A Passion for Wood Fire

The potters that Amedeo Salamoni features in his new book Wood-Fired Ceramics: 100 Contemporary Artists work in a variety of ways but all share a deep commitment to firing with wood. They are passionate about both the process and the results. Except for two, they all work at high temperatures, many to Cone 13 or 14.

The two notable lower temperature exceptions are Doug Fitch, the Devon slipware potter known for his medieval inspired jugs and jars, and Joy Brown who makes large, pillowy sculptures of people that she fires in her thirty-foot long anagama in the Litchfield hills of Connecticut. Fitch’s pots, made from clay he digs himself, are sprigged and glazed and reflect the warmth of the flames. Brown’s sculptures are made of Georgia clay and are unglazed. You can see the kiss of the fire on the surface.

Salalmoni includes more functional potters than sculptors though many work in both realms. Each artist is given two pages, occasionally more, for an artist’s statement, photographs of individual works, and at least one kiln shot. This is a great way to get an overview of the field. The photographs are very good. Because each artist has written his or her own statement, most are in the first person but a few are in the third, and one, startlingly switches between persons. Oh unpredictable artists!

Reading through the book, we visit Simon Leven who in addition to making his own sturdy pots for the kitchen and table, has taken on the responsibility of creating a map of wood kilns throughout the world. You can see it at www.simonlevin.com/worldmap. We also encounter legendary wood-fire potters Jack Troy, John Leach and Fred Olsen. We meet Linda Christianson, Randy Johnston, Eva Kwong, Ginny Marsh, Alex Matisse, Jeff Shapiro and Joy Tanner. There are highly refined works, lightly salted or glazed. There are pots that are heavily encrusted with ash and the marks of shells. Many have a love affair with heavy reduction.

I smiled reading that ten years ago Ron Meyers built his first wood kiln at the age of seventy. His fires last sixty hours “with a reduction cooling segment that adds another six or seven hours.”

With room for only 100 artists, one immediately notices who is absent – all those represented by Goldmark for instance, such as Phil Rogers and Ken Matsuzaki and Nic Collins  – but that is the nature of a book like this. Karen Karnes is absent. Todd Piker is missing. Perhaps a second volume will be in the offing.

Though not at all an instructional book, there is an appendix with illustrations of 14 kilns, and another with firing logs. There is also a good short bibliography and some clay, glaze and slip recipes.

This is the kind of book that even though reading it will take you out of the studio for a day, and even if you never plan to fire with wood, you will come away inspired. I know I did.

Nic Collins by Doug Fitch

You know how impressed I am with the work that Goldmark is doing with Modern Pots – an exhibition web presence unparalleled by any gallery either side of the Atlantic, excellent choice of potters, beautifully produced monographs in print and online, and well-produced biographical DVD’s. You also know, I am trying to finish up my own book and should not stray one moment from the task at hand. But the mail carrier left a note in the mailbox for me, telling me to come down and pick up a parcel and curious, I hopped in the truck and discovered that a wonderful package of books and dvd’s awaited me from Mike Goldmark.

Of course, disciplined person that I am, I put them away until my manuscript is turned in, or at least the Roman numeral problem is fixed.

Don’t be ridiculous! Of course, I greedily pulled out one monograph after another, popped a DVD into my computer, tried to take it all in at once. First observation: I hope UPNE does as good a production job on the Guy Wolff book as Goldmark does on their books. Observation number two: I hope we are doing as good a job. Joe is without a doubt. His photos are great. And our book is far more text. I hope as good.

So, though I stayed up wait too late, poring through everything, I am going to, not all in sequence, but now and then so I can go back to them, take the collection one book at a time. We will start with the Nic Collins catalog, with an essay by slipware potter Doug Fitch. Matching them is itself a bit of brilliance, because Nic is a serious, high-fire, take- huge-risks wood-fire stoneware man. Doug, who both wood fires and electric fires, works in the slipware tradition at far lower temperatures. Except that they are both good throwers, and can throw pretty big, and they are each a master of the jug form, there is no similarity in their work.

Nic Collins makes jugs, vases, bottles, bowls, platters, and covered and uncovered jars. Subjected to long periods of intense heat, ash and flames, they emerge requiring hours of contemplation to see all the colors, all the effects of the fire. They bear the scars of the seashells he uses to keep them from sticking. They are crusty. They are luminous both. You need to get to know these pots. The more you look, the more you see. You want to touch, to hold, to gaze.

Appropriately, Fitch tells us that Collis and his partner Sabine have built a cob workshop for themselves. Is that not perfect?

The photographs include images of Nic Collins, the enormous kiln he has made, and the pots, both in formal, gallery style shots and in situ in the rural landscape surrounding the studio. In the accompanying DVD, Collins talks about his work and his evolution as a potter. We see him at the wheel and firing his kiln. This is truly—I hesitate to use such a word – a splendid package.