Hawke's Bay Arts Festival / Waiohiki Creative Arts Village / 10-27 October 2019 / By Kay Bazzard
It is a perfect Sunday on the long weekend and the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival is winding down. On the green at the Waiohiki Creative Arts Village trestle tables laden with pottery and jewellery are set up for Lazy Sunday and artists are selling their wares. But the real focus is on the unloading of the wood kiln, which is now cool enough to unload.
Potters from across the Bay are there to witness the results of the formidable firing that had taken place the week before. It had been witnessed by hundreds of people on the Fire and Clay Night as the fire roared, sending fire and light through spy holes and cracks and belching flames from the top of the chimney as though from a dragon’s maw. Among the crowd was Andy Heast, the HB Arts Festival chair, round eyed with wonder as he declared the spectacle the absolute highlight of the arts festival.
The potters are anticipating some really interesting effects from the high temperatures over the days of continuous fire and as the pots emerge into the brilliance of this sunny Sunday there are murmurs of interest and pleasure. There are some painful shocks too as the opening reveals that some significant large-scale works have exploded in the extreme heat and caused some damage to other pots and heartbreak to the makers.
It is three years since the big brick kiln at Waiohiki Creative was last lit and it’s a major event in the ceramics community. In addition to wood collecting and stacking it has taken more than two weeks now – a week to prepare for the firing, the three days of temperature building and another week to cool.
Potters from around the Bay have been helping out over this period, we are all dead keen to be part of it but most have little or no experience in this method of firing, as it is so infrequent. We are learners, watching and helping out where we can between work and other commitments.
At centre stage is the core group of potters who have done wood firings before. Assisting them, the dedicated team of volunteers rostered on to keep the fire fed with timber night and day. Food is brought in for the fire stokers and the timeless human activity of sitting around a fire, eating and swapping stories is rekindled in a feeling of shared friendship.
The dynamics of heat and the way it moves inside the kiln is uncertain but is affected by the wind conditions. Air is sucked into the kiln by the heat of the burning wood; flames and moving heat swirls around inside the kiln chamber and then up the chimney.
Over the hours and days the temperature slowly builds to over 1350oC as the wood keeps being fed into the fire box. Wood ash is carried in the superheated draught forming an ash glaze on the pots until it reaches its peak and then the portals and draught sources are closed off and oxygen is excluded and the flames burst forth from the chimney and this stage is known as ‘reduction’ (of oxygen).
It is this dramatic and unpredictable process, and the risks to the hand made pots that creates the anticipation and excitement when unloading the kiln after it has cooled. Pots may be glazed prior to loading or left unglazed but they can emerge sporting random markings and colours with the sheen of the hyper-heated ash on the surface.
I had made two ‘rugby’ heads to commemorate the currently running RWC, they emerge safely and with rich, fire-induced umber and sienna coloured ash glaze (no painted-on glaze had been used). I am thrilled. Honestly, it is magic.
Kay Bazzard is a sculptor of the human form of the Taradale Pottery Club.
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