Baptism of fire
|By Lawrence Cosentino|
For these ceramicists, a Grand Ledge kiln is a ‘primal experience’
Monday afternoon, just before 3, a crowd of people
Wabi-sabi-gama, the 12-foot-long beast with a belly of fire, had finally cooled.
Jim Reinert, a potter from Owosso, was about to open the monster’s mouth and climb inside.
“Let’s take a peek,” Reinert said.
“Wheee-ha!” came a shout from the crowd.
The rustic wood-fired kiln, one of only a handful in
When ceramics are fired by wood, instead
“You have no idea what you’re going to
That’s where wabi-sabi, a Japanese
“Wabi-sabi means appreciating what life
The “gama” part of “Wabi-sabi-gama” comes
“You’re using wood to fire pots, which is earth,” Reinert said. “It’s pretty basic, primal experience.”
The kiln was built with two layers of hard brick, mudded over with a mixture of clay, silica and straw.
The materials are primitive, but the math
Masterson, one of the kiln’s masterminds, showed me one of the wooden forms that supported the bricks during construction.
“It’s a gorgeous curve,” Masterson said. “The St. Louis (Gateway) Arch is based on it.”
A catenary arch is one of the strongest
“When I told them it was 4.811 minus the
The builders used three wooden forms, but
Reinert, who runs a ceramics shop in
The first firing started April 30, after a kiln god ceremony.
“We walked around the kiln, drank sake and threw it on the kiln,” Meyers said.
Another ceremony honored Paulette Harris, a member of the co-op who helped plan the kiln. Harris died last winter.
“People wrote notes to Paulette, or prayers or poems about her,” Meyers said. “We used it as the kindling for the first flame.”
Volunteers worked at the firing for
Every half-hour, the temperature rose in
The first part of the firing was fairly routine — “like tending a campfire,” Reinert said.
But there were tense moments.
Bill Guerin, one of two members of the Lansing Potters Guild with pieces inside the kiln, was on hand for a few shifts.
“Everything shrunk and formed some cracks,” Guerin said.
As the kiln got hotter, the job got more interesting.
“There was flame in every orifice — the chimney, the top of the kiln, the door,” Guerin said.
Clayworks member Diane Postema camped out for the whole 72-hour firing.
“You could see the glow of the entire inside of the kiln
In the light of day Monday, it was clear
Members set the pieces on the lawn nearby, preserving their arrangement in the kiln.
Later, the potters would analyze the effects created at
Reinert predicted the effects of wood firing would be “rustic.”
“Our kiln is designed to create a lot of wood ash,”
As more pieces came out of the kiln, dozens of funky
Guerin stood among the rows of pieces with a multi-colored pot in his upraised hand, like Hamlet regarding a skull.
“That’s quite variegated,” he said.
Guerin didn’t know what to expect, but said he was thrilled by the results.
“I like the randomness of it,” he said. “That’s half the fun.”
A few yards away, Steve Beck of Lansing, recently retired
“This is fun, it’s just a lark,” he said.
Ginny Baxter of Charlotte was unruffled by minor failure.
“My sushi dish got kind of warped,” she shrugged. “I don’t think it will be very useful.”
But as more new stuff came out of the kiln, Baxter forgot
“Now that’s organic,” she said.