by Dearing Davis, Red Clay Halo Pottery
The Village Potters is unique and wonderful in that we have a variety of options when it comesto firing our pieces. We have seven electric kilns, a raku kiln, a car-sized gas kiln (Bertha), and a new Geil kiln (Glorifred). We are even in the process of building a kazegama kiln, which will produce earthy wood fired pieces. It is such a gift to have so many kiln options because it allows us to explore different firing techniques as we experiment with form, surface design, functionality, and aesthetic.
All of the pieces we make and sell in our gallery have gone through two firings. This is typical for most ceramic pieces, the exception being once-fired wood pieces. The first time a piece is fired in an electric kiln to around 1940 degrees. From there we decide the next steps for the piece. It is waxed, glazed, and fired again. Each of those processes providing moments for decisions that determine the look of the piece.
I am drawn to gas fired pieces that have experienced a reduction of oxygen while in the kiln. The gas fired look is one that highlights depth and variation in the glaze after being in a changing atmosphere. Bertha, our high fire gas kiln, has always been my white whale. She is mysterious and illusive, taunting me to engage while intimidating me with her size, and her flames. She has valves, dampers, fibers, gas blowers, and pipes leading into her giant belly. Her grandness has left me fearful of firing her on my own….fearful of even beginning to learn all of the information needed to produce gorgeous pots. So I have waited, I have added my pots to Lori and Sarah’s firings with gratefulness.
It was not until a few weeks ago that I took the lead in firing Bertha myself. Hannah, Jenay, Sarah T. and I worked together to pack Bertha full of gorgeous pots. We were hopeful. Months of work and expectations of greatness makes the firing of such a large kiln feel risky. If something goes wrong in the process so much will be lost. With the guidance and help of Sarah and Lori we had a very successful firing. Bertha is being demystified. And now….I can’t wait until I’ve fired this kiln a number of times. Until I know what more of the chemical reactions and conversions taking place are. I can’t wait until that moment where I am able to answer questions for other people, when they are learning to fire Big Bertha.
Making ceramic art involves a series of challenges and conquests. We strive for weeks (sometimes months and years) to do something well, and then we experience great pride and relief upon successful execution. As potters (and as human beings) there is always something to learn, always something new to explore. The Village Potters community celebrates strivings and successes, while encouraging forward movement and pushing creativity to its edge.