The unseasonably warm month of December made for an easier winter firing of Yorel the train kiln last month. Without much snow on the ground, shuttling wares from the studio across the yard to the kiln shed was far more efficient and less jaw clenching than past years, without an icy driveway to navigate.
Firing a wood kiln at any time of year involves troubleshooting multiple variables and presents unique challenges each time. But one challenge that is consistent with every firing, no matter the season, is the crew scheduling. Firing our wood kilns requires a crew of committed and reliable folk. No potter can go it alone, when a single firing lasts anywhere from 48 - 125 hours, or sometimes more if the wood is wet!
Firing shifts are scheduled in 6 hour increments, with typically 2 people on the clock, sometimes more if they are students or newly initiated to the world of woodfiring. Each shift is unique, but generally wood gets stacked and stoked, previous logs are referenced, cones get checked and decisions are contemplated and made, all of course dependent on what the kiln is communicating at any given moment.
We are so grateful and humbled by the support and strength behind our firing crew. Some individuals show up each time, without hesitation, others new to the game come equipped with snacks to share and a million questions to ask. We appreciate everyone that helps us fire our kilns, every time.
This last firing felt especially festive, earmarked for a precursor to the holiday season, we even managed to cook a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings mid-firing! The gift giving and receiving came a week later when we unloaded the kiln and gathered to celebrate the physical results of everyone’s efforts.
Firing a wood kiln is a journey every time. Each firing has its own character and inherent learning that keeps us going. With all the busyness, especially at that time of year, we know many of our crew made special efforts to pull a shift. So one might ask why we would schedule a wood kiln firing the week before Christmas? No one on our crew asked why, they just said, "I can help."
We don't exactly know what drives us to do what we do, but we don't think we have to know. We do know this firing wasn't necessarily about the pottery sales or an upcoming exhibition, this firing was about the weirdness ... and love, bringing people together in a festive time to contribute to a constructive process that brings more beauty into the world. It was about all the conversations around the firebox. The process in all, with its many facets and moving parts, keeps teaching or facilitating something that hopefully we each find meaning from.
Happy New Year!
It’s no secret that Nelson thrives on its reputation as a most appealing place to live and marketable destination to visit, especially if you are an artist! At its heart, Kootenay Studio Arts (KSA) at Selkirk College has contributed significantly to this reputation, having provided arts education in the Kootenays for more than 60 years.
Offering a curriculum with an intensive studio focus, the craft programs emphasize on preparing students to make a living through their art and craft. And for every student that goes on to open a studio of their own, there are dozens that also become craft aficionados, and their role as enthusiastic appreciators of craft is equally as important.
Robin was first a student at KSA in 1996, and later began teaching as a sessional instructor. Last year he became faculty and is excited about how he can build the program in the coming years.
The college wrote a feature on Robin last month: Read the article
This school year he is stoked to be teaching with friend and colleague Martin Tagseth. Martin is out from Lake Lenore, SK for the winter semester and together they will be hosting a faculty open workshop at the school March 13-15th.
The workshop will include artist talks, demonstrations and discussion on contemporary and historical ceramics. The goal of the workshop is to fundraise to start a student ceramics guild at KSA, to facilitate bringing in other visiting artists and helping students attend extra-curricular conferences and events.
If you think you can make it, be sure to RSVP to email@example.com - space is limited.
It started snowing here on New Years Eve. Prior to that there had hardly been much in the way of precipitation, even Christmas was scantily white. But 2020, so far, has been memorable with record snowfalls. Our local ski hill has recorded 283 cm since January 1st (that's over 9 feet).
Any guesses where we have been spending many of our days????
Alongside being committed to winter recreation, there are added chores to do dealing with this much snow. We've learned in years past that our chimneys don't always stand the test of snow/ice building up around them. After losing Lily's chimney to mother nature a couple years in a row awhile back, we now make sure to shovel the rooftop of that kiln shed.
On the larger kiln shed structure we made sure to build crickets that divert the water around the high side of the chimneys. However the snow load has been so large, we've been watching it pretty closely.
After a full semester of teaching at KSA this past fall, the studio beckons and Robin manages to find time to make pots. The ware racks are filling up and firing dates for both wood and soda are underway. Before we know it, the marshmallow landscape will recede and it will be firing season.
Until then, pass the shovel!
Living in a small town, there are rare opportunities to feel or remain anonymous. Earlier this month, we took the kids out for dinner in town and as per usual, our restaurant choice decision making process was comical. After negating one another's choices, we finally came to a consensus, only to be turned away because of wait list times and so we steered the kids into another busy eatery that would take us without a reservation.
We were seated next to what looked like an office party, or perhaps an interest group gathering to celebrate the season. Midway through the evening, the group tore into a gift giving activity, it could even have been a secret santa type exchange. Our family attempted to politely observe and not eavesdrop, but it was fun to watch the gift reveal.
Halfway through the exchange and our meal, Robin leaned in to us and quietly announced, "Look, there is one of my mugs!"
And there it was! A wide mouthed shorty, wood-fired, and perfect for a latte lover. It was a sweet reminder of how the pots, created with intent and purpose in the studio go out into the world and take on a life of their own. Perhaps this mug will become a favourite go to in the recipient's daily morning ritual.
We didn't know or recognize any of the party goers, and they certainly didn't recognize that it was the maker of the mug sitting right next to them. But it was a lovely exchange, for us too - keeping the secret to ourselves.
Wishing you a happy holiday season. May all your gifts be thoughtfully selected and handmade this year.
Merry Christmas from the DuPonts!
Have you heard about the airstream on the side of the highway somewhere in the
Kootenays? The secondary scenic highway winds through the picturesque Slocan
Valley, following the river around cliff bends and open agriculture. About 20km
north of civilization there sits an airstream trailer conveniently nestled up against a
forested hillside beside a pullout for weary and stiff travellers that need a breath of
fresh air or to stretch their legs.
Follow a winding trail up through a steep mixed forest and you’ll come to an
opening in the trees, and a narrow driveway that leads to a unlikely homestead.
There are brick piles laying around, odd machinery bits and pieces, chimneys
popping out of log framed sheds that house kilns and stacks and stacks of woodpiles
in their various stages of drying.
The home belongs to Robin and Eden DuPont, and their two children and two
German shepherd dogs. For over ten years the vision has been the same, with each
year a new investment into the bigger picture as the homestead continues to evolve
and has been shaped and developed into a home-based studio pottery business.
The clay is mixed, and when ready for use it is formed in various methods into useful
objects. When the objects dry, they are ready for firing. They get lined with a glaze
and then they are loaded into one of the many kilns.
One of the kilns is fired by a crew of 8 or more people for four days straight. This
concept, absurd and mostly unheard of to the average Canadian, however comes
from an ancient Japanese method of wood firing. The firing crew is made up of
potters, school teachers, timber framers, musicians and web designers. Students
often come from abroad to take part in the communal activity.
With this amount of time invested, and so many variables to try to control and
understand there are bound to be disappointments and failures. But that is where
the learning takes place. Some pots need to be dug out of burnt ember beds as wood
has been piled up for near 100 hours on top.
When the pots are cleaned up and intentionally selected, they are carried down the
mountain trail and take up residence in the airstream until the wary traveller pulls
Pie plates for homemakers, a new cereal bowl for the forester, a group of wine cups
are gifted to an inlaw. The pots go out into the world and take on a life of their own
to become a favorite morning coffee vessel.
Come check us out some time.
Kiln logs are often the most under-appreciated studio tool, and yet one of the most essentials when it comes to keeping track of what has been done in the past.