Wednesday, April 28, 2010

April 18 Spring Firing of the Harvard Nobles Woodfire Kiln

The 2010 spring firing of the Harvard Nobles Green Wood Fire Kiln was a collaboration of potters from the Harvard Ceramics Studio, located just outside of Cambridge, MA and Mudflat Studio in Sommerville, MA. These artists were brought together by Wayne Fuerst, who teaches for both Harvard and Mudflat. We gathered at 11 a.m. to load the kiln on a cool, misty Saturday in Dedham, MA. This kiln was built as a joint effort between the Harvard Ceramics Studio and Nobels and Greenough, a private middle and high school who provided the grounds for the kiln. These studios were linked by Makoto Yabe, a revered teacher who brought Zen humor and traditional Japanese ceramic craft to the clay studios of New England. This kiln was built as a memorial to a great teacher, to exist as a tool to educate curious students about the ancient process of wood firing in a contemporary context with a state-of-the-art design. I had my laptop out early the next morning when we began the firing so that we could look at the pictures of the four firings we did in November with Kusakabe-san. These images would remind us of the adjustments that Kusakabe-san was making to the air and the stoking during the firings he lead. At this time, I was also keeping a written log of the time, temperature, and adjustments we were making so that we could use this information for future firings. Zach, a computer programmer and participant from Mudflat suggested that I keep the log online in a google excel document, so that we could graph the temperature rise as we fired and share the document easily online. I agreed, and was thrilled to continue firing in the spirit of Kusakabe-san who always had his laptop open in front of him during the firings: graphing the temperature rise and making notes, video-conferencing with friends in Japan to show off the kiln firing, as well as showing us clips of his favorite kung-fu movies. Because we kept the log online, Shawn Panepinto, of the Harvard Studio, was able to follow the details of the firing from the comfort of her home.
We also agreed early in the firing to create a Facebook group in order to easily share pictures and videos of the firing. We had fun making videos and creating a site for the Harvard Nobles Green Wood Fire Kiln community to share our experience with other ceramic enthusiasts and studio members. Because the kiln is located about 20 minutes south-west of the Harvard Ceramics Studio, many studio members remain unfamiliar with this great new resource which was built in 2009 as a summer workshop. By creating a board of test tiles of all studio glazes fired in the Green Fire Wood Kiln, setting up displays before and after firings in the entrance of the Harvard Ceramics Studio, and making the kiln's firing community accessible through an internet presence by blogging and face-booking we hope interest will grow in this valuable teaching and learning tool.
During wood kiln firings, we encourage people who are interested in the process, but don't have work in the kiln, to visit and see what the wood-firing process is all about. This firing, we were thrilled to host four human visitors and two loving canines come out to see what we were up to. A participant, Rachel brought a friend and they got to work in the late afternoon stretching dough and firing green olive and cheese pizzas in the cooking chamber of the kiln. We had fun looking in the many peeps around the kiln, monitoring the flame throughout the chamber, and introducing others to the miraculous transformation that ceramics undergo in the wood-fire kiln. Due to certain calculations during the loading, there was a cold spot in the door-side upper peep, so we many adjustments to the air in front of the firebox to more strongly influence the flame to be drawn to this cold spot. Our adjustments did the trick and brought this spot to a more consistent temperature with the rest of the kiln, but the ceramics in this area were highly oxidized and some glazes were dry although cone ten was soft.
I invite you to visit our facebook page, Harvard Nobles Green Wood Fire Kiln, to see videos and images from the loading, firing, and unloading. Also, there is more to read about this kiln and Kusakabe-san on the Office of the Arts at Harvard blog entries. And finally, you can look over the kiln log we kept in a google document. I will be happy to humbly attempt to answer any questions you may have about the Harvard Nobles Green Wood Fire Kiln, and I would love to hear any comments that the international community of wood fire artists have on their minds. Beginning in September 2009, I have been working as the Wood-Kiln Assistant, helping to prepare materials for workshops and firings, participating in firings, assisting Kusakabe-san and Wayne Fuerst, and learning as much as I can from this valuable opportunity.

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