is split, stacked, and ready to go. Now all I need are some pots to fire….
is split, stacked, and ready to go. Now all I need are some pots to fire….
Well, I am sitting here now in the quiet aftermath of what turned out to be a fantastic week long pottery workshop, here in Taku, Japan. As I sit here, looking at the prospect of going back to my normal schedule on Monday, I realize what an amazing experience the whole thing was, and am now looking forward to going through the hours of video of pottery and tea demonstrations.
We started the week with a tea ceremony demonstration by Kawakami Mako Sensei. She had prepared an informative talk on the roots of modern tea ceremony, and some of the key concepts such as Wa Kei Sei Jaku and Ichi-go Ichi-e. She prepared Koicha (thick tea) followed by Usucha (thin tea), and then we all went outside near a waterfall in the park and tried preparing a bowl of tea by ourselves.
Sunday and Monday mornings, Tsuruta Yoshihisa Sensei demonstrated his handbuilt teabowl forming techniques and coil and paddle techniques for larger forms. It is always amazing watching him work. In the afternoons, we visited a few ceramics galleries and a tea ceremony supply in Karatsu. We also made a very interesting trip to the workshop and kiln of Nakazato Shigetoshi Sensei, second son of the late Nakazato Muan, 12th gen. potter of the Nakazato family and Living National Treasure. He was kind enough to show us his small personal museum of shards and special work, as well as a tour of his kilns and showroom.
Sunday evening was pizza party at my house and studio, and we baked pizza in the wood fired oven, yum. One of the Japanese guests, Housui san, is a calligraphy artist, and he treated us to an impromptu performance, first on regular paper sheets, then with a large brush on a tatami mat (I’ll post pictures of that later). We also did our first collaborative piece when he wrote a poem in iron deco one of my large plates. It will be fired in the next wood kiln firing.
Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, Okamoto Sakurei demonstrated his pottery making skills making larger forms, thrown, hand built and coil/paddled. We visited Sakureigama studio and kiln in the afternoon, and Okamoto Sensei was kind enough to bring out a few of his antique teabowls. He brought out two old Karatsu teabowls and two Ri period Korean bowls which were my favorites. I was even accused of ‘fondling’ them. I probably was. Wed. afternoon we visited the Nagoya Castle ruins in Chinzei. This was the castle from which Hideyoshi staged his campaigns into Korea. It is a huge complex, quite amazing when you imagine what it must have been like at the time. There is a tea room there, Kaigetsu, which we visited for tea, and the hostess showed us the separate tea house set in the far end of the garden. My father in law, who helped drive for the group, said it was the first time he has ever visited a tea room and the first time he ever had matcha, which he enjoyed thoroughly.
Thursday we visited the studio and showroom of Maruta Munehiko and he demonstrated throwing teabowls on his kickwheel, as well as trimming. After his demonstration we visited his showroom, where everyone ogled the work and a couple of people bought two of his beautiful Kuro Oribe guinomi. I couldn’t resist buying an E-Karatsu yunomi. Thursday evening we visited the tool store, before going to dinner at Hisago on Nishi Arita. Maeda san, the chef at Hisago, prepares Kaiseki meals in dishes he has personally collected over the years. The whole meal is a feast for all the senses. He keeps records of what he has prepared for his customers, and never serves the same thing twice.
Friday we took it easy and shared all of the photos and video we had taken over the last 6 days. Everyone packed up and I took them to the train station, to head back to their own countries. It was an amazing group of people and everyone got along, making for a remarkably smooth workshop with a minimum of drama. I hope everyone will come back for the Workshop in Taku 2014: The Undecided Theme.
Well, didn’t quite make the Feb. 29 date for firing the kiln. My wood ash supply ran out and it was hard locating more and getting it tested. Also had the top element go out on my electric kiln, so couldn’t use it for bisquing. Finally got that stuff done, so was able to mix up glazes and get to glazing/loading. Got the rear setting done this evening. My shipment of cones from Axner came in the nick of time, so here are the new self supporting cones in action. I have decided that I LOVE self supporting cones…
I mentioned that I’d run out of glaze ingredients. Some testing was required to ‘find’ my glazes again. This glaze is tough because it goes clear if too thin, or is too white and runny if too thick. Also, I’ve been trying to tweak my Madara to more closely resemble that of the old Karatsu pots, circa 1580. Theirs went on thin, but kept its color. A lot of silica, probably. Here are two test tiles with Madara glazes. They were fired in the tiny test kiln and you can see they went pretty clear, because they were directly in the flame path. The tile on the left is the tweaked version, with more silica/rice straw ash and less mixed wood ash. I think it is pretty close to what I want, and will have more color when not fired in the tiny kiln with that concentrated flame, and gets a slow cool.
This upcoming firing we will have our first attempt at hikidashi, which means pulling pots at high temp and letting them cool quickly, or quenching them in water or something flammable such as rice hulls, sawdust, etc… This time, all of the hikidashi will be hikidashi guro, or black glazed ware pulled at temp. In the picture of the rear setting above, all of those pots with the red glaze are going to be yanked out. From the side port, a pair of tongs about 1 meter long is just about long enough to get most of the ware. For pulling from the front stoke, tongs are just too short, so I spent some time this afternoon making a new tool. By drilling a hole into the side of the test kiln, I converted it into a simple forge. I took round steel stock and repeatedly heated it and hammered it to flatten the end then used a hammer and chisel to split it lengthwise from the end. A little creative hammering gave me a two pronged fork shape for scooping up bowls and pulling them out the front of the kiln. Can’t wait to give it a try.
Spend a good bit of time sorting and splitting wood for the next couple of firings today. Before the kiln was built, Craig Edwards mentioned on a couple of occasions that having the wood split and sorted makes for a much easier time firing. I understood the need for splitting, but sorting kind of stumped me. I couldn’t understand why sorting for length would help, thinking that one could estimate the volume of wood going in each stoke, more shorter pieces or less longer pieces, right?
This seems to work in theory, but when you start adding in factors like stoking under the grates vs over the grates, or doing the wooden door technique, or side stoking through a smaller hole that tilts down, then the size and length of the faggots gets pretty important pretty fast. Having to sort through a stack for the right size during the firing makes for a stressful time. Having the right size stacked in the right place so that it doesn’t need to be moved a lot really cuts down on the labor.
So, this time I culled out all of the longest wood and split it first, stacking it near the front of the kiln. Shorter fat pieces near the front as well, with thinner pieces toward the middle and rear for side stoking the front and rear chambers. Also a special section of extra long pieces for doing a wooden door type stoke to get over stalls, if they happen. Here are some pictures of the stacks, plus a little potter porn.
Finally! After seemingly endless days of loading, the front is finished. The large pieces in front are most refires with the exception of the large jar to the right. The big white piece in the middle isn’t a pot, it is a large piece of Shirakawa Toseki (porcelain stone from the Shirakawa area near Arita dam). The square right behind it is a piece of sandstone that I cut in two and hollowed out to make a box.
On and off I’ve had requests for pictures of the kiln, so here are some selected photos of it from beginning to completion. Building this kiln was the subject of the first Workshop In Taku, in 2010. The second in the series, Workshop in Taku 2012: The Simple Teabowl, will happen from May 12 – 18, 2012. Full details here:
The series starts not with ‘the kiln’, but ‘the hole’.
Kiln design and expert workshop guidance by Craig Edwards of Minnesota.