Monday, May 21, 2012

...Of Sore Feet n' Fly Ash. teapots from the wood kiln, May 2012.
     Every once in a while Mother Nature steps up her game to rub it in that, no, I am not 22 years old anymore.  These harsh reminders come in many shapes and colors, ....though, mostly shades of grey (which is why i started shaving again)...and mostly having to do with pain.  This isn't about the agony of defeat, the pain of failure, or the hurt of rejection; things that, ironically, age actually can make more bearable.  Hell, I can (..and, especially as of late, did..) stare failure and rejection in the eye with little more than a grimace and a double bourbon and let it wash over me like a spring shower.  No, we're talking about physical pain, the kind that makes you reach for the frozen strawberries in the icebox to use as a cold compress on your knee after a loping jog that you pretend to call exercise (..I know, I know...we have ice cubes but now why would you want to go wasting them?!'s almost happy hour.)

     Physical Pain and Stamina (or lack thereof).   There's nothing like firing a wood kiln in the heat of late spring in southern Louisiana to make a body question its ability to cope with one or the other.  Winter doesn't stay around very long down here, and spring is equally fleeting.  No sooner has your neighbor cut the sleeves off his t shirt than does the sun become your enemy and conspire to drain you of every drop of fluid in your body all at once.  Working under a 3-walled,  tin roofed kiln shed certainly doesn't help matters any, and, when you add the close proximity to 2300 degrees of wood kiln heat, you basically have a convection oven.

LtoR: Jenna, Shea, Katie, James, and Jeff ( BossMan) Brown
But, fortunately for me, I had this crew:

(scary and formidable, I know...)

So, i'd like to take the rest of this time to highlight the various and sundry accomplishments of this crack team of kiln firers who made possible the pots that i will almost certainly post throughout this blog with the pride of shameless self- promotion;)

This wood kiln was built by Jeff Brown, Associate Professor of Ceramics at Nicholls State University in Thibodeaux, LA.  The design for this particular kiln is called a manabigama, based on a kiln originally built by John Thies.  It is intended to be  the perfect "educational" wood kiln, able to reach temperature in a reasonably short amount of time (approx. 8-15hrs.)  without consuming too much wood (less than a cord) but still allowing for great ash build up and results similar to that of a much longer kiln firing.  And, even though this is only my second time firing it, I love this kiln!  ....even if it did try to kill me.

To be fair, it was not really as much the fault of the kiln as it was my own pyro-child fascination with  fire coupled with an  undeterred belief of living in a state of suspended adolescence.  And, what can i say?...i like to be part of the action.

....Shea "The Hammer" Johns, in action!
The three folks who braved the hour long trek south of New Orleans to bayou country were students, or former students, of mine from both Tulane and Loyola University, respectively, (actually, Katie, i guess you were never technically one of my students..but who's counting?) and i cannot say enough about the quality of character displayed by these individuals.   It's one thing to go through all of this when you know and love wood firing, but it is entirely something different to volunteer for such an endeavor solely based upon someone else's (me!) cheering about how magical it is.

...And, when i had to sit my dehydrated, boney butt down in the air conditioned studio to prevent an impending blackout, it was this crew of much younger and more supple backs who fought the good fight and went the distance!

Wood firing is a great learning experience and, when
....."Jesse" James Mooreside, on deck....
it comes to bonding, is almost without equal.  From the very beginning, the entire process is dependent on a team effort.  Splitting and stacking wood is just as important as learning how to load the kiln and place pots in order to achieve the desired effect from the lick of the flame and the deposits of fly ash.

And, while this particular kiln was designed to be able to be fired by as few as 2 individuals, it becomes exponentially easier and more fun with a group of dedicated kiln firers.  I use the word "dedicated" on purpose, because safety and sanity rely on everyone pulling his or her own weight for the good of the group.  All it take is one bad apple,
or four too many Type A control freaks and your
......for She is hungry, and must feed!
in for a loooong day of firing!

In a past post I've mentioned the importance of a healthy group dynamic when it comes to wood firing, and my first experience with this kiln back in November was, arguably, one of the most positive, easy-going firings I have been involved in.  Much of this I attribute to the leadership and personality of Jeff Brown, who calmly steers the ship on course while, at the same time, laying back and allowing newcomers to take the helm without fear of going awry.  This firing was mostly left in what proved to be the very capable hands of a few first- timers.

....Super Hero Katie Whistler, suited up!

..raking the ash pit.

And here, as promised, are a few more pictures of the fruits of our labor.  The following pots are special to me because they represent the first series of stoneware pieces that I've made, in earnest, for quite some time.  Most of my work for the past 10-12 years has been in porcelain, with stoneware being (often unfairly) relegated to in- class demo's. You know, those pots that sit around on the window sill or shelf after bisque firing...mostly for reference purposes.  But, there's something innately satisfying to working with stoneware, kinda like petting a big dog, where you can smack it hard on the butt and wrestle with it and tussle and it will always stand up for you and lick your face and wag its tail.  Porcelain, on the other hand, is much more feline; you have to touch it just a certain way to make it purr and it demands a lot of attention, but when it loves you, boy does it love you!
Anyhow, this past firing has really ignited my interest in working with stoneware again and, with any luck, these group firings can become a regular
occurrence.  I only hope that I'll continue to have the good fortune to work with these folks again.

.....teapot with textured surface, unglazed stoneware.

..front view,  my favorite teabowl , stoneware with shino glaze

...same teabowl, different side.
........If you happen to be travelling in or around the greater New Orleans area, many of these pots are now on display at the Carol robinson Gallery on the corner of Napoleon and Magazine St.