Friday, January 22, 2010

First Wood-firing at the Community Temple: The Countdown

A Noborigama chambered climbing kiln is built on a slope, and each succeeding chamber is situated higher than the one before it. The chambers in a noborigama are pierced at intervals with stoking ports. Climbing kilns have been used in Japan since the 17th century. ~ Wikipedia

Like a rocket ship with shuttle attachments, the Community Temple kiln in Marshall, North Carolina, has three individual chambers for wood-firing. When my husband and I arrived this past Friday night for the kiln’s first launch, my son, Josh Copus, and other Clayspace Co-op potters were glazing their pots and building brick shelves inside the adobe chambers to load them onto.

After greetings and updates and after setting up enough night lighting, my husband, Joe, stationed himself at the electric stone-cutter. A steady stream of water was pumped over the whining saw, preventing the diamond blade from getting too hot, as he cut through bricks. Various sizes were needed for “the furniture” the potters were stacking, which included chamber fireboxes and firewalls, along with the shelves.

Curious about everything, I took photos and asked lots of questions as I navigated around the impressive 27 foot long kiln. Clayspace Coop member, Eric Knoche makes pots with dramatic architectural angles. He was dipping them in a milky white glaze. Matt Jacobs, another Clayspacer, is known for the small houses that often show up on the pinnacle of his pots, reminiscent of refuge on mountainous landscapes. “They look like Dr. Seuss-like worlds,” I told him.

Matt was making a mixture of pine sawdust, clay, and sand in a wheel barrow for “wadding.” I guessed by the name that it was something to plug up kiln openings but was told that the material would be balled up and stuck on the bottom of each pot to buffer it from the direct heat of the brick shelf surface.

Louisa, Matt’s girlfriend and an anthropology student at Warren Wilson College, brought Ellen, a fellow student who was doing field work for their class. The idea was observe while participating in a community project and then write about the group dynamics. Ellen and Louisa sat on a dirt step under the lights, sticking what looked like various colored cone incense into blocks of wadding or clay. The box they were taking them from said “pyrometric cones.” Josh explained to me that they would be put in the kiln and act as testers as they reacted to time and heat.

Later, Louisa and Ellen would ball up the wadding, and I would be handed a trowel for chipping away extra mortar that had dried between bricks on the chamber walls.

Potter, Rob Pulleyn, Josh’s always supportive neighbor who sold Josh the property the kiln was built on, dropped by with a few pieces to be included in the momentous first firing. Rob is the former founding owner of Lark’s Books and is currently heading up Marshall High Studios, the development of creative space for a community of artists in the historic Marshall High School on Blanahassett Island, downtown Marshall.

But the firing didn’t happen as planned that night. Delayed by a day, every one got some sleep, knowing that the next couple of days and nights would involve the painstaking and constant watching and stoking of the fire, done in shifts by the Clayspace community of potters, family, and friends. To be continued …

Post Notes: The Community Temple is a manifestation of Josh’s pottery career that began with the excavation of eleven dump-truck loads of wild clay from a local tobacco farmer’s field (as outlined in the article Josh wrote for Studio Potter); followed by his UNCA BFA show on Building Community, involving a 15 x 18 foot brick wall installation constructed out of handmade wild clay bricks stamped with the word “individual” to represent the strength an individual has when joined together in community; and leading to the winning of a Windgate Fellowship Award to help fund the construction of a wood-fired kiln and further his exploration into using local materials in ceramics.

To see a short video of Josh glazing pots at the Community Temple this past Friday go HERE. Another kiln building clip is HERE.

~ Originally posted on on September 3, 2007.

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