Wood Kiln Firing: A Process Full of Culture, History, & Beauty
It's the last weekend in August, and we're stoking hardwood into our hungry Naborigama (multi-chambered, hill climbing, wood-fired kiln) during a beautiful crisp day, now that the heatwave has passed.
I reopened Canton Clay Works with a wood firing on the last weekend of June, to discover that the pandemic has been a powerful force encouraging my wood firing community to make pots and sculpture at an unusual rate! Everyone is getting back to the activity we love most, which is wood firing. This has enabled us to fire the Naborigama three times in just over two months. It has been a wonderful activity to reunite our community during these difficult times.
I have been ardently wood firing for about 20 years. Our Naborigama has been fired over 300 times. It's not uncommon to hear people who are new to this experience ask, "Why are so many people drawn to wood firing?" When reflecting on the answer, I emphasize that the experience is full of process, discovery, culture, and history.
Wood kiln firing has been categorized for years as "the firing process potters use for other potters," meaning that much of the joy and appreciation is found in the process, while resulting in stunning and unique finishes. Diving into the numerous days of preparation, loading, firing, and joyfully unloading is like opening presents at a holiday gathering. The finished wares often exceed our expectations.
With investment and experience, we understand that there is a seductive and intimate relationship between the wood-fired pots and the encompassing flames. As wood burns, it releases numerous minerals in the form of gas or vapor, which creates a unique movement and expression of life absorbed by the pots during the firing. It makes every piece unique and one of a kind.
The appreciation of this relationship with flame and fire emerged in China many, many years ago from Chen Buddhism. In Buddhist practices, there is a strong sense of artistic appreciation coupled with the intimacy of uniquely one of a kind occurrences in the natural world. Wood firing results are in line with this philosophy of appreciation.
At a kiln unloading, there is boundless excitement, as we reveal the "never-before-seen" wares. Each artist has the opportunity to share their newly unloaded pots with all the other participants. There is delightfulness in watching each artist seeing something unique and unusual in each pot that someone else may not have observed and absorbed. With time, each pot teaches us more about our process and gives us a greater appreciation for the craft.
I hope at some point, you all can participate in the unloading of a wood kiln to experience the delight as each unique piece is revealed.