Pottsability Pottery


Jewel Rubin, Potter and Instructor
Roswell, GA
E-Mail: Jewel

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site last revised: 3/04/09

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Woodfire Workshop with Kevin Crowe
at John C. Campbell Folk School
April, 2001

In the Spring of 2001, I gave myself a special birthday gift -- A weeklong woodfire pottery workshop with Kevin Crowe (see October 1992 Ceramics Monthly for an article by this extraordinary woodfire potter.) 

click for larger image
(Click on thumbnails for a larger version of each picture.)
I arrived in Brasstown, NC on Sunday afternoon and signed in for the class.  Since there was a couple of hours before the orientation meeting, I did a little exploration to get my bearings and get settled in.

View of the horizon from the back deck of the Meeting Hall.

 View of the dining hall from the Meeting Hall deck.


Front view of the History Center.
Click for larger image

In my wandering on the way from the dining hall to the craft shop -- which is below the dining hall, I made the happy discovery of this small waterfall.
Folk crafts were in evidence everywhere, including the fence surrounding the waterfall and walkway -- which was made at the blacksmith shop associated with the school.
After the orientation, we had supper and then had our first meeting with our instructor and fellow students.  Our first surprise was that we learned we would be making, drying and single-firing our pots, all in one 7-day week!  We started immediately on Sunday night, throwing teabowls.  Kevin's philosophy is to make at least four of everything.  This philosophy helped me to refine my throwing style by about 100%.

Here are some of my fellow students: 

Barbara and Leslie from Virginia Lisa from Chicago
I am very thankful to Kevin for bringing poetry back into my life.  One of his assignments was for us to bring to the workshop a pot that got us interested in woodfire pottery (I had to bring pictures from Ceramics Monthly, because I didn't have any woodfired pots--yet), and to bring poetry by a favorite author.  We read some poetry before we started each day.  It brought a touch of grace to our endeavors, or so it seemed to me.
Our instructor, Kevin, demonstrated numerous techniques for throwing pots.   Here he is demonstrating throwing HUMONGOUS pots.  None of us took up the challenge of trying to throw something humongous.  For myself, I wanted to have several pots dry enough to fire by the week's end.  We made pots, and had them lined up on the studio porch, on the picnic table outside -- everywhere.  We got the reputation for being obsessed -- we made pots morning, noon and well into the night, and were almost resentful of the (seemingly) constant interruptions to go to meals.  The meals at the school were wonderful, so we didn't complain too hard. 
We made teabowls, then moved on to making bowls out of 4-pound balls of clay and then we made and altered bottles.  Kevin made a couple of bowls out of 25-pound blocks of clay -- how inspiring! 

By Wednesday, we bisque fired some of the pots -- the ones that would go into the first chamber of the kiln. 
We spent Thursday morning putting wadding on all of the pots.  

We spent most of the day Thursday getting the kiln loaded.  Thursday night, we used gas to pre-warm the kiln. 

We starting our firing on Friday morning at 6:30a.m.  In the early morning chill, we learned about stoking.  There were four of us in the workshop, taking turns keeping the kiln stoked/chopping and stacking the wood.  There were numerous curious onlookers throughout the day. 

Notice the fire-breathing dragon sitting next to the front stoke hole.  How clean he looks! Our first firing challenge was that the cone packs we made for the front chamber of the kiln had exploded AND the pyrometer we had on the front chamber turned out to be non-operational.  We improvised and borrowed the pyrometer from one of the Raku kilns nearby.  That one worked for us until we hit 2100 degrees, when it also died.
Here is Kevin not panicking (so we we didn't know not to panic.)  In fact, Kevin was apparently so confident about us that he was in the studio working on his humongous pot while we were busy keeping the kiln stoked.  He reached a local potter who loaned us her pyrometer to finish the firing -- it all worked out well.
By 5:30 in the afternoon, we had flames well into the second chamber.

There is something mesmerizing about the woodfire cycle -- "Stoke!" and we are putting 2-3 or 4 pieces of wood into the firebox.  Flame shoots out of the stoke hole and then smoke.  As soon as the smoke clears, "Stoke!" rings out.  I had heard that this process was exhausting, but I have to admit for me, it was exhilarating.

Toward the end of our firing cycle, I believe Cone 11 was beginning to bend in the back chamber, we started stoking the back chamber.  Just before closing up the kiln for the night, we each added 1-2 sticks of wood with a line of salt up the middle, to add a little bit of excitement to the process.
By 8:30, we closed up the kiln and here we are having a celebratory glass together. 

Our fire-breathing dragon had quite a workout by the end of the day!

We had to let the kiln cool for an entire day, so as a group on Saturday we went to visit the studio of the Ceramics Department Director, Marcia Bugg.  We had the "best ice cream around" at Bud's (a gas station at the entrance to the road leading to the folk school grounds).  We were all impatient for the kiln to cool -- at least my thoughts were on what was in the kiln cooling.
Early Sunday morning, I had just enough patience to get a cup of coffee before going to wait by the kiln for the opening.  Soon, the entire gang was there and we started unbricking.

  

Although our cone packets in the front chamber had exploded, and would require us to grind some excess bits off our our pots, we were quite satisfied with the outcome of this firing.


Kevin's final humongous pot -- as it was when we left the school Sunday afternoon.


I would give this workshop an A+++ rating!