Atmospheric firing was by far the most exciting part of my time at Guldagergaard in Denmark. Fueled by firewood (hard and soft), we fired this small anagama (babygama) for 5 days with a team of 8 people. Stoking the fire around the clock until we reached approximately 1400ºC (2550ºF), the heat of the burning wood solidified the clay but also produced fly ash and volatile salts that settle on the clay surfaces. The complex interaction between flame, ash and minerals of the clay body creates a natural ash glaze on the pots.
I had several porcelain works in this firing that went in the kiln totally raw. I made the forms, applied nothing to the surfaces, and the results were so amazingly dynamic. Colours of blue, purple, soft pinks and greens, translucent white, and a variation of texture ranging from smooth and glossy to rough, sharp and crusty. These works will remain a surprise until they are unveiled at a future exhibition. But, i've included some images here of others works that were in the firebox, meaning tucked as close to the fire as possible, where they became buried in embers and wood ash. These pieces were by far the most exciting objects in the kiln; crusty blackness, vibrant turquoise, and dramatic crystal growth cover the ceramic surfaces. Wood firing doesn't have to mean earthy, brown results.
A Japanese term meaning "cave kiln", an anagama is a single chamber kiln in a sloping tunnel structure. Ancient anagama's were sometimes built by digging tunnels into hills and banks of clay. These kilns consist of a firing chamber with a fire box at one end and a flue at the other. The firebox located at the front door of the kiln is not actually a box, but rather a space for the main fire. Wood is stoked through the front door, but also along the side where fireboxes are created between shelves of ceramics. The chimney/draft system pulls the flames from the front of the kiln to the back, and the side stokes help to heat the kiln a little more evenly. Some really exciting "collaborations" happen when the flames knock pieces over and into each other, fusing work together or onto shelves. Check out this diagram to get a better idea of what's inside.
This firing really changed me because of the deeper connection I developed to the natural elements and the vigorous, focused process of bringing the kiln to temperature with actual fire. There is something to say for setting an electric kiln with a computer, hitting "start" and walking away, it's amazing, totally care free, but there's something so magical about being with the kiln for every second, listening to it, feeding it, and watching the flames. Atmospheric kilns can also reach higher temperatures than electric kilns meaning the material melts just a little bit extra creating super vitrified, beautifully complex, yet subtle surfaces.
I loved being outside, in good weather and bad, the camaraderie and conversation, splitting wood, the element of surprise, snack plates and celebratory wine. Now I will be on the hunt for a wood kiln near Toronto.