Making pottery from industrial reclaim: fired in a Japanese anagama kiln: Interview with Sara Howard
Anagama firing is truly a fascinating world in itself. Imagine a technique that’s been around for centuries, still captivating artists and potters today. Anagama kilns are these long, tunnel-like structures built into a hillside. They’re the oldest style of kiln used in Japan and have a unique design that allows for wood firing in a way that’s quite different from modern kilns.
When you fire pottery in an Anagama kiln, it’s not just about heating the clay; it’s a whole experience. These kilns can be massive, and the firing process can take several days, sometimes even a week. The key here is the wood fuel. The wood doesn’t just provide heat; it’s an active part of the artistic process. As the wood burns, it produces ash and flames that dance across the pottery, creating natural glazes and patterns that are absolutely unique. No two pieces are ever the same.
Temperature control is another fascinating aspect. Unlike electric or gas kilns where you can set a precise temperature, in Anagama firing, it’s all about intuition and experience. The potter has to constantly monitor and adjust the fire, which adds to the unpredictability and charm of the process. It’s a bit like a dance with fire, where the potter and the elements work together to create something beautiful.
And then, there’s the ash deposit. As the wood burns, ash lands on the pottery and melts into a natural glaze. The way the ash settles depends on the kiln’s atmosphere, the flame’s path, and where the piece is placed in the kiln. This can result in stunning effects, like glossy surfaces or natural ash glazes that are simply impossible to replicate with other methods.
The Anagama kiln creates an environment where art meets nature. The wood’s flames and ash interact with the clay in a way that’s almost alive, leading to pottery that’s not just handmade but also has an imprint of nature itself. Each piece tells a story of fire, ash, and the potter’s dedication. It’s a beautiful blend of art, craftsmanship, and a bit of serendipity, don’t you think?
Steps in Anagama firing
Anagama firing is an intricate and time-consuming process that combines art, science, and a bit of alchemy. Let me walk you through the typical steps:
- Preparation of the Kiln: First, the Anagama kiln must be prepared. This involves cleaning out any debris from previous firings and ensuring the kiln is in good repair. The kiln’s design, resembling a long tunnel built into a hillside, allows for a unique airflow and heat distribution.
- Preparing the Pottery: Before they can be fired, the pottery pieces are often bisque fired in a regular kiln. This makes them more durable for the intense Anagama firing process.
- Loading the Kiln: This is a crucial step. The way the pottery is placed inside the kiln greatly affects how the flames, heat, and ash will interact with each piece. Strategic placement can lead to stunning effects, so this process is done with great care.
- Sealing the Kiln: Once loaded, the kiln is sealed except for air intakes and chimney flues. This control over air flow is vital for the firing process.
- Firing the Kiln: Now comes the actual firing, which is a gradual and controlled process. The kiln is slowly brought up to temperature using a carefully managed fire. This can take many hours, as a too-rapid temperature increase can damage the pottery.
- Maintaining the Fire: This is where the real artistry comes in. Over several days, the fire is carefully maintained. Wood is added at regular intervals to keep the temperature steady and to influence the ash deposits and flame paths.
- Cooling Down: After reaching the desired temperature and firing time, the kiln is allowed to cool down. This cooling process is just as crucial as the heating. It can take several days for the kiln to cool enough to safely remove the pottery.
- Unloading the Kiln: Once the kiln has cooled, it’s time to see the results. This is often an exciting moment as each piece is unique, marked by the journey of flame and ash through the kiln.
- Cleaning and Finishing: The final step involves cleaning the pottery. Some pieces might have ash deposits that need to be gently removed or smoothed out. After this, the pottery is ready for use or display.
Each Anagama firing is a unique experience, influenced by factors like the wood type, the weather, and even the kiln’s construction. It’s a blend of careful planning and embracing the unpredictable nature of fire and ash. The result? Pottery that’s not just baked clay but a canvas of natural elements, telling a story of fire, patience, and artistic vision.