Dante sits in a small clearing in a woods near Constantine, Mich. Dante is a hungry beast, swallowing a pile of firewood 4-feet square by 24 feet long during one recent firing. Within its belly is the clay work of potters fusing their skills and vision with wood-fired heat.
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