Thursday, December 5, 2013

thoughts on healing through anagama process and pottery

During the long years spent in the construction of my anagama kiln and  studio I asked myself if the path of a wood-firing studio potter is the best way that I can contribute to the spiritual progress of humanity.  During these years I invested myself heavily in bodywork and yoga, and became very aware of how direct contact through touch and movement helps people deeply.  I questioned whether the anagama process possesses enough direct contact to heal people? Are there too many interfering influences to assure that I am touching people with a healing purity?  etc.  Now that my kiln is up and running and I've had a couple of years of firings I see a lot of the answers to my existential questions about healing humanity manifesting throughout the process.

It's really easy to see how the firing process brings people together around a powerfully focused natural force.  Anagamas are magnetic and half the people on my firing crew have no other ties to the clay community than their dedication to firing.  People want to be a part of the firing process in so many ways, and they themselves are transformed along with the pottery.  These social observations are spiritually worthwhile, easy to see, and keep me motivated.  However, I've had a tougher time figuring out what to do about the pots themselves: the product of this process.  

I was imprinted with the  "Process not product" mantra by my professor in the very first week of Clay 101 and that creed easily led me down the path of anagama work.   Now, over ten years later and just embarking on a ceramic career, selling the product is a necessity.  How does the manufactured product of the anagama process guide people on a spiritual path, and how can anagama pottery justify itself in a world of mass-produced commodities?  I believe anagama clay works stand apart because they tell their story plainly and have little to hide.  Most manufactured products are designed and marketed in ways that obscure their origins and making processes.  Most products have unsettling stories to tell and we've become accustomed to turning a blind eye to the backgrounds of the objects that surround us.  

In anagama work one can easily see the original materials and process of its making, and the work invites the user to ask more questions: questions about geology, ecology, and about the people in one's community who form and fire these ceramic works.  Hopefully this will lead the owners of these works to ask more questions about the interconnectedness of their lives with the world around them and will perhaps lead them to make more discerning decisions as they appreciate all that goes into creating beauty in our world.    

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Clay dictates form

The other night my girlfriend and I were talking about pottery.   She was remarking that some of the forms that I am making in my current work cycle are different/new, and that she liked them.  My response to her compliment was to open up a conversation about the characteristic of the clay itself: I am using a different clay body made from different deposits and it is changing and influencing the new forms about which she was speaking.  It took her off guard when I immediately began talking about particle sizes, moisture content, and flocculants instead of historical references and ideas about form and proportion.  Ideas about form, proportion, and function are always flowing through my mind.  However, it is the particular characteristics of each clay deposit and each clay body that truly dictate which forms are manifested on the wheel.   Realizing this takes some of the conceptual pressure off, I guess.  Makes me realize that concepts in art are only as good as the process and materials will allow.  Anyway, all of this has been written about a thousand times before.  I just want to make sure I get it down on the page in my own short words.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Thoughts on career and anagama kilns

How do I make a career out of this kiln? A decade has passed since clearing the first tree to make room for my large studio and kiln shed building, and I have pulled together three successful community firing events this past year and a half.  As one may guess, I am no where near sustaining myself with the volume or quality of work coming from my anagama.  Thoughts of financial windfalls and mega-grants pass through my mind as I ponder what financial success as a wood-fire artist looks like.  The enormous effort of both building the facilities and preparing for firings, my intermittent work-cycles, and a seemingly lack of demand for wood-fired pottery send me wondering why I ever invested an expensive college education in this erudite and extremely laborious pursuit.  

In so many ways, I am the product of an extended childhood that is unknown to many, but that is more and more common in my generation.  When I began my obsession with ceramics during my freshman year of college, the thought of financial responsibility was no more than a mysterious whisper.  I had always shaped my life around interests that engaged my mind, body, and spirit and expected the world to meet me with appreciation and support - and largely it did.  Upon graduation I moved back into an 1880's farmhouse on my family's land and began the kiln project that has anchored me during this past third of my life.  All I could think of during this long period of pay-as-you-go construction was the completion of the project and the firing of the kiln - not what comes afterward.  The how-do-I-make-an-anagama-my-job mantra just circles in my head.

Visiting other wood-fire artists and especially searching the web, I see people who seem to have successful kilns, craft centers, and pottery careers and I wonder what their recipe is.  Many of them are in academics, which is the only career path that was ever reinforced or recommended during my college education.  I was always attracted to teaching and see myself as much a teacher as a studio artist, and having this kiln allows and requires me to flex my educational skills constantly.  However, I built this huge kiln and a studio space during the period when most people were in graduate school.  Now I am looking around for direction - wondering what a studio artist career with an anagama on the gulf coast can really look like.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Oh geez... It's been a long time since I've posted anything here and sort of abandoned this site, because it seemed like less of a real website than something that's more complicated to produce.  I've been pulling my hair out trying to figure out how to build a wordpress site with a template.  I've had my drag and drop site more or less drop off and refuse to load.  Anyways, somehow the official artist website continues to elude me.  HOWEVER, I have completed and firing my anagama twice this past year.  This last firing was truly heartening, and some of the work coming out of the four and half day firing was stunning and exceeded my expectations.  The kiln itself fires great and peak temps are reached evenly front to back about 24-30 after beginning to stoke with wood after a light preheat with propane.