Article Contributed by
Jamestown Community College
All Fired Up: Contemporary Wood-Fired Ceramics, an exhibition featuring pottery and ceramic sculpture fired in wood-fueled kilns, will be displayed in Weeks Gallery on Jamestown Community College’s Jamestown Campus beginning September 12.
Locally produced food and beverages will be served at the opening reception for the exhibition from 6-8 p.m. on September 16.
Marvin Bjurlin will lead a curator’s tour of the exhibition beginning at 10:30 a.m. on September 20.
Works by Bjurlin, who taught ceramics at SUNY Fredonia for 40 years, are featured with other professional ceramists, Stephanie Brash, Tony Clennell, Julie Crosby, Fred Herbst, Cary Joseph, Marc Keane, Ron Meyers, Ron Nasca, Ted Neal, Sherri Raffaelle, and Momoko Takeshita.
Sarita and Stanley Weeks Endowment funds supported a 9×16’ ceramic and sand Japanese garden-inspired installation titled Thrust! by ceramicist Marc P. Keane of Ithaca for the exhibition. Keane will present an artist’s talk during the opening reception.
Wood was the earliest fuel used to fire clay and this technique dates back to ancient time. Wood-fueled kilns continue to be used throughout the world and require firing cycles last from 15 to 85 hours. They offer surface effects that differ from those created by electric or gas-fueled kilns.
Earth tones are typical of wood-fired ceramics, and viewers will see the subtle modulations of hue and value playing across their surfaces, according to Weeks Gallery director Patricia Briggs. In many cases, no glaze has been applied. Rather, the heat of the flame interacts with the silica in the clay and the wood ash circulating during the firing leave marks in the clay.
These kilns act like wind tunnels that move ash and currents of heat around the clay as it fires, leaving markings on the clay that occur in large part by chance.
Crosby uses a knife to cut away geometric segments of clay to form handles or basket-like openings in her large architectonic pots. Momoko Takeshita’s forms resemble exotic flowers or clam shells and are not meant to be functional. One of Takeshita’s works shows thick glassy areas that Bjurlin calls “`kiln kisses,’ random drips of glaze falling from the shelving in the kiln.”
Neal and Marv Bjurlin use reduction cooling to encourage a metallic looking surface, a process that involves filling the kiln with as much wood as possible at the very end and then sealing every opening as tight as possible to prevent oxygen from getting in to burn the wood.
Because the fuel is desperate to find oxygen, it attacks the iron oxide in the clay and this affects the colors of the clay surfaces, notes Dr. Briggs. Neal makes metal handles for his teapots to complement the effect.
“There is social aspect of firing in wood-fueled kilns that draws many potters to the technique. It takes more than flipping a switch to turn the power on with a wood-fired kiln,” says Dr. Briggs. “Keeping the fire stoked requires continuous labor, sometimes days.”
Accordingly, artists must plan for months to come together to fill a kiln with hundreds of pieces and then work together to tend the fire that fuels it. Some sleep while others push wood into the kiln’s stoking port. Planning and preparing food and refreshments throughout the day is a big part of the process as well.
“The title of this show – All Fired Up – conveys the idea that excitement for the process and the community bonds it builds are very important to artists using wood-fired kilns,” says Dr. Briggs.
Many of the artists featured in All Fired Up have fired together at a large wood kiln at Corning Community College. Bjurlin and the Chautauqua Area Potters built the only wood-fueled pottery kiln in Chautauqua County earlier this summer. Scott Creek Fire Place, the newly established kiln site in Dunkirk, features three wood-fueled kilns, one of which fires pizza.
The exhibition will be displayed until October 14. Gallery hours are 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday through Friday, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, and by appointment. The gallery is located on the second floor of the Arts & Sciences Center.
For more information, call 716.338.1301 or visit weeksgallery.sunyjcc.edu. Follow Weeks Gallery on Facebook to see photographs of the installation and other works on view.