“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.

Day 7. Kiln Built and Fired in one week. Cone 12. 13 hours firing. Used ONLY half a cord of wood. What an incredible group and give it up for Markus Boehm-it truly is a smokeless kiln!!!!!!!!!!!

Believe it or not, with all the heat, the sweat, the need for a shower – when the kiln reached temperature, it was almost disbelief by those standing doing the last shifts. Amazing group of people who then dug in and cleaned up the kiln pad and who can’t wait to hear a talk by Markus tomorrow and see the results late Saturday.

Stay tuned!

Kiln Building Workshop with Markus Boehm, School of Art, U of Manitoba, June 21-30

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:   maryannsteggles@icloud.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.

 

Gunda Stewart

I do not know when I was first introduced to Gunda Stewart.  I wish I could remember who it was that told me to contact her because I would like to thank them.  I consider her a dear friend, a treasure, that came into my life so unexpectedly.  I do remember flying into the tiny airport at Cranbrook from Calgary.  What a view over the Rockies!  And driving a rental car – some sort of Honda that had to have rear wheel drive through the mountains, south to Canyon BC.  On the road to Gunda’s studio and home, nestled in the valley of the Selkirk and Purcell Mountains, there is a single blue artisan sign.  But it doesn’t tell you that if you follow it, you will discover one of Canada’s best wood fire potters!!!!  Gunda lives on a beautiful acreage with gardens, both flower and vegetable, with her partner Wayne and their dog, Sadie.  Her studio is separate from the house and next to it is her Mamabigama 40 cubic foot wood kiln.  It is a beauty!

Gunda studied with Tam Irving at the Vancouver School of Art.  Her work clearly shows the influence of Irving as well as Irving’s friend, John Reeve, who also taught at the VSA for a short time.  Her temmoku bowls, mugs, and baskets are covered by the deep rich iron glaze breaking at the lip into kaki (persimmon).  She says she puts them at the back of her kiln and in the front is the ash glazed ware, runny and luscious.

Her work is sold at the local artisan market during the summer and at several holidays sales in the late fall.  She also has a few sales out of her studio and visitors are welcome to drop by and purchase ware when there is not a public market or sale.

I often wonder if the people who attend the weekend markets in Canyon beginning in May know what a treasure they have in their midst?  Or does the old adage, ‘You are not a prophet in your own land’ still apply?  Google her.  She has her own website where she features images of recent work.  This was a bad year for all the wood firers in British Columbia.  The wildfires kept the fire ban going until the end of September.  Then it was a mad rush to fire the kiln, load after load, tiring and backbreaking at the same time, to get everything ready for the holiday markets.

Now that the season is drawing to a close, Gunda tells me she is ready to curl up, drink nice tea, and read a few good books as the snow covers the landscape in the winter.

If you happen to be in the area, follow the artisan sign.  You will be so happy you did!

 

Joo Young Han

 

Joo Young (Grace) Han graduated with a BFA from Dankook University in South Korea, an art faculty that focused on traditional Korean ceramics. It was at Dankook that Han learned by observing the master, Joon Hoon Park, and by throwing hundreds of Korean tea bowls, known as sabal, daily.  Over time, she became proficient in using the Onngi wheel to create the large earthenware vessels used to store water and fermented food such as kimchi.    From 2004-2011 Han continued to perfect her ceramic skills before moving to Canada.  On June 3, 2016, five years after arriving on the Canadian prairies, Han graduated with her MFA.  She struggled throughout her graduate studies to find her own voice, somewhere in the middle of being a traditional Korean potter and a new Canadian studying pottery in a Western tradition.  Today she is one of the rising stars in Canadian ceramics.

Since her graduation she has been a resident at the Medalta potteries, her work has been selected for the International Exhibition at Mashiko and was shown at the First Craft Biennale in Toronto.  She has taught for the School of Art at the University of Manitoba.  Her class on onggi making was a huge success.  Han is spending December 2017 in Korea studying reduction cooling in wood firing.