Feature Articles

November Issue 2000

National Invitational Exhibition Features Renown Ceramicists at Folk Art Center in Asheville, NC

From Nov. 18 to Jan. 20, 2001, the Southern Highland Craft Guild in Asheville, NC, hosts its largest-ever gathering of wood and salt-fired pottery by recognized ceramic artists from across the United States. Entitled Clay/Wood/Fire/Salt, this ambitious exhibition illustrates the range of expression accomplished with the four basic elements vital to the specialized art of firing clay with wood or salt. The work of 80 potters will be presented at The Folk Art Center's Main Gallery, curated by Guild member Gwen Heffner and the Guild's Director of Programs and Collections Andrew Glasgow.

Wood-firing in America has been influenced by several traditions, and this exhibition explains some of these origins. Japan has a long history of wood-firing, as do other Asian countries, and many American wood-firing potters have either studied in Japan or learned from those who have studied there. Another type of wood-firing has its traditions in the US, in places like Jugtown, NC, where families have continued their own wood-firing techniques since before the use of gas or electricity. The curators will draw up a "family tree" of influences that traces several generations of wood-firing potters.

Firing clay with wood heat requires a special kiln, usually hand built by the potter. The process often takes several days; it is essential to tend the fire regularly to maintain the desired temperature inside the kiln. Wood heat is a challenge to regulate, often expensive to fuel, and very time consuming, but for wood-fired pottery enthusiasts the results are worth every effort.

The surface of a wood-fired vessel has a distinct glazing caused by the flames and wood ash in the kiln's atmosphere. A clear, speckled, or sometimes colored surface results when a chemical bond occurs between the silica in the clay and the potash of the wood fire. This bond causes melting which can capture colors from the flame or seal bits of ash into the glaze. "The strangest part about being a potter," remarks participant Mark Tomczak (NC) , "is that no matter how much control you have with the clay before you fire it, you have to release control when it's in the kiln. The flame, heat and ash have their way with it."

Introducing salt or soda is another way potters change the kiln's atmosphere to create interesting surface effects. Salt and soda firing also works best with a home made kiln, designed with strategically placed, removable loose bricks called "ports." Through the ports, the potter loads packages of salt or soda ash that disperse or explode in the heat, fusing to the sides of the pots to form unique glazes.

Whether firing with salt, soda or wood, each potter in this exhibition has made a distinct mark in this specialized type of pottery. Some of the best known names in wood and salt-firing pottery will be represented, and some, like Karen Karnes (VT), Byron Temple (KY), and Ruggles and Rankin (NC) have inspired the work of many others in the show, providing an exciting mix of renown and emerging artists. The range of style varies greatly, from Eric Nelson (WA), Brad Schwieger (OH), or Joy Brown (CT), who work with sculptural forms, to Ben Owen III (NC), Michael Simon (GA) and Peg Malloy (CO) who will provide examples of functional forms. Southern Appalachian potters will be highlighted in this show, from Japan-influenced Peter Rose (TN), well known instructor and functional potter Cynthia Bringle (NC) and innovative sculptural ceramicist Ken Sedberry (NC).

After the exhibition closes in Asheville, it will travel to Ohio Craft Museum in Columbus, Ohio from Feb. 4 - Apr. 9, 2001.

For further information check our NC Institutional Gallery listings or call the Center at 828/298-7928.

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