In the early 1980’s, I was a beginning potter with a BA from UCSC in Santa Cruz and several years of experience running a small studio in Venice, CA. Then it was time for a change. I embarked on a 5+ year journey to East Asia, spending 3 of those years studying with Yoshida Yoshihiko in Gifu Prefecture (not far from Nagoya). I learned much from Yoshida, and to this day maintain close ties with him. At the time, he was firing one chamber of a 2-chamber climbing kiln over a 35 – 40 hour cycle, and getting some beautiful results. I resolved to continue some degree with wood firing when I returned to the USA.
Arriving back stateside in the late 1980’s, my wife and I felt the draw of Oregon: much more green than California, equally close to Japan, with plenty of firewood to be had, and at that time, home prices around Portland that seemed within reach. After building a temporary “Phoenix-like” fast-fire kiln in Aloha in the mid-1990’s with Darris Dietz and Moko Hori, it turned out that I had to wait 10 more years to realize my dream of a solidly built wood-fired kiln.
The wait was worth it and in 2005, Donovan Palmquist came out to build a single-chamber kiln at my studio, designed to fire to stoneware temperature in 25 – 35 hours. I’ve named it Skyline Kiln in honor of our Skyline Ridge neighborhood. With help from potter friends we have fired 23 times over 7 years.
I realize that a wood-fire kiln in no way guarantees better results, that “bad pots IN likely means bad pots OUT,” and that different as they are, electric or gas kilns can produce work of equal quality to wood-fired pots. Still though, the allure of wood-firing remains. I hope to be doing it for as long as I work with clay.
Recently, I’ve worked with several other makers close by to form the Skyline Artisans Guild. We’ve held winter, spring and summer sales events at the local Grange, and are trying to make this guild a lasting entity. We have clay, glass, book arts, hand-made clothing, jewelry, some local artisan food makers, and others who will join in. All in all, an interesting mix. As with pottery, the guild work takes perseverance, but likewise, the rewards are there to be had, in the community building and in the chance to show & sell locally.
These days, I sometimes joke with people that I am entering my second 30-year cycle as a potter. Joking aside, that statement holds some truth in that this work takes a lifetime to get into and around. I’m midway through, and so many pots wait to be made.