2nd Excerpt from the book of shards

Again this is an old article written for the Alberta Potters' Association Contact newsletter,


Excerpts from the book of shards

Those of you who actually read these excerpts have probably noticed that I have an affinity for shards, how they came to be, how they influence us, the present, reveal to us in others the things they found good or bad…..well the list goes on and on. In fact you might say you could look at shards in just as many ways as…..well as there are shards. Of course shards are not the only thing I am drawn to, I do like whole pots as well and if they posses cracks, splits, warps, lime pops, and even some bloating or blistering…..all the better I say! These ‘flaws’ really challenge us as makers of ceramic objets. They define us as in what we find acceptable and unacceptable, show us how we look and more importantly how we see things, and to a certain extent, who we are and what we are doing. 

Now before some of you get a little squirrely on me please let me give you some reference for my particular fascination with the so-called ‘ugly mistakes’ of our ceramic world. I would certainly not like a tea bowl that has an S crack in the bottom and have hot tea leak out onto my lap and believe that functional works should be just that. Furthermore, by no means do I think everyone can or should appreciate the things that I find intriguing.  You see my wife and I only fire our work with wood, no electricity, no gas, just wood and in doing so there is naturally more ‘wastage’ because of the harshness of process and with the extremes we like to go to. With wood you become more of an active participant throughout the entire creation of a piece and if you are to get any good at it you have to closely examine everything that goes in and out of a wood kiln, good or bad.  Learning to fire with wood has been an ongoing series trials and errors and with every cycle you naturally learn to let go of expectation and ego a little bit more each time.  When you start to let go of these things, every time you look at what comes out of a kiln your ideas of what is beauty and what is ugly are inevitably challenged and occasionally they change.

The other day while sipping tea with my good wife we started to talk about the last firing, a humdinger by any standard, and some of the pots that emerged reflected that intensity. Each pot revealed something about the firing, where it was in the kiln, the temperature, the ash/flash and they allow us to see certain things within the kiln. Of course when we looked at them as a whole we could get a sense of the entire firing. I then realized that shards are the same, if you find a piece of the whole you tend to examine it more closely than you would normally. A handle, a lip or foot maybe a spout or surface, all are looked at with more scrutiny. How were they made, fired? What was the makers intent? How did they approach certain aspects in its creation? Etcetera, etcetera.

I then started to see a connection between shards, pots from a firing and even the ‘ugly mistakes’ on pots I mentioned earlier. They all allow me to see things within the whole, not because of what is there but because of what is not there. Things become clearer, and are more intimately examined because one is not distracted by the whole and when not distracted I can appreciate them for what they are and not what they are in relation to. In the end, this is what truly drives me in my explorations into wood fired ceramics.


Christian D Barr

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