The Art of Woodfire: A Contemporary Practice

As I began to prepare for my talk on the marginalization of women within the wood fire community (or women ceramists in general) at LaBorne in a few weeks, I took the opportunity to do what was done earlier with art history survey texts:  I started to examine the inclusion of women in publications on the subject.

In 2011, Mansfield Press, owned by the late Janet Mansfield (herself an internationally respected woman who fired her work with wood), published Owen Rye’s The Art of Woodfire:  A Contemporary Practice.  The book has a statement from Rye on why he is so passionate about wood firing in addition to a discussion on the aesthetics, history, and materials and processes of this very physical method of working with clay.  There are pages devoted to individual artists alongside beautiful (and large) images of their work and kilns.  Most discuss their choice of wood firing over other methods or what inspires them.  My objective was a little different.

The book was written in response to to an exhibition which was held at the Front Room Gallery in Gulgong, NSW, eventually travelling to all of Australia in 2011.  But it is much more than a catalogue and the discussions could be applied to the concerns within the wood firing community internationally.  Rye included a discussion of the 24 artists within the exhibition.  Of these the women represented include the late Janet Mansfield, Sandy Lockwood, Barbara Campbell-Allen (including a large photo of her anagama kiln in Kurrajong, NSW opposite an image of a vase and a bottle), and Carol Rosser.  Mention was made of others including Gwyn Hanssen Pigott and Moraig McKenna whose lovely wood fire porcelain was featured in two photographs.

Would I like to see at least half of the attention go to women?  Absolutely.  But a gold star has to go out to Owen Rye.  Many of the other publications do not include a single woman.  Stay tuned!

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?