Today was officially day 4 of the Third European Wood Fire Conference in LeBorne, France. It is just such a magical place. To reach LeBorne from Bourges, about a 40 minute drive using winding country roads, you pass through corn and sunflower fields. As you get closer, you enter the forests that have supplied the potters in the area with wood for centuries. Indeed, several Roman-Gallo kilns have been unearthed and the conference has recreated two of these for the participants to see how they were constructed. My very good friend, Dr Julia Nema from Budapest, spoke to the influences of Malevich and Moholgy-Nagy on her light sculptures while Fred Olsen provided everyone with a reason to use cartable for building a wood kiln instead of bricks. Other events included a round table discussion on the future of wood firing, tours to two local museums, and, of course, the numerous open studios of the potters living and working in LeBorne. You do not have to look far to find pottery sitting in gardens, on shelves of buildings or gracing gardens. The anagama kiln will be finished firing tomorrow and if the rain would stop we might actually see the bottle kiln finished!
The first conference was held in Brollin and my friend, Markus Boehm, who came to build the Bourry Box kiln for the School in June, headed up that committee. Priscilla Mouritzen was part of the team that hosted the second conference at the International Ceramic Research Centre in Skaelskor, Germany. At that time only Denmark was wanting to host the second one. It appears that was the case with the third being in LeBorne but, the events are so successful that this time there are four centres vying for the fourth conference in 2022. It reminds me now of the Olympics. But, I keep asking: who decides who will be the host? Since this has not been a problem previously, no one seems to be able to answer. The short list contenders are: Russia, Latvia, Barcelona, and Belgium. Everyone will find out Friday morning!
Meanwhile, I am staring at a stack of catalogues and books that I would never be able to readily find in Canada or on Amazon – as well as some pottery – and trying to figure out how I am going to get this back to Canada next week. The local potters would have sold much more to ‘the foreigners’ if someone had the foresight to have a ‘for charge’ packing and mailing business locally for this event.
The anticipation was in the air as wood firing potters began arriving in the village of La Borne for the Third European Wood Fire Conference. The first was held in Brollin Germany in 2010 and the second at Guldagergaard in Denmark in 2014. From the looks of things, the French have studied both of those conferences and have things well in hand.
La Borne is home to the Contemporary Ceramic Institute, which helps. The main building holds a sales area for all of the members of the institute plus one of the finest book shops focused entirely on ceramics I have ever seen. There are both French and English sections. Oh, if books weren’t so heavy! There is, in addition, approximately 1000 sq feet of exhibition space. Behind this is the kiln shed with three different types of wood burning kilns. Tents have been set up, t-shirts have been printed, and only the French would think of building a kiln out of wine bottles. Down the road is the museum linking today’s potters with those who were working here in medieval times. There are maps showing the directions to the individual potter’s studios that are open for tours. To combat what might be a lack of restaurants – after all – hundreds are planning to descend on this sleepy pottery village –
many have set up cafes in their garden. Some are even selling homemade jam. And as I write to you I am enjoying the end of season strawberries so sweet and tiny along with a chocolate croissant and strong cup of coffee. Life could not be any better!
Stay posted. I will try and fit in the week’s events on a bi-daily basis!
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 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: email@example.com
Sadly, one of our participants is unable due to an illness in their family. So if you have been hoping to be part of this amazing workshop with Markus Boehm and missed out, now is your chance. The cost is $325. If you are coming from out of town, we have arranged accommodation and three meals per day at St John’s College for only $55. What a bargain! And their food is good, too. Best on campus most days.
So get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
The School of Art at the University of Manitoba is hosting a Bourry box kiln building workshop with Markus Boehm from June 21-30. It will be a one cubic metre kiln and participants are asked to bring pieces for the firing. The fee is $325. Spaces are limited and are on a first come basis. Please e-mail me of your interest: email@example.com
Markus Boehm lives in Alt Gaarz, Germany where he has his studio and a sales shop and gallery. In 1989 he passed the rigorous state examinations of the GDR to receive his master potters certification. Boehm was the driving force behind the First European Wood Fire Conference in Brollin, Germany in 2010, an event that was so successful it spread to Denmark for 2014 and to France for August 2018.
Richard Selfridge arrived in Canada in 1969 to pursue a PhD in Political Science. A native of Seattle Washington, he first studied at Washington State University leaving the United States just before completing his PhD dissertation in Political Philosophy. Selfridge taught at the University of Alberta for four years. He became a Canadian citizen in 1974.
Richard Selfridge never intended to become a potter. But life has a way of throwing curve balls at each of us. “Happy Accidents” was what Paul Soldner used to call them. In between his studies, Richard met Carol and his interest in ceramics began. In 1973 he took his first pottery lessons with David Green, one of the individuals behind the formation and an instructor for the Edmonton Potters Guild. These early classes were followed by specialized
studies at the Banff Center with Wayne Ngan, Walter Keeler, Tom Coleman and Janice Tchalenko, amongst others. A year later Richard built his first electric kiln with a single chamber downdraft gas kiln quickly following in 1975. He was hooked on clay! Carol and Richard are both interested in clay, its form and its functionality. At the same time, they are passionate about experimenting with different firing temperatures and glaze effects. The couple built a two chamber cross draft gas and wood-fired salt chamber kiln in 1980 while continuing to fire their majolica in the electric kiln. In 2001, they built a wood-fired coffin kiln. Since 1974 their work has been a joyful collaboration.
The duo taught at the Student’s Union at the University of Alberta in the 1970s, later teaching for the Extension Division of the University of Alberta. Carol was a high school art teacher in Vancouver and Edmonton from 1969-74. Her interest in the figure and drawing have been furthered by workshops at Red Deer College, The Banff Center, and the University of Alberta. In addition to more than 250 international exhibitions, Richard and Carol have also taught workshops across Canada and internationally while still finding time to host two annual studio sales per year since 1974. The pair received major grants from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and the Edmonton Arts Council. They are nothing short of prolific in their output and the generosity with which they share their knowledge of firing effects and glazing. Their work was part of the prestigious Claridge Collection.