and a secure area where we can pre-heat this kiln.
The Danish White clay we have been using withstood the high temperatures and the flashing from the wood created a rich rust colour on the unglazed surfaces of the test rings.
Today, Markus gave an artist talk about the evolution of his work, the importance of knowing the tea ceremony in order to make tea bowls and the difference in training between Canada and Germany.
Tomorrow we open the kiln after lunch. Markus will discuss the results with everyone, wares will be packed and the workshop will officially be over. What a fantastic ten days.
Happy Canada Day everyone!
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!