The early evening rays of an August sun bled across the fields through the pines as three crows freeze and circle above the kiln site where piles of uncut strips of larch lay strewn around and the torn camouflage of tarpaulin flapped in the wind. A lot of work needed to be done before even the thought of forming clay into pots could begin, in fact an entire wood shed needed to be built to protect the wood-stacks from the lashing rains. The eight by eight metre ark on the hill was completed within a month, its timbers and tin sheeting, could soon shelter a dozen rows of wood-stacks as the rain hammered down and the structure was crowned with a cast iron cat gazing over to the kiln site entrance. One quadrant of the ark was divided off with tattered green tent canvas into a den where an old leather sofa and deck chairs lay scattered around, Arabian camel saddle-bags and a Tibetan tent textile hung from the ceiling and on the eve of the wood-shed’s completion a full moon rose eerily through the window as a bottle of Isla’s Bowmore whiskey stood on its sill.
By the kiln was a shepherd’s hut where the rusted iron of a red robin sculpture was perched on its eave, it gazed across the honey-stone stone wall into the neighbouring field where a flock of sheep were scattered, bleating and grazing. Below the hut was a pond, where the trickle of a waterfall cascaded down to the multi-coloured ornamental carp. They had grown several inches since we had seen them last, some had bred and several baby koi swam about amongst the reeds and the pink water-lilies that had bloomed over the summer. A protective net was cast over the pond to protect the fish from the heron that had on previous summers beaked and eaten them.
“On Jubilee street, there was a girl named B, she had a little black book, and my name was written on every page”.
A book by Nick Cave titled: “And the Ass saw the Angel” lay on the table in the den. Even though electric lights were set up in the corners of the wood-shed to light the wood that would soon be burned into pillars of smoke, it was usual to light up the ark at night with red, white and green candles. Two weeks of studio time followed, where the potters formed various vessels: cups, saucers, vases, bird-houses, ash-trays, bowls and tankards. Coinciding with a waxing moon that would become full during the six day firing ordeal that lay ahead.
On a mid-September night, after two days of loading the kiln, we lit the kiln with the flammable bark of paper birch. The first day was focused on pre-heating the thick bricks that lined the curvaceous walls of the kiln, so that the temperature would rise smoothly later on in the firing. For a day the temperature reading on the pyrometer was kept to below 300 celsius, then we would gradually stoke the kiln with more wood. By the third day we had reached 1100 celsius as the thermocouple dipped into the flames and a soaking temperature was held at 1160 celsius for two more days, climbing eventually to 1210 celsius. An intensity of flames enveloped the kiln and the pots glistened with the sheen of melting ash. Sheets of fire swirled and swept over the pink-white pots as the broiling soot and flame burst through the octagonal chimney stack. It was my firing shift that begun at 3 am in pitch darkness; the kiln lay on an east-west axis and it was a sublime delight to see the pale light of dawn play over the clouds behind the chimney as I stoked the fire-mouth with a bundle of logs. On occasions I would poke and aerate the ember bed with a stainless steel rod, and a helping hand was nearby to barrow more wood from the stacks to the kiln side. After six days of blood, sweat, toil and tears, the hurdles were behind us and at 2 am we bricked up the fire-mouth and crashed out.
The kiln cooled for two days and then we un-bricked the face of the kiln, to reveal the pots; some vases had been deliberately toppled down into the ash filled fire-pit. We brought out the pots carefully, examining each one. The firing was a heavy and strong one, clearly seen by the various changing landscapes of colour and texture that marked the surface of the pots.
There was only one day before the Flying Monk Arts Trail open-studio weekend began and we removed wadding from the foot of the pots and set up the pots in the barn gallery. Over the weekend we had well over a hundred visitors and a lot of compliments on our work. Saturday night’s opening party got friends and guests sparkling with pots, paintings and sculptures together with bottles of ale from Elmer the Flying Monk brewery, Pique-Roche rosé wine and Green Lady sparkling tea; it was work worth sweating for and hearts were melted and touched.
Open studio exhibitions are special events where visitors can see not just the works but also the anagama kiln were the pots were born. Dameon Lynn and LB would like to warmly thank the visiting ceramists from Catalonia and Andalucia and organisers of the Arts Trail, especially Kim Langley and also the three guest artists: paintings of the bark of eucalyptus, beech and silver birch by Arabella Perry harmonised well with the wood-fired pieces and the stone and bronze animal sculptures by Sam Flintham and Alison Murray-Wells beautifully graced the gallery. We look forward to contributing to next year’s Malmesbury Arts Trail and hope to see you again.
Late summer light
Beams through the barn …
Gracias A La Vida – by Argentina’s queen of song, Mercedes Sosa
“On Jubilee Street there was a girl named Bee
And here I come up the hill, I’m pushing my wheel of love
The problem was she had a little black book
And my name was written on every page
Look at me now
(photos by Penelope Vallejo and El Bee)