Kendra Wile’s Secret Gardens

Teaching beginning wheel throwing where students meet once a week for three hours for a period of twelve to thirteen weeks can be a challenge.  For the students, it takes dedication, perseverance, time, and a lack of fear of failure to be successful.  Some of you might have followed this blog for the past you months.  If so, you will know that I had the most extraordinary group of talented young women in this single class.  I was blessed.  Many of them could be found working at any hour of the day or night in the throwing room.  Kendra Wile was no exception.  Also, she always had a smile on her face.

The last assignment for the students allowed them flexibility.  It read:

THIS IS A CHANCE FOR YOU TO ADD SOME ORIGINALITY AND INNOVATION IN YOUR WORK.  IT COULD BE THE WAY THAT YOU SHAPE THE CLAY, DECORATE THE SURFACE, OR COMBINE THE INDIVIDUAL FORMS TOGETHER.  USING A MINIMUM OF 8 DIFFERENT FORMS, YOU ARE TO CREATE A SINGLE OBJECT OR A SET THAT REPRESENTS YOUR OWN AESTHETIC IN CERAMICS.  THIS MEANS THAT YOU HAVE TO CONSIDER BOTH THE FORM AND THE FINISH.  YOUR PROJECT WILL BE GRADED ON 40 % QUALITY OF THE THROWING AND ASSEMBLAGE, 40 % QUALITY OF THE GLAZING AND APPROPRIATENESS TO THE AESTHETIC THAT IS YOUR OWN, AND 10% FOR VISUALIZING YOUR IDEA IN CLAY AND 10% FOR APPROPRIATE PRESENTATION.  – WITHIN A LIMITED FRAMEWORK, THIS IS A CHANCE FOR YOU TO BE YOU!

My very best friend, the late Charlie Scott, who started the wood firing tradition at the School of Art, always said that ceramics was more like architecture than any other medium.   Ironically and sadly, Kendra will be leaving the School of Art and taking a place in the Faculty of Architecture this coming year.   Her last project suggests that she is extremely patient, knows how to deal with enclosed space, can offer surprises with the reveal, and understands the use of colour.  She also makes decisions that are best for the project at hand, switching up her approach to firing and colour.

Unknown-2

Kendra created what on the surface looked like four soup or latte bowls with various knobs.  She quietly sat them down on the lower platform and walked away, saying nothing.  Little did any of her classmates expect the environments inside when they lifted the lids.  Ellina was fascinated.  She got really close staring into the tiny interior environments.

IMG_1307

In the end, Kendra chooses wisely.  She opted to use underglaze stains and fire her work in a cone 5 or 6 oxidation environment in one of the electric kilns rather than lose the detail in the gas reduction kiln.  Can you imagine the time it took her to create each one of these?  Did she secretly use tweezers?  And how many times did she have to redo an interior?  We will never know!

What I do know is that exciting things are going to come from this very creative young woman and I, for one, cannot wait to see what she will design and what kind of a name she will make for herself in the world of architecture.

The second wood firing had its challenges but it was very successful and all were happy.

It is one thing to fire your own wood kiln so many times that you know its behaviour.  And, yes, we can predict certain things but students brand ‘new’ to wood firing or only having participated in a single wood firing workshop are handicapped to say the least.  Our kiln was designed to use Poplar logs but we cannot get Poplar logs in the late fall.  They have been cut and split for firewood sales.  So, we tried oak slabs, very hard oak slabs and a partial grate.  What did we discover?  The kiln can reach 13.5 on the Oxyprobe in 12 hours with a 3 hour gas pre-heat.  The top of the kiln needs to be ignored.  Oak by itself is not good.  It creates immense amounts of ember but if you want to raise the temperature and finish the job, it had to be mixed with scrap lumber and pine.  The ration was 1 part oak to whatever else we could lay our hands on.  The pots, as anticipated, that were placed in the throat had amazing yohen effects.  Kusakabe would love them!  The students also learned many things about the glazes.

In the ceramics area we have big pails of ‘shop glazes’.  I have no idea who started this practice and, at times, it is a hindrance, not a help.  The students – because the tiles show the glazes by themselves and then mixed with one other studio glaze, cause a lot of dipping.  Dipping without thought, dipping and getting the glaze too thick and when the work comes out fantastic the dipping often causes blank looks on the faces of the students!  Of course they have been told to have a method of recording so that they know what they did and could replicate it.  One of the best of these ‘dipping’ pieces was a tea bowl by Jiawei Dai.  I wish I had a photo of it.  She put temmoku underneath and Haystack Green on the upper half.  It was fantastic.  In fact, those old Sun dynasty glazes fired in the wood kilns of 9th and 10th century China are superb.  The other glazes were the ash ones that we made out of the Poplar ash from the first firing.  Those included a Nuka (gorgeous soft white), a red made with half ash and half low fire red clay, and an amber.

The bagwall question plagued us.  In the end, we put it at the back and loaded the middle half of the kiln tight and put Kewen’s walls there so that we would, hopefully, keep the flames dancing about and the ash as well.  It seems to have worked great!

IMG_1447

We also had lots of ash…did someone say a 12 hour firing in a Bourry box doesn’t produce ash?  It does!  and almost all of the students got to experience what every wood firing potter in the world knows:  grinding is a part of the process.  They also learned about alumina hydrate and the difference between wadding made with it and without.

They were a great group, full of laughter, great at problem solving, and community minded.  Everyone did their part.  Even one of the students who had recent foot surgery showed up on the last day and found that while they couldn’t be outside in the cold, they could grind and clean shelves.  Incredible.  They are such a good group and the plan is to fire the kiln again in April when the weather has warmed up (or in May) outside of a class for fun and also for them to be able to undertake it with some assurances about the oak and the other scraps and pine – that it works!

IMG_1436IMG_1443IMG_1446IMG_1448IMG_1457IMG_1459IMG_1462IMG_1465IMG_1482IMG_1489

 

The final group critique for the Beginning Wheel Throwing Class

It is hard to believe that it is now December 6.  The students in the Beginning Wheel Throwing class worked for the entire month of September to perfect their cylinders.  Then they moved on to throwing bowls off the hump as well as with throwing individual bowls on bats in October and early November.  For the last few weeks they have been working on their final project for the course.  This was a chance for them to add some originality and innovation in their work rather than following the strict guidelines of the previous two projects.  Using a minimum of 8 different forms, they were to create a single object or a set that represented their aesthetics.  The range of work really did reflect much about their own personalities and aesthetics.

Miao Liu loves copper red glazes and was very disappointed that the School did not have a copper red in the studio glazes.  But she worked with what was available and discovered that the combination of two glazes, equal parts clear and Haystack Green, can, if fired in the right part of the gas kiln in a highly reduced atmosphere, produce copper red.  Her study in small flower vases was tied together through glaze.  Haley Bean chose to make a very contemporary tea set with straight sides and pulled handles, formed in such a way when she attached them that they had an urban edge.  This was in great contrast to the more vibrant curves of the mugs made by Leandra Brandson.  Allison Banman took an entirely different approach.  Her project would be, in the end, gifts for friends and family.  She successfully carved and incised special quotes for one, cats for another, dragon flies for yet another – a time consuming task that often fails for beginners because they get the cut outs too close together.

Bowls are the mainstay of potters around the world.  A former student did a project and in it, Anwen described the meaning of a bowl for the Chinese.  It is what you eat out of every day – not the plates of Westerners.  Various shaped bowls are used for soup and rice.  If one loses their job, their bowl is symbolically broken as they have shamed their family.  Thinking about other cultures such as the Anazasi, they placed bowls on top of the heads of the deceased, piercing the center of the bottom in order to release the soul of the dead.  For us, bowls are comforting.  You can wrap your hands around them and warm up in the winter.  You can fill them with nourishing food holding your hands out in offering.  Carolyn Dyck created two series of delicate mixing bowls using a specific dowel to make certain that the height and width complimented one another.  One set was in the shape of the Sung dynasty lotus rimmed bowls while the other was plain.  One was made out of Danish White while the other was out of Death Valley – giving her an opportunity to explore the reaction of the two clay bodies with a similar glaze in the reduction kiln. Hyounjung Lee worked on rice bowls while others opted to challenge themselves by taking on the teapot.  Ellina Pe Benito was not frightened away by the thought of a tea set complete with serving plate, creamer and sugar.  But, as she knew, you have to make more than one because, invariably, something happens.  Greenware can break, pieces can stick to the kiln shelves while others may tip over in the kiln and stick to one another.  You have to always have a back up plan.  Ellina also remembered to keep the top of the spout higher than the rim so the hot tea would not go pouring out all over the table.  Tingjung Meng worked on serving and eating dishes in the Asian style while others, such as Hae Lim Choi, made coordinating cups, saucers, and plates.  Cassandra Cochrane created tiny espresso cups with rolled handles.  Lauren Sneesby is the only person I have met who created mosquito coils in the shape of pigs while Hannah worked on a sculpture in the shape of a watering can.  Eun Choi opted to paint her rose with acrylics knowing that the colours would be washed out in a cone 10 firing.  Kendra Wile surprised everyone with what was hidden inside her cups – landscapes of the ocean and the desert.  I really hope that I have not missed anyone!  Each was very special.

This group of young women stuck it out through the throwing of hundreds of cylinders to get 40 good ones for grading.  They spent all their spare time in the clay studio for approximately six weeks until the pressure was off and they could center the clay without it controlling them.  I cannot wait to see what they do in the future.

IMG_1401IMG_1377IMG_1361IMG_1314IMG_1299IMG_1296IMG_1271IMG_1270

Summer Students Finish Up (almost)

Five students at the University of Manitoba worked on various aspects of ceramics over the summer months.  They are winding up their studies and it is time for you to see some of the work that they completed.  They were Iris Smith, Jade Shynkaruk, Rebecca Sutherland, Sara Berg, and Selena Dyck.

These five students discovered in the spring that they required anywhere from 3-9 credit hours at the 3000 level in order to enter their Honours or 4th year of study.  Of the five, three work almost full time.  One student, Jade, had more experience with clay and is the President of the Ceramics Club for 2018-19.  One student, Rebecca, had no experience with clay.  The other three:  Iris, Sara, and Selena, had taken the three credit hour beginning wheel throwing class in the fall of 2017 and another course in wheel throwing in the winter.  At the School of Art, students take five three-credit hour classes per term.  In other words, these students did not have the luxury of working full time in the ceramics space until this summer.  Each was working on a different project.

Sara Berg is very interested in Classical Chinese cobalt painting on porcelain.  She wanted to master, as best she could, this technique before moving on to her own subject matter that would still be expressed in this ancient technique.  She also worked on classical forms and took part in the wood kiln workshop where she not only learned to properly mortar bricks and the laying of bricks but also was able to use her welding skills to create the frame for the kiln.  We were really grateful for these hidden talents!  Little did we know that she was also a diesel mechanic and had a license to drive an 18 wheeler.  Sara moved to painting her own story on the largest of the porcelain stools she constructed – a young warrior woman and she is truly a warrior!  She has not had the time to study the history of ceramics and the inspiring women of the 20th century but she came up with one bowl that is so reminiscent of Lucie Rie that I am including it.  Can’t wait to see what she does this fall.  DSC02959

Selena Dyck wanted to study cone 6 glazes.  She loves blue and green.  Selena’s work exhibits a dedication to detail, mastery of form, and consistent testing and questioning.  Her first project was to make a 12 piece place setting of dishes.  Her second was to create 40 test pots and learn how to take a transparent glaze, make it opaque, and then colour both the transparent and the opaque base.  She discovered that she prefers the cone 6 Campana clear with copper carbonate added.  Selena challenged herself to create a set of 5 perfect nesting bowls – which she certainly accomplished!  Her dedication to keeping her glaze journal, the details about each of the glazes and their reaction and where they were in the kiln will be a good tool for her in the future.  Selena was the first one to discover that Reitz Water Blue pinholes.  We now think that the overfilling of our kilns is the cause.  Didn’t impact the smaller bowls but was readily apparent on the larger ones.  Selena asked all of the right questions – has an enquiring and observational mind.  She would make a great ceramist.  The handles on the cups at the front fooled our MFA student.  Mary thought they were press-moulded.  Nope.  Selena got very good at pulling handles!  Sadly, the ceramics area is losing her to print media in year 4.

DSC02946

Jade Shynkaruk came to Winnipeg from Brandon where she had studied ceramics.  She has a keen eye for a colour palette, understands the importance of colours and how they relate to interiors, and was one of the first students to know what the company Pantone does!  Jade works full time as a consultant at one of the Benjamin-Moore stores in Winnipeg and she translates that work into her ceramics which sell off the tables whenever there is a Club sale.  I am super impressed with the weight of her work, the size of the coffee cups, and the care that she takes figuring out the glazing and how the colours relate to one another.  Jade is not ready to set out and become a full time production potter but she worked on all the things that a professional potter had to master:  form, repetition of form, the right weight for the vessel, and the glazing.  She will do very well.  She also has an Etsy site:  Etsy.com/shop/jadecoraldesignDSC02923

 

Rebecca Sutherland came and wanted to try and see if she could take her love for Japanese ceramics and translate that into a short course in clay.  Rebecca had never worked with clay at the beginning of June.  And I have to admit that there was a part of me that worried an awful lot about her.  So, never touched clay before June and works full time at a Canadian bank.  This is an independent study class.  We met over the summer but, until today, I had never seen any of her work glazed.  Rebecca was marked on her progress during the course.  From nothing to a beautiful bento box out of clay with a pressed bamboo motif.  It displayed an attention to detail and the colour that she choose worked well, pooling darker in the blades of the Asian grass.  I am hoping that she keeps working.

DSC02925

Iris likes colour (and marbles melted onto her plates).  When I first met her, I said something about orange, possibly that it was not so popular a colour in ceramics, unlike blue which I was told once, ‘everybody loves’.  Iris chirped up and said, ‘I like orange’.  She also likes green, pink, and takes a lot of risks in terms of putting colour together.  Iris took other academic courses while working almost full time and also finding time to train new staff at Starbuck’s.  I want to add here that she gave me a new respect for the coffee chain because they provide benefits for their part time staff.  Tomorrow she goes back to being full time before classes resume in September.  Iris approaches her work as something she wants to use.  Because she has arthritis in her fingers, she presses in the sides of her tumblers so that she can grasp them easily and on her rice bowls she faceted the sides.  Look at the combination of the Reitz water blue on the interior of the pink tumblers.  Quite unique.

DSC02947

It was my privilege to work with these five young women over the summer.  To see what a concentrated time on a single project can benefit their learning.  I wish each of the five of them the very best.  Please keep your eyes out for their work…they are the young rising ceramic stars.  This includes Selena who I hope we can lure back into clay!

Apologies for the photos.  The lack of any quality is all mine and I should add that because of the light this morning, some of the work really is much more beautiful in person.

Top row, left to right:  Selena’s five set mixing bowls, Jade’s teapot and bowls, Jade’s trinket bowl.  Second row:  Iris’s tea bowls, Sarah’s dragon stool, Sarah’s vases.Third row:  a close up of Iris’s fluted tea bowls, Iris’s pink plate with marble, Selena’s mugs.  Last row:  Jade’s mugs, Rebecca’s bamboo box, Sara’s second porcelain stool with female mythology.

Top image:  Rebecca’s bamboo bento box and 2 pinched tea cups

“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.

 

 

 

 

 

‘She’ is just about finished…needs some tweaking for the next firing. Did we learn anything?

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.

Kiln Pre-Heat, Full firing tomorrow!

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.