|Students get fired up about ancient ceramic arts
RELEASED: November 8, 2001
DANVILLE, KYThis past weekend, under a moonlit autumn sky, a group of Centre students gathered for three days in a quiet knoll to recreate the ancient Japanese practice of firing ceramic vessels in a wood-fired anagama kiln. Approximately 30 students from the Centre ceramics classes, art professor Judith Pointer, and nearly a dozen local artists created hundreds of pots and vessels in different types of stoneware and porcelain to fire in the kiln.
Davie Reneau, an accomplished potter from Glasgow, Ky., was among those with pieces of kiln. An expert on anagama kilns, Reneau says that "ana means one, and gama means hole or chamber."
With its menacing appearance resembling a fierce 30-foot fiery dragon, the anagama kiln was built in1993 by art professor Stephen Powell and his students on the Mack Jackson farm in Boyle County.
Nestled into a grassy hillside with bricks and mud, the kiln is shaped like a candle flame turned on its side. Firing an anagama kiln is a labor of love. Prior to the firing, the artists meticulously place clay pieces deep in the widest part of the chamber. A raging fire is set into the front of the kiln, and the artists relentlessly fuel the fire by adding wood through holes in the front and sides of the kiln. While the fire is churned, ashes fly through the chamber and land on unglazed pots and vessels. The pieces glow luminously as rushing flames and smoke billow through the back of the kiln, shooting wildly out of a tall chimney. As the fire intensifies to searing hot temperatures of at least 2,300 degrees, flames surround the ash-covered pots and melt the ash into a natural glaze on each piece.
"Some of the surfaces can be gooey and lush, and some of them can be really simple with blushes of color," Reneau explained. "Hopefully, you get a good range and variety from the front of the kiln to the back of the kiln."
As the fire burned intensely, teams of students and artists were charged with stoking the fire to make sure that the desired temperature was maintained.
Professor Pointer remarked, "Each six-hour shift has a different rhythm. You have to gauge the timing of putting wood in. You don't want to get it too hot too fast."
One of the artists, Centre senior Matt Wilson, stated how fascinating it was "to see so many artists come together to work on this monster of a kiln."
"This type of kiln is unpredictable as far as having a mental picture of what your work is going to look like when it comes out. I like the mystery of that," Reneau says.
Professor Pointer said, "Its definitely a unique experience. There aren't many of these kilns around. It was a great opportunity for Centre students to fire a kiln like this with such experienced potters."
Centre College will host an exhibit of the wood-fired works in the AGEON Gallery on campus from Jan. 18-Feb. 21.
Those with questions about the exhibit may call (859) 238-5469 for more information.
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