Wood obviously plays an important role at the pottery and its arrival
heralds the beginning of the next production cycle. The wood
I use – mainly slab wood of deciduous hardwoods – is
a by-product of local sawmills. This wood not only fires my kiln
but also heats my workshop and my house. Each year I burn nearly
thirty cords of wood, necessitating a great deal of time spent
cutting, splitting and stacking, to provide a sufficient supply
for my needs.
I get my unprocessed or “crude” clay from Indiana and “blunge” it
in a homemade mixer. Blunging is a process of adding water to dry
clay and mixing it into a creamy solution that is then pumped into
troughs where, for approximately three weeks, it slowly dries to
a state where it can be worked on a wheel. Three tons of clay is
needed to fill the kiln.
It takes nearly two months of turning to make a sufficient number
of pots to fill the kiln. This lengthy cycle gives me a great period
of concentrated time at the wheel. Each week the workshop grows fuller
and fuller with the work from the previous weeks. Being surrounded
by a vast assortment of greenware increases my creative energy as
I approach the firing stage of the cycle. In a sense, my appetite
for making pots grows on what it feeds. Each day's work includes
the glazing and decorating of pots made the previous day.
My “noborigama” or chamber kiln is a distant relative
of kilns developed
in Japan nearly one thousand years ago. The kiln was built during
the summer of 1999 with the help of Hallie Hite and Nate Evans of Allamakee
Pottery in northeastern Iowa and fired for the first time that
September. Nearly ten thousand bricks recycled from a local porcelain
factory went into the construction of the kiln. Made up of three
chambers, with each attached to the next by flues, my kiln was designed
for producing three distinctive styles of work: natural fly ash glaze
in the first chamber, decorated glazed ware in the second, and salt-glazed
pots in the third.
Firings take place three times a year and are the culmination of
three months work. Life at the pottery centers on the successful
packing and firing of the kiln. The first week of the firing cycle
begins with placing nearly two thousand pots in the three chambers
of the kiln.
Once the kiln is packed, a small fire or “candle” is
lit in the fire box and tended for two days to insure that the pots
are thoroughly dry for the firing. For the next three days, a crew
of four take six-hour shifts to bring the kiln up to a temperature
of 2350 degrees Fahrenheit, burning nearly seven cords of slab wood
in the process. As the temperature rises, the kiln seems to come
alive with a voracious appetite for wood. To insure that the temperature
rises properly, great care and attention are necessary not to over-
or under-stoke the fire. Once the first chamber is brought to top
temperature, stoking ceases in that chamber and commences in the
second, which takes nearly twelve hours to fire. Upon the completion
of the second chamber the process is repeated in the third. With
firing complete, the kiln is “clammed” or sealed and
left to cool. After one week of eager anticipation, the doors of
the kiln are unbricked to disclose the end result of four months’ work.
This is also a time for reflection and learning, as each pot discloses
information that can be applied to the next cycle of production.