Potters’ work ready for public display after 2,450-degree firing
Posted: 09/26/2013 at 5:00 am
By: Tyler Klassen
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Firewood stacked in the stoke door burns as the temperature in the kiln increases Thursday, Sept 12. The last four hours of the firing the temperature was 2450 degrees. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
As night approaches Todd Pletcher loads more firewood into the kiln. Pletcher’s dog Gunner would sleep in the car if he wanted. Pletcher was halfway through a 24 hour shift of 15 minute feedings of the kiln, checking temperatures in the kiln and recording information in a journal. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
Todd Pletcher (left), Dick Lehman (middle) and Royce Hilderbrand look over pottery pieces and think about space in the kiln as they load Saturday, Sept. 7. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
Mark Goertzen looks over pots and vases, deciding what to load next, as the kiln is loaded Saturday, Sept 7. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
Smoke rises from the kiln’s chimney as the fire builds up Thursday, Sept 12. Mark Goertzen’s kiln is located on a wooded lot near his home. The building on the left is the Shinto shack which serves as a shelter for the potters during the long hours of a wood firing. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
Mark Goertzen (upper left) sets a large platter on a support as the kiln is loaded Saturday, Sept. 7. Pieces being fired on their sides or tops are help on supports to keep them in place. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
Royce Hilderbrand gets an arm load of wood for the kiln Thursday, Sept 12. The firing used a pile of wood four feet square and 24 feet long in 50 hours. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
Pottery is visible through the flames in the kiln Thursday, Sept. 12. Temperature in the kiln is slowly increased for the first 12 hours to help the material in the kiln adjust to the heat. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
Todd Pletcher walks away from the kiln after loading bark and small pieces of wood into the stoking door Thursday, Sept. 12. During the first 12 hours of the firing the heat is slowly built up so the pieces inside the kiln are not damaged by being heated too quickly. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
Long days require refreshment. Dick Lehman’s traveling espresso kit was used during the loading Saturday, Sept 7. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
Dick Lehman carries pottery from the Shinto shack to the kiln on Mark Goertzen’s property Saturday, Sept 7. Six artists brought work to load and cardboard boxes and shelves were full of pottery needing space in the kiln. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
A quote from Dante Alighieri decorates a wall in the Shinto shack Saturday, Sept 7. Mark Goertzen named his kiln Dante. The shack is a shelter near Goertzen’s kiln. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
Todd Pletcher looks over pots as the kiln was loaded Saturday, Sept. 7. The artists needed to balance shape and size of the pieces, space in the kiln and where the pieces are placed as achieve the effect on the pottery they are looking for. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
Todd Pletcher was responsible for the first 24 hours of the 50-hour firing. Pletcher relaxes with his dog Gunner on the steps of the Shinto shack Thursday, Sept 12. Shifts at the kiln are usually 6 hours, but Pletcher was traveling Friday and Saturday and so was unable to split up his time. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
The kiln is attended to for 50 hours straight during a firing. With a ready supply of fuel and and heat nearby adding a pizza oven only made sense to Goertzen. As Gunner chews on a piece of firewood, Todd Pletcher fires up the pizza oven built onto the side of the kiln.Mark Goertzen arrived soon after with three pizzas ready for the oven. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
Mark Goertzen has a ritual before the kiln is lighted for each firing. Goertzen buys a new bottle of bourbon, pours a small drink for everyone on hand and says, “May this warm your belly, may this warm my belly and may this warm Dante’s belly.” After drinking his toast Goertzen pours part of Dante’s drink into the kiln. The rest of Dante’s bourbon remains in Dante’s cup until the end of the firing. This is Dante’s cup. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
Dick Lehman looks over pottery needing to be loaded into Mark Goertzen’s kiln Saturday, Sept 7. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
Todd Pletcher (standing) and Royce Hilderbrand mix clay as Mark Goertzen’s kiln is loaded Saturday, Sept 7. The two are mixing clay to help hold the finished pieces in place on supports. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
Royce Hilderbrand makes small clay balls that will support pieces in Mark Goertzen’s kiln Saturday, Sept. 7. Hilderbrand is sitting on the steps of the Shinto shack, a shelter near the kiln. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
Over the 50 hours of firing, wood is loaded into the small stoking door at the front of the kiln. The clay and glazes combine with the flames, wood ash and 2,450-degree heat work to create patterns and finish on the pieces inside. It is a risky way for potters to work.
“We don’t have a guarantee. It could be somewhat of a bust,” says Mark Goertzen of the firing method of finishing clay pots and other forms. Shelves inside the kiln can shift during the firing damaging the pottery, pieces can be placed where the effect is not what the artist expects, or the chemical makeup of the wood or clay may result in a different look than was hoped for.
“Some things can happen we cannot anticipate. It’s what makes a little bit of fun,” says Goertzen about making pottery for the upcoming Michiana Pottery Tour.
The 9-foot long kiln, which Goertzen named after the 13th century poet, was filled with the work of six potters Saturday, Sept. 7. Around 350 pieces, ranging from small cups to large vases, were fired Thursday, Sept. 12, through Saturday, Sept. 14.
The work of four of those artists, as well as 14 others, will be part of the second annual Michiana Pottery Tour this weekend. The tour is the brainchild of Dick Lehman, Justin Rothshank and Mark Goertzen and is modeled after pottery tours in other places in the country.
“We put our heads together and talked about if we could do this and it seemed it was,” says Justin Rothshank.
Artists, with work ranging in size from large sculptural forms to small cups, will show their work at eight locations, six near Goshen and two in southern Michigan. Six of the eight locations will feature studios and kilns open to the public. Rothshank, who will be showing his work at his studio east of Goshen, says that it is important for people to see the artists’ work space.
“It is important for people to see what is involved in getting a wet lump of clay to the finished product.” More information is at http://www.michianapotterytour.com/.
If you go
What: Michiana Pottery Tour
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Eight locations in Goshen and southwest Michigan
More information: www.michianapotterytour.com