We’re trying to get out and do things, like everybody else these days, that are in a health-safe environment and give us a bit of society. On October 10 my husband and I made a visit to the Community Arts Center in Wallingford, PA, to attend a monthly clay sale held by their Pottery Guild.
I am very familiar with this organization. I’ve taught collage/mixed media classes there in the past, I’ve participated in the street art fair they sponsor each fall, and I know many artists who work out of this location or are affiliated with it. It’s a great place to do art and run by a really nice group of people.
We arrived at the sale. It was held in the center’s grounds. The booths were spaced out well and the crowd suited for the location. Enough people to feel lively, but never too many to feel unsafe, health-wise.
The art center is housed in a former mansion that has been added to over the years. It has really nice studio and classroom spaces combined with a large gallery and clay studios. The grounds are augmented with some relics of the house’s past – this folly:
…and various art installations done by the center’s artists over the years.
I don’t want to leave out the lovely flowers and plants around the perimeter.
I ran into an art acquaintance who was exhibiting and spent some time catching up. She mentioned that they were in the process of doing a wood firing, and did we want to take a look?
Yes, we did, because a wood firing is not something you can see every day.
Let me explain a little. I’m no expert, so if you want to know more, there are plenty of sites on the web that will go into more detail. Essentially, a wood firing takes place in an enclosed structure that holds the wares to be fired. The energy source is wood, of course, and it is fed into the structure over a period of days until the firing is done.
Wood-fired ceramics can have a variety of looks, depending on the way the fire, ash, air currents, and temperatures work in the particular firing. It is full of serendipities. A firing usually contains the work of many artists and hundreds of items – the firing is sold in shares that give each artist a certain amount of cubic space their work can fill.
The art center completed the construction of their wood firing structure earlier this summer. (Here is the fund-raising proposal with details).
Let’s take a look. We walked around the building to the ceramics area. There is an outdoor work area for raku, etc., and right now, they have tents set up for studio work that would usually be done inside – giving more space for distancing.
Here’s how it works. The kiln is under a shed, which also holds the wood for fuel.
It’s built of fire brick and is in the shape of an old-fashioned locomotive (hence the name of its style, train kiln). I was so excited at what I was seeing that I did not get a good photo of the whole thing, I am sorry, but I think you’ll get the idea from the photos. Let me see if I can at least line up the photos in order.
Anyway, we talked to the Guild member who was tending the kiln. The firing is a 24 hour a day operation while it goes on. If you buy a share in a wood firing you also are responsible for a share of the work. As we talked, the woman on duty never stopped adding wood to the fires.
To load the kiln, the work is set inside – people crawl into the interior and arrange things on the shelves through this opening. When the kiln is full, it is closed up.
The fire is lit. Then it’s a matter of getting the entire kiln hot enough to vitrify the clay items.
Here is a side view. Notice the bricks in the tan openings. They can be pulled out. The larger ones are openings through which to insert more wood. The smaller ones can be pulled out to observe the work or to adjust the internal temperature of the kiln, or to add just a little wood. We were able to peek in and see ceramic wares inside, glowing red hot.
I found it very interesting that there is some technology associated with this kiln, that you wouldn’t expect given the ancient nature of the technique. This kiln has three temperature sensors that give information on the temps in different sections of the kiln. You can see the wires coming down from the ceiling attached to probes that go into the kiln through its roof.
There is a digital readout that gives the operators an idea of what is happening inside in each section. This is not something that all wood firings have available – it seems to be a nice feature to me.
Here is a shot of the Guild member adding wood.
Let me tell you, when she opened the door, a wave of heat washed over us. Interesting fact – this is why lots of wood kiln firings occur in the fall and winter.
The kiln was fired up the previous night. It will be in process for 2-3 days. Then it will cool for at least a week before it can be opened. Here’s a link to a short video of the first firing they did this summer, if you want to see more.
So that was our visit to Community Arts Center. I hope I have gotten the wood firing details close to accurate. I’ve heard about these firings, but I have never been present at one. I am glad we were able to observe. Thanks to everyone at the art center for their willingness to share it with us!