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How it is done: Pottery is wheel thrown or hand built, allowed to dry to leather hard and trimmed. The pots are coated with a terra sigillata (a very fine particled slip) and buffed with a chamois cloth for a smooth finish, or, textured and left with a rough surface before bisque firing. Various enhancements for color and decoration are then applied, including copper carbonate, salt, iron, copper mesh, steel wool, plant material, etc. Sometimes the pots are also wrapped in aluminum foil. Since no glazes are used, the finishing effects are always a wondrous surprise, and come directly from the final firing technique of ‘pit firing’. Smoke and flames licking around the smooth curved surfaces help create unpredictable and beautiful results.

  click image to enlarge pit site

This type of firing is a return to a more traditional or primitive method and is a further connection with the earth. In fact, the pots are fired in an "earthen kiln"-- an 11’ long x 4’ wide x 4’ deep pit dug out of the ground! The floor is firebrick; the walls are reinforced with sheet metal. On the right, you can see the wear on the kiln after one firing. It requires regular maintenance.

 

The pots, packed close together, are placed on a bed of shredded paper, woodchips, charcoal pieces, and topped off with  fine sawdust. The  area of the pot in the fine sawdust will turn black from carbon being deposited in the pores of the clay. Organic materials and chemicals are added on, and around the pots. A layer of salt soaked straw  is then added.

Cow pies from a local farm are collected, dried, and added to increase temperature  and  to act as  insulation.  (We thank the producers!)

More shredded paper is added which becomes a cushion for the large fire built above the pots. Finally, kindling and larger pieces of wood are stacked until they mound over the top of the pit. 


(Some team
members just
don't work as
hard as others.
So be prepared...

...with kiln gods!)

After kiln gods are made (also tradition -- and certainly part of the fun!) the fire is set ablaze. The fire rages for about 2 hours and then, while the embers still burn brightly, it is covered with sheet metal.

The process of preparing the pots, loading the pit, firing, cooling, removal, and packing takes about 3 days. UNLESS...

 

There is a fierce  thunderstorm whose wrath can be measured in FEET. Even the roof could not defend the pit (with embers still searing) against this downpour! Talk about crash cooling! The waterline on the right side of the picture measured 14 inches! Though it would appear that we had angered the fire gods in some way, they were apparently just having some fun with us! Below are some of the beauties the soup yielded:


Because we don’t have the space, and a pit fire of this size is not possible on our property in suburban central NJ, my pit is located on an old sawmill site near our cabin in Canada. After they're washed and allowed to dry, the pots are sealed with a  protective  finish and may be enhanced with vine, reed, or cane. Pottery created in this way is for decorative use. I hope you enjoy the process and the pots!

 

IMMEASURABLE  THANKS to the 2 wonderful people who help make this possible every year: my amazing "can-do-anything" husband, Paul Reeser (l), and my hard-working and awesome Canadian friend, Archie Whaley (r). 
I love you guys!