Woodfiring is a seductive, magical procedure that allows the potter to directly influence
the surface of the pieces during the time the ware is subject to the immense heat
of the firing. Woodfiring is about constant involvement and decisions; choice of
wood species, age since cutting, rhythm and timing of stokes, amount of air, size
of pieces, and the location they are tossed within the chamber. These all directly
influence the final outcome. No other heat source keeps the potter so intimately
involved in this final, crucial phase of the production of ceramic pieces.
The mark of the wood fire is distinct, persistent, and cannot be achieved in any
other way. Wood provides
more than just heat. Volatile resins in the wood produce long sinuous flames that
play through the stacking of ware, leaving behind scorches and fused ash deposits.
The potter, in stacking the kiln, has chosen where to leave channels in the kiln
to promote this flow and how to position the pieces to interact with it. The sinuous
flames play around the complex groupings of forms, enhancing the shapes with its
marks as it flows around them like water through a rock-strewn stream bed. In the
raging inferno there is a gentle quality, as the searing hot flame caresses the pots.
On glazed wares woodfiring imparts subtle localized changes as wood ash floating
with the draft fuses into the melting glass of the applied glazes. As the kiln is
stoked it creates bursts of flame that ebb and flow like the tide, creating subtle
layering of color and depth within the glaze. Colors blush from one tone to another,
and surfaces go from matt to gloss to semi-matt. These glazed pieces provide endless
hours of discovery as they are lived with and used. As one’s eye moves around the
finished piece, the impact of the flow of fire can clearly be seen in the variegations
and undulations of colors and textures.
It is on unglazed surfaces that the wood fuel is perhaps truly at it's best. The
raw clay surface is highly receptive to woodfire's distinctive marks, and the natural
earthen qualities of the clay mesh perfectly with the primal effects of the flame
and ash. The primeval elements of the ancients, "Earth, Water, Air, and Fire", are
clearly present in this finishing process. Unglazed pieces decorated with flyash
and marks from coals are undeniably born of the earth..... geologic, metamorphic,
natural. Yet in their seemingly naturalistic form, they are still clearly manipulated
and controlled by high human touch and vision.
Because of the myriad variables involved, the woodfiring process is fraught with
numerous difficulties. Many things can go wrong. During every firing, the potter
must be fully alert and attentive to what is transpiring. Yet in the very nature
of this risk, there is the possibility of serendipitous event! Those who fire with
wood accept both this risk and embrace this opportunity to work as a partner and
collaborator with the spirit of the fire, rather than trying to impose their total
will over it.
It is a symbiotic relationship..... the potter and the forces of nature. In this
pattern of working, many pieces are lost so that many others are born with gifts
of rare, quiet beauty to be enjoyed by those open to it's magical visual effects.