Firing the Spitfire Anagama
Hey folks! I am taking a break from setting up the Miles of Art show here at the pottery to get this post about the anagama firing started. I may not finish today, but I know that if I start it, then I will finish it sooner or later, and that's what counts, right? The last several weeks have been non-stop with wood prep, sanding, glazing, loading, tough muddering, firing, trips to Illinois, unloading, processing, pricing, and packing....whew!! It is a good kind of hectic craziness, but still makes me really appreciate the times that I get to sit down and take some deep, conscious breaths, and come back to center.
So I suppose a quick overall view of how the firing went would be a good place to start. In a word, it was excellent. I have never fired a wood kiln for so long with such minimal stress, issues, and loss of work. Even Simon was exceedingly pleased with it all. The ashed up surfaces had beautiful variation from grays, to blues, to greens, and even some pinks. And the clay surfaces had a huge range of color, with the iron bodies looking particularly beautiful and rich in my opinion with burgundy, deep blue, red, orange, and yellows. Below are detail photos of 6 of my pots.
As I mentioned previously, we loaded and fired only the first two stacks of the kiln. It took 5 of us a full day per stack to complete. The total number of pots inside the kiln came out to 457, including 3 of Simon's huge hand-build stools and his hand-built coffee table/bench. We all guessed the total amount while the kiln was cooling and wagered a pot to give to the person with the closest guess. It's a Mill Creek tradition called the Pottery Lottery. All of us over-guessed, but Simon was closest.
Above you'll see images of the two stacks of pots from this firing. I'm convinced that we could not have stacked this kiln any better with the selection of work that we had available. Packing a wood kiln is a process that takes much forethought and care. We can't pack it too tightly, but having too large of gaps between pots can result in an uneven flame and heat distribution. The goal is to create a stack with a relatively even amount of space spread among all of the pots. We had an excess of relatively small work, which can make it easy to pack too tightly. We made sure to have at least a karate chop between each piece once we were getting to the cup-size shelves towards the top. To me, these stacks are works of art in themselves. Sculptural and intentional. The feeling of beholding a stack after a day of intense focus and decision-making with its loading is pretty amazing. Knowing that the placement of each and every piece has a direct affect on how it, and the pots around it will look.
After two exhausting days of loading the kiln, we decided to take a "day of rest" and go run a half Tough Mudder down in Plymouth, WI. Go team Burners!!! "What's your favorite letter!?" "Let'er RIP!!!"
After the mudder, it was back to the firing. We lit the kiln at dawn the next day. We had the privilege of a digital record of the temperature of the kiln throughout the firing. Simon's friend Loyd Lentz created a live-stream temp readout that we attached to the front thermocouple inside the kiln. As we fired, it plotted the data on a line graph to show our progess. As you can see by the graph of the firing (below), we had a wonderfully slow and steady rise to the early 2000s, a nice long soak at that temp, a perfect little peak at the end, and then a mellow slow cool back down once we finished actively firing. No major stalling or loss of temp. Smooth sailing.
We nailed the peak temps. Only one 11 dropped in front, 10s were nearly down in the middle, and they were down in the back. I found it strange that the back was hotter than the middle. One of those mysteries that I hope to understand through more experience! After hitting our peak, we sealed up most of the kiln and began to downfire. Downfiring is a way of oscillating the atmosphere inside the kiln between oxidation and reduction as it cools. By doing this, we are drawing out more dramatic colors from the clay bodies and ash-covered surfaces. The downfiring lasted nearly 12 hours, finally calling it quits at about 1612 degrees. At this point we sealed up completely and began our wait for the unload.
Unloading day came, and we were all floored. The variety of surface and color was overwhelming. Usually when one takes down a door of a wood kiln, they are faced with a sea of brown. Not this time. Seeing variation in color before pots even come out is a really good sign. I was very happy with many of the experiments with my work that I had tried. The flower-shaped wads were a success where they were readable. I found a great stain to use inside of my carvings, and I am honing in on the quality of slip textures that I want to lay underneath them. There is a lot to be worked out, as always, and I often focus too hard on the negative things, or things that I want to change, but I'm reminding myself to see the positives in them too. Balance.
I'd like to conclude this post with a huge thank you to our awesome firng team. Sam Thompson, Nancy Korth, Simon Levin, Ian Connors, and Logan Marcus. I'm proud of us. We spent all of these hours together, grew in our relationships to one another, shared meals, feelings, and experience. We worked with one another, attended to needs, and created something beautiful. Firing is like this. It creates bonds, and solidifies them quickly. It gets us out of our own heads and provides the opportunity to be more than just ourselves. And when we embrace this opportunity, we end up with firings such as this. I love it.
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