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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Need a chimney built? Rebecca Wong from Vancouver can really swing a mallet. Helping out is Zach Quin, Smiling Cow Studio, Maple Creek Saskatchewan

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.

Day 3: This is where the work began this morning and when everyone went home at 7, all of the arches were cast and curing. This crew is amazing!

This is one of the best teams of human beings I have ever seen.  End of Day 3 they had all of the arches cast that connect the firebox to the main chamber and the main chamber to the chimney.  Sara and Matt handled the metal and the welding.  Everyone pounded mortar and each and everyone knows precisely how to use a trowel and how to mortar bricks properly.  This is an amazing team.  And that team is Matt Boyd (the technician at Red Deer College), Emily Wolverton (4th year ceramics student SOA), Jen Obst (Red Deer College), Lin Xu (ceramics prof from Brandon University), Donna Garofolo (former ceramics student SOA and now an art therapist), Mike Astill (potter and former student SOA in ceramics), Diane Laluk (artist and former student SOA), Rebecca Wong (Vancouver, graduated from the Faculty of Architecture, U of M), Zach Quinn (runs Smiling Cow Studio, Maple Creek, Saskatchewan), Sara Berg (4th year ceramics student SOA and an amazing welder!), and Markus Boehm (team leader and master potter, Alt Gaarz, Germany).  Give it up for all of them!  If you know any of these fantastic individuals, send them a note.  They are truly making a difference for the students at the School of Art.  I hear that already there is double the demand for the wood kiln course in the fall.  It wouldn’t happen at all without this big effort.  I am so impressed.

 

The Rocky Road to the New Kiln

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.