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!

It’s no secret, I really like Gunda Stewart’s wood-fired​ vessels

I have written about Gunda Stewart before.  If you missed it, here is a little synopsis.  Stewart studied with Tam Irving and Sally Michener at the Vancouver School of Art.  She works on a treadle wheel and is a great follower of the Leach tradition.  Both of us love the rich temmoku pots that come out of her wood kiln in Canyon, BC.  Her ash glazes and her Shinos are also spot on.  Lately, she has been experimenting with ‘blue’.  Some of the results are now sitting on a few new shelves in my kitchen.  They are lovely soft grey blues, far distant cousins from the coldness of the cobalt I have seen elsewhere.  Stewart has been firing her large Manabigama kiln designed by John Thies and Bill van Gilder for ten years.  I like it because it is easy to fire, using less wood and human hours than many kilns of the same size.  The results are also stunning.  What I don’t like about it is the crawling inside to stack the shelves.  That has to be the only drawback and Stewart is wondering herself, even though she is in fantastic physical shape, how long she will be able to wood fire her work.  For me, I hope it is much, much longer.  Stewart used to sell her work to a gallery in St Louis and the Gardiner Museum of Ceramics shop in Toronto.  I say ‘used to’.  Many potters/ceramists, clay artists (what each individual cares to call themselves) rely on prestigious shops such as these not only for large sales such as the market in Toronto affords but also as a validation that their work is ‘excellent’.  Stewart now sells all her work locally, either at the Saturday market or through her studio.  Her buyers are repeat customers, often several generations from the same family, and tourists that come to the East Kootenays.  She has trouble keeping stock and her recent, lovely ‘blues’ fly off the shelves as do the more traditional Sung dynasty glazes.  How satisfying it must be to know that in an area with a small population your work is valued, even cherished.  If you are in the Canyon area, follow the blue artisan signs.  Her shop is open most days from 11-7 during the summer and fall.

As for me, I want to publicly thank her for hosting me, for talking pots, sharing her recipe for Quinoa brownies (delicious), and taking me for a walk in the beautiful cedar forests.  I envy her the quiet tranquillity that surrounds her in addition to the reasonable, very reasonable, indeed, cost of wood in the East Kootenays.  The wood here is not as good and is 5x more expensive – but, hey, we don’t have the trees that they do.  It was also very refreshing that when I asked her if she ever felt marginalized as a woman wanting to work in the world of wood firing that she said ‘never really.’  Tam Irving was super supportive to her as a student and both Cam Stewart and Robin du Pont, wood firers from the Winlaw area, have been nothing but great and giving.  Fabulous!

 

Friday: Day 8 Markus Boehm gives an artist talk for the workshop participants

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!

Made room for 2 lucky individuals if you want to learn about wood firing and join some fantastic folks building a wood kiln with Markus Boehm June 21-30

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!

My e-mail is:   maryannsteggles@icloud.com

 

The Buzz over the new Kiln Build

The enthusiasm over the building of our new ‘sweet’ kiln that one person can fire or a group, with wood effects or full-blown ash, has spread from the West coast of Canada to Denmark!  There are now only three places left in the workshop.  If you or anyone you know is interested, do not wait.  The workshop goes from June 21-30 and that includes a firing and the cooling of the kiln.  Lots of hard work and great rewards and an opportunity to learn from Markus Boehm.   So happy to have him on board.  The cost is $325.  Does not include accommodation or meals or travel to Winnipeg.  Will include a few smaller pieces fired in the kiln.  They must be cone 10 clay and arrive bisque.  No glaze.  We supply the glaze.

If you have questions, get in touch with me – but, this is first come so don’t hesitate.   Write to me at:     maryannsteggles@icloud.com