Saturday, September 20, 2014

Old School Wood Firing

One of New Zealand's greatest potters, Barry Brickell, paid a visit to Dunedin this week, so I went along to check out his live throwing exhibition at the Art Gallery, where he threw one of his famous 'fatso' jugs.

The exhibition of his work:  'His Own Steam' is an amazing collection of 100 pieces showcasing a lifetime of exploration and experimentation, and I would totally recommend going to see it. Barry Brickell specialises in wood firing and the use of natural glazes, two things that are really important to me in my own work, and not only that -  he is totally self-sufficient - he digs his own clay and runs his own private railway at his place in the Coromandel.  Here is a link to a great video  from 1970, that captures the essence of that magical time in New Zealand pottery.

In honour of his visit there was a public wood firing over a couple of days at the Otago Polytechnic Art School.  I managed to put some pieces in - a vase and three of my bellarmine jugs that I have been waiting to salt fire.

Bellarmines are decorated stoneware drinking vessels from the 16th Century in Germany that have  a long and curious history - the fierce bearded face on the side may represent a mythical 'wild man' or an unpopular politician at the time - but I have to say his expression only improves with a foam of beer flowing out of the top of his head and over his rounded belly.  Bellarmines were also widely used as 'witch bottles' in the Middle Ages - they have been found buried under houses containing various magical bits and pieces  (black or white).

Here are some of mine.  They are a good tankard size, holding about 500 mls, just slightly smaller than traditional bellarmines.

Several Dunedin potters and ceramic arts students put pieces into the firing, which started on Thursday afternoon and carried on for most of Friday, with wood being cut and fed in until it reached Cone 12 around 1 am.  Then it was turned off and cooled down until Sunday midday, when I went along to see the results.

Here's the art school wood kiln from the outside:

And here's the sight that greeted us when we opened the lid. You never know how it's going to work out, but this was amazing - the transformation from everything being pink to being beautifully ash glazed. It was quite a buzz.

Here they are set out on a table, showing the range of natural effects you can achieve with this kind of slow, organic firing:

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