Need some ceramic inspiration? Looking for a place to hone your skills while immersing yourself in the culture of the French countryside? Well, then I have a place for you…..

Are you looking for a place to refresh your pottery skills?  Learn more while immersing yourself in local French culture?  What about all of that while staying in beautiful accommodations in the Loire Valley?  Well, if this sounds like a good way to spend some of your summer or, if you have time during year, then I would like to introduce you to Christine Pedley, the person who can make this dream of yours come true.

I met Christine while I was attending the Third European Wood Firing Conference in La Borne, France, last August.  Christine Pedley was one of the key organizers of the weeklong event and one of a small number of local potters who helped get the new contemporary art centre built after two decades of negotiations.  As one of the longest resident ceramists in this village of potters, Pedley is an inspiring instructor who offers courses at her studio in La Borne.  And that is precisely why I am including Christine in today’s blog.  There are many places to go and learn ceramics, but it is rare to find someone whose roots go back to the studio pottery movement in Britain and who are individuals who connect to the modern movement in clay in La Borne.  For lessons, cultural tours, visits to wineries, well…I cannot recommend anyone better than Christine.

Christine Pedley studied studio pottery at the Harrow School of Art in London, England before apprenticing with David Leach in Devon.  She spent a sabbical year touring Japan in 1973-74, three and a half months of which was devoted to working with a traditional potter, Takeo Sudosan, in Mashiko.  She also studied with Jean Claude de Crouzax in Switzerland and Antoine De Vinck in Belgium.  It was the time she spent in Japan, however, that gave her a special view of the world.  She says, “My time in Japan was an eye-opener to a world with no limits, only the ones we give ourselves, and with this new inspiration my work and my life goes on moving forward from the ‘source'”.

Today, she continues to create objects for daily use out of porcelain and stoneware.  Some are lightly salted to further enhance the effects of the wood firing.  Christine’s “raison d’être” in La Borne is her strong interest in the 4-century old tradition wood firing techniques and the excellent local stoneware clay which is a pleasure to throw.  She says, “I am fortunate to feel that live in my element and connected to the abundant nature which surrounds La Borne”.

If you are looking for that special place for inspiration, look no further than Christine in La Borne.  For information on pricing of accommodation and classes, please visit Christine’s website:      Chris-pedley.eu

Use Google Translate if you French is not so good.

ExtérieurAtelierAtelierCoupe montée au colombinEnfournement, four à bois                                  images

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!

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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!

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Those fabulous students preparing for the wood fire on Saturday, December 1

Those of you who have read my blog on a regular basis might be getting tired of me telling you of the great blessings I have had or the fantastic students that have come my way this term but, both are true.  Yes that first firing went 50% as planned but gosh did we ever learn a lot.  The weather was good to us and each of us quietly hoped that there would not be an Arctic freeze during the second firing.

On Friday, November 23, it was +2 C.  That day the students helped the ceramics tech, Chris Pancoe, with sorting, cutting, and stacking the oak slabs for the firing.  For safety reasons, Chris graciously took on the chain saw so that no student got hurt despite the fact that he was trying to get everything perfect for us as he and his wife, Jennie, were leaving for Sweden to build one of the ice hotel rooms in two days time.  Congratulations to the two of you and hopefully you will have a fantastic adventure.  Monique Chartier-Kroeker and Anastasia Waly helped Chris along with Hyounjung Lee who had, until that instance, never handled a shovel.  She enjoyed clearing up that sawdust!  Great work all of you.  Inside the sculpture building, Alexandra Ross was on the chop saw helping get the pre-heat wood ready to go.

So far, the two firings in the kiln have used Poplar logs so this is going to be new to all of us as no one has used hardwood planks before.  We have oak and the slabs are big and dry.  Chris welded us a grate so that we no longer have to depend on logs and I am hoping that the hardwood doesn’t cause us to have too much of an ember bed that it blocks the flue.  We will just have to keep our eyes on that!

Did I say that Monique discovered that the features of the oak slabs were really interesting?  One piece of wood even came inside the studio to be the mascot for the firings despite the fact that there was a debate over whether it was a ‘moose’ or a ‘rabbit’.   No clinical psychologists around to analyze the meaning for those choices so all is well!

Inside Zach Dueck and Kendra Wile helped mix up two of the favorite class glazes – Haystack Green and Tin Purple while the others glazed their work and wadded the bottoms of their pots for loading this coming Friday.

Over the course of several more firings they will find their way balancing the naturalness of the wood firing and ash with their need for colour.  But no one wants ugly brown pots according to Paul Davis’s definition.  We are all looking forward to how the new Nuka glazes using the ash from the second firing and some new shinos come out in this firing.  Julia Beazley, Kewen Qiang, and Yijia Zhang were putting the final touches on their new bisque pieces for the firing in our glaze room.

We will keep you posted on how it goes….Sara Berg will light the gas burner to pre-heat the kiln and chimney at 3am Saturday and hopefully the rest of us will have a ‘laid back’ wood firing and be finished by 11pm. This time we will not run out of wood and those darn cones will bend and the pyrometer will work!  Since there is so much salt build up we may just toss a little extra in!  Stay posted for action shots beginning Friday night!

Well, my goodness

My students and I prepared for the worst.  But look at the faces of Sara (left) and Monique (right).  It wasn’t all bad.  No cones down, Oxyprobe reading said that we were only at about cone 3 and, of course, no real view into that wood kiln when we ran out of wood.  We were disappointed but at every turn, there was something to be learned.  Today, as a few of us unloaded the kiln, there was confirmation that the shelves were too close to the back wall.  Next time, they will be 10 cm away!  But, of course, we need wood.  Manitoba surely isn’t known for its abundant forests.  Too bad.  Several are searching to try and help us.  So, what we need are logs, no bigger in diameter than 15 cm but at least 1 metre long or able to be cut to 1 metre.  And they need to be dry.  But…for the disappointment, there was also some joy.  Some of the pieces did get some lovely ash and some of the glazes did mature.  Have a look!

 

 

The Learning Kiln, Round 1

I haven’t added anything to this blog since the beginning of the term but, it is now time to once again praise a great crew of people.  The students from the first Wood Fire Class at the School of Art:  Jaiwei Dai, Julia Beasley, Kendra Wile, Kewen Qiang, Monique Chartier-Kroeker, Sara Berg, Yijia Zhang, Zach Dueck, Anastasia Waly, Alexandra Ross, and Hyoungjung Lee – in no particular order.  I would also like to thank a former student and Ceramics Club co-president (with Selena Panchoo), Donna Garafolo, and a current student in another class who came to help and really did, Keith Barber.  Of the eleven students in the class, only two had ever fired a wood kiln. The learning kiln did everything that ‘it’ was supposed to do.  If a university is about learning and problem-solving and if woodfire is about building community, teamwork and collegiality then this firing was one of the most successful I have ever been a part of.  I would be proud to fire with any of these respectful, hardworking, and tenacious individuals and I am looking forward to another firing before the end of the term with this teamIMG_0365IMG_0374IMG_0380IMG_0385IMG_0391IMG_0394IMG_0399IMG_0407IMG_0409IMG_0413 if we can procure dry logs of the right length and diameter.

While I would like to be showing you amazing pictures of lovely glazed work this morning, I can’t.  We ran out of wood at cone 3 after using up every available piece of wood and borrowing a table saw from Keith and a chainsaw from Donna.  The Oxyprobe worked brilliantly.  Students learned how to translate numbers into reducing or oxidising and even neutral atmospheres inside the kiln.  They were, however, disappointed at not having bellowing black smoke go everywhere – the kiln is, after all, a smokeless one.  They learned about building a proper ember bed and not blocking the flue, about ‘stoking on the hobs’ – even the word was like one from a totally foreign language – hobs, what are hobs?  Oh, those are the hobs!  It is interesting, as a teacher, to find that actually doing something is more of a learning tool than reading and talking about it (a bit like reading how to put a diaper on a baby and then being presented with a real child)- especially when most of the students do not know the language of wood firing.  The majority did not know what an ember was nevermind an ember bed.  They do now!

These students did everything right according to Steve Harrison’s Laid Back Wood Firing and Markus Boehm’s instructions in the summer.  They pre-heated the kiln with gas (thanks Sara from coming out in the middle of the night) and then started using sticks and branches to start the ember bed before going full fire on the floor.  They built one of the most beautiful ember beds I have seen in a long time.  They went to the hobs following the schedule in Steve Harrison’s Laidback Wood Firing – a book that I will now require for this class in the future.  But it was there with them at every moment.  And the temperature rose slowly not to warp or dunt the pieces inside.  One of the surprises to them was one that caused a moment of problem-solving.  The flames which had been ‘going down’ in the Bourry Box began to look like a ‘campfire’ – they were coming up.  When we ran out of dry suitable wood, they attempted to use some cut off slabs (remember I said they didn’t want to give up) and one of these blocked the flue into the main chamber for a bit.  Back on track they built up their ember bed, went back to the hobs, and then got to full-blown fire resulting in reduction.

Harrison lists the possibilities for a stall and we carefully examined page 14 and his list.  We ruled out not enough ember pile to preheat combustion (see feature photo with logs on hobs), going to the hobs too quickly (we followed the medium length firing schedule in the book), top of the firebox was hot enough, and we had good dry pieces when we went on the hobs (again see above).  The firebox design was made for one-metre poplar logs and worked well at the first firing.  And the students did not forget to clam up the bottom stokehole door.  This left us with two choices and they were the two culprits that defeated us at cone 3:  too big a cross-section of timber because of the large mass it took too long to reach the flashing point and that wood was wet.   We sealed up everything and cleaned up.  The area looked fantastic due to their efforts.  And, in the midst of all of this, we also did a raku firing.

So I want to repeat something because I do not want anyone to consider this firing a failure; it is not the student’s fault that the wood we had available to us at a crucial juncture was too big and too wet.  This is a learning kiln and if University is about learning and problem-solving, then this firing was 100% successful!  I do not want the students, or anyone, to think that a kiln full of beautiful glazed ceramics is ever the only goal.  If this firing had gone perfect, I actually suspect that the learning aspect would have been minimal.  We, me and the students, are humbled along with all other wood firing potters, even Steve Harrison, who have had issues firing their kilns.  I suspect that that is what, over the years, inspired Harrison to write his book so that we could learn from his experience.  Next time we are going to measure the diameter of the logs and their length.  I would give anything for the tool to measure the wetness of wood.  We will have our own chainsaw (and gas – thanks again, Donna and Keith).  We will, once again, check what to do in the ‘Harrison Bible’ and the firing will result in lovely glazed cone 12 ceramics.

“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.

 

 

 

 

 

Anne Mette Hjortshoj

Anne Mette Hjortshoj is a Danish wood firing ceramist from the island of Bornholm.

On the island of Bornholm is the Royal Danish Academy and this is where Hjortshoj studied ceramics.  She graduated in 2000 and she continues to live on this island that is home to a large number of wood firing potters.  She fires a two chamber wood/salt kiln on the island often collecting local clays from the beaches for her slips and glaze materials.  Lately, she has been researching Nuka glazes.  Hjortshoj continues to study ceramics desiring to improve her work all of the time and gain more experience.  She has been to Wales where she spent more than a year with Phil Rogers.  She has also conducted workshops and studied with other potters in Korea, Australia, and the United States.

Her work is exhibited internationally.  To view, one of the best places is goldmarkart.com    There are also a number of youtube videos that show the work of this very accomplished young woman.  Check her out!

I am looking forward to the Third European Woodfire Conference in LeBorne.  Anne Mette and I met briefly at earlier European conferences and I want to discuss with her these Nuka glazes.

All images Goldmark Art.