White Rocks Kiln

Back in my hometown of Pennsylvania, I've sought out my old friends and fellow potters.  In the process of re-connecting, was fortunate enough to receive a position at Carlisle Arts Learning Center as the Ceramics Studio Program Facilitator.  While at the Center, I caught up with a potter friend, Kurt Brantner who teaches at the center, and was invited to put some work in his "White Rocks Wood Kiln".  I've known Kurt since my days of firing the Jack Troy wood kiln at Juniata College and it was a great pleasure to fire with him again.  His kiln, built in November of 2014, is located in the scenic Cumberland Valley area of PA.  As a studio potter dedicated to the process and aesthetic of wood firing, he fires his kiln about every other month.  Pots that are fired in a wood kiln are blushed by flame and ash, each pot responding uniquely to the river of flame moving throughout.  Rich textures are built from ash deposits and melt, glazes flash, and bare clay displays a rainbow of coloration ranging from red to purple.   The labor intensive process of firing the kiln for three days is worth the reward of a kiln full of gems.  

Planning out the how the pots will be stacked in the kiln.  It's important to consider the interior arrangement to ensure the best effects from the flame and ash.   

Planning out the how the pots will be stacked in the kiln.  It's important to consider the interior arrangement to ensure the best effects from the flame and ash.   

All loaded up, almost entirely according to plan! Sometimes the pots have a way of telling you where they want to go.  

All loaded up, almost entirely according to plan! Sometimes the pots have a way of telling you where they want to go.  

Lovely gems from firing number 7.

Lovely gems from firing number 7.

Kurt Brantner, 2015.

Kurt Brantner, 2015.

Kurt Brantner, 2015.

Kurt Brantner, 2015.

Kirsten Olson, 2015.

Kirsten Olson, 2015.

Kirsten Olson, 2015.

Kirsten Olson, 2015.


Liz Berry Kiln Rebuild and Relocation

Hello everyone!  The countdown for the thesis continues, and since things at the studio are partially in kilns currently being fired, I thought I'd give an update on the Liz Berry Kiln.  It's been a long process, but we're making some great progress under the direction and coordination of Diana Berry!  The second chapter is being written and we're rebuilding this piece of Fairbanks history at the Fairbanks Folk School.  

Taking the kiln down, brick by brick.  First to go was the chimney.  Almost all of the hard brick was re-usable so they were put on pallets for easy transfer to the new site (which is so conveniently located a few minutes away!)

Down she goes!  Most of the soft brick just crumbled as it was being taken down.  The floor (which were shelves, surprisingly made it though the 103rd firing, but didn't last five minutes when we were taking her down!).  Sadly the majority of the soft bricks were designated for the fill dirt pile.

So we begin with a plan and a model (made by the ever so amazing Stan).  Stan was there for the original build in '77 and has been an enormous help in the second phase of this project.  

And so the rebuild begins! The kiln's design is based on the original plans (and the wood kiln plans found in Fred Olsen's "The Kiln Book") with a few modifications.  Most of the bricks that we're using have been generously donated by local fellow potters--so we have some 3.5" soft brick and some 4" soft brick, hence calculating and thinking on our feet to ensure true structure for the body!  True to the model, a concrete foundation was poured, a layer of cinderblock laid out (to elevate the fireboxes so we don't have to crouch down to stoke--save our backs!), a layer of insulating brick between the cinderblock and firebox, the floor of the kiln (which are two kiln shelves and the last thing we put in), the body of the kiln, and the chimney. The firebox and chimney will be built using hard brick, the body out of the soft brick.  

Getting the firebox laid out.  One slight modification to the firebox are the small ports (to allow additional air in the kiln to increase the draw--like super mini dampers).

Measure twice build once!

As we lay the bricks out, we ensure that we have nice straight walls by leveling them, from the inside and tapping

Now that we have the body of the kiln all in place, we need to get our iron frame welded in place.

The sparks were flying! We have angle iron around the kiln acting as a supporting frame.  

Planning the arch with the aid of the book and the model, of course!

We had to cut a few to ensure a perfect fit for the arch.

We have our form in and ready to build the arch--brick by brick.

Our fearless leader, Diana! All ready for the final row of number 1 arch bricks!

The arch is done! Now the fun part..pulling out the form which is supported by four posts with a small block of wood on each for "easy" removal.  

And then it snowed..The next step was to build the chimney.  Each hard brick was dipped in fireclay to help seal of the stack.  

Since these photos have been taken, the chimney has been completed and a few minor adjustments have been made.  We're in the process of affixing together soft bricks for the door of the kiln.  The Folk School held a "Pinch Pot and Pizza" party to get community members involved with the school and this exciting kiln! A huge thank you to Diana for all the hard work and effort she's put in to re-building a part of her family legacy and sharing the passion for the wood fire process with the community! The first firing is planned for mid-November, stay tuned or sign up to help out!

The Liz Berry Kiln

When I moved to Fairbanks, I was fortunate enough to find a quaint little cabin, a few minutes away from the University.  It just so happened, that this cabin had a wood kiln on the property.  What I soon learned was the amazing history of this place!  My cabin used to be the studio for Liz Berry, a well known local potter, and her husband, Bill Berry who is a famous Alaskan illustrator. The kiln had been designed and built in 1977 by Fred Olsen, who came up for a two day workshop to direct the build.  Liz Berry and other local potters were the work force--you go girls (and one gentleman who was here for the last firing and is helping to direct the rebuild).  The kiln was only meant to last about fifty firings, but she's held up all the way through the 103rd! I'm honored to be a part of this piece of Fairbanks history.  The Folk School, which is just up the road from her previous home, has made room to rebuild this historic kiln on their property for many more years and firings to come!  Updates of the re-build to follow!

 

Local potters made work specially for this last firing of the historic kiln.  Getting them lined up and ready to go!

All loaded up--ready to brick up and mud up the door.

Towards the end of the firing we were really having to work to get reduction.  The damper had been stuck in place (later upon dismantling we found out there really was no damper at all!) but we did our best and prayed to our kiln gods!

Stoking away with our custom grates.

Cone check.  And also a way we kept track of the reduction before we got the flame out of the stack.

Some sweet pots from the 103rd firing!  We  had many visitors and helpers for the firing.  It was an amazing experience, one certainly that reminds me of why I do what I do--for the clay and community, great people and great pots!