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 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!
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!
The work coming out of the first firing of the new Bourry box kiln was fantastic. It was just a wonderful group of people who will stay in touch. Mike Astill has his own wood kiln in Ile des Chenes but joined us (he is a fabulous former student from the School) and entertained many of the crew while they were here from out of town. Thanks, Mike and Maria!
The firing survived the old soda shelves that oozed soda and are so brittle they could cut someone’s arm off if broken. We love Markus’s wadding recipe because it flakes off easily. His glazes were amazing as were some of the ones the crew brought. There is good biidoro at the lower level which reached well beyond cone 13. And the kiln fires like a rocket. Might have said, we had to slow it down by soaking the poplar logs. We will modify the bagwall, use a smaller shelf on the top and not load the pots so near the roof to even out the temperature. Everyone was happy! What a way to end 9 days together – not wanting to leave.
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!
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.
When you have a kiln building workshop, many things can happen. This firing has been ‘blessed’ as we have averted so many disasters. It was pouring for hours in South Osborne last Saturday (if it was Sunday, apologies as the days are beginning to run together) and we had only enough small drops to cool us off at the University. But, last night, it was the reverse. It poured and there was lightening. Still, things were ‘not so bad’. Then through a couple of heavy-duty miscommunications with the log provider and a hard drive that had crashed with supporting messages gone into the ether, we had to live with an assortment of logs instead of ones 1 metre long or 3 metres long. But, give it up to the group to just say ‘hey, things happen’. They all deserve several days at Thermae Spa here in the ‘peg. I wish I had free passes for them.
Ah, and there is something very different in pre-heating a kiln in Canada and one in the EU. Regulations require a propane torch with a thermocouple and a safety valve in the EU. In other words, you do not have to babysit the burner all night long. The folks over at Physical Plant looked – I think every department got involved from Plumbing to Heating trying to help me find a remedy. We do have safety valves on the new tanks but this is on the torch itself. I think when I go to the European Wood Fire Conference in LeBorne, France in August, I will pick one up for us. It would be so nice to skip one step. Still, there will be other security issues that might not allow a burner to be left unattended in a public building anyway.
Everyone was busy working on one thing or another today to make this firing on time. Tomorrow, the Director delivers pizza and Caesar Salad and, somehow, this evening I got a second wind and made lemon rosemary cupcakes. It will be hot so here’s hoping the icing will stand up. Speaking of standing up, everyone learned on day 1 to wear a hat in the sun. Did I? Today, 5 hours out there sent me home with one of those ‘you idiot you didn’t wear a hat, you had too much sun and got dehydrated sick feelings’. Tomorrow will be another day – with a hat. More photos of the action to come. Send us all your good wishes for the kiln firing as sweet as we think it will – and please send the rain somewhere it is needed, at least until late tomorrow night.