First Firing of our big kiln

This was an article I wrote for our First Firing show at the Alberta Craft Council way back in 2004. We planned the show even before we finished the kiln! Can't believe it has been 10 years already. Enjoy!

First fire

Two years ago we received a partial grant from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts to build an experimental wood fired kiln. This show is based on the very first firing of that kiln.

Being a very highly experimental kiln our expectations were set somewhat on the low side, for you see, a pessimist is never disappointed.  Still after over two years trying to wrap one’s head around this kiln, find the funds and get it built along with all the other things it takes to be full time potters, we remained cautiously optimistic.

The firing went according to plan…..for the most part.  The kiln stalled at around 900 degrees Celsius. I grumbled around the kiln for some time trying to figure it out amongst the other folks that came to help us fire it. At around 2 in the morning on the third day, after all the hearty stokers’ trotted off to bed Enzien and I were left to mull over our misbehaving child.

“Figures.” She said.

“What?” I replied

“Why should it be any easier to fire than it was to build.” She said with a smirk.

“Grumble grumble.” I responded

“ It’s cursed.” She said.

“No it’s not!..grumble, grumble, mutter, mutter.” I was peeking in the front stoke doors now looking at some of the pots that would suffer the most if we had to do what we were about to.

Over the next half-hour we tried to figure why this thing was stuck and then dipped into our bag of tricks and pulled out one of our measures of last resort. We knew the decision would mean that the wares in the front of the kiln would suffer the most and they did. This is were working with a kiln, in particular a new kiln as unique as this one, can teach you something new as long as you are willing to set aside you expectations. Pots got bumped the kiln got hot, hotter that we have ever been before, and intentions were placed upon the shelf for the next firing. There were a couple more moments that required some slight of hand and racking of brains, and after 81 hours, an exhausted and trusty crew closed it up.

People have asked me why such a different kiln. Why not build something that is tried and true. I usually respond to them with technical jargon like multiple draft capabilities, increased number of ‘zones’, firing types, localized stoking, reduction cooling, etc.…What actually I should be saying is that when does one start and stop interacting with the artwork? Does it start with the artist touching clay and end once it is put into a kiln? Or does it start and end where one wants it. A wood kiln extends the interaction between the artist and the work. This kiln gives us that and so much more.

This kiln exists on the rim of what should and should not be done.  It only seems fitting that this show should reflect that.


Christian D Barr

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