Dick Lehman Pottery
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In my kiln with a wood-fired pot.

Further Reading:

> READ the complete text of an article I authored about wood-firing, entitled "An Approach To Long Woodfire", originally published in Ceramics: Technical, (Australia), November, 1999.

My Reverence for Wood-firing

I experience a kind of reverence in wood-firing that I find in no other ceramic pursuit: I stoke the kiln with wood which has grown (often times on my own property) over the last thirty or fifty, or perhaps seventy years. During those years the tree, being true to its own biological requirements (and subject to the particularities of the roughly two hundred cubic yards of soil atop of which it sits, and through which its roots traverse), has quietly but steadily stored away in its bark and cambium layer, a peculiar set of soluble minerals and salts.

When the wood, which I thrust into the blazing twenty-five-hundred degree firebox, fairly explodes into combustion, miniscule trace amounts of these minerals and salts (which are not combustible) hitch a ride on the fly-ash and start a journey through the kiln. The ash swirls and eddies around pots, gets lifted with the heat of combustion to the higher elevations within the kiln, then, cooling a bit, begins to descend through the pots and shelved, being inexorably pulled by the chimney's draft to a small exit flue hole at the bottom of the kiln. If by some chance of the swirling tides of flame-currents within the kiln the ash has avoided direct contact with the pots, the fly-ash exits the chimney, eventually returning to the earth to fertilize another generation of forests. But should the fly-ash, during its dance among the pots, come in direct contact with the red-hot molten sticky surface of the pots, the ash adheres, bonding the smallest imaginable trace of flux and hitchhiking-glaze-chemistry to the silica on the surface of the pot.

After 7-15 days of these chance encounters there begins to collect a formidable swell of pyroplastic glaze-making traces. And soon a new kind of flow emerges — natural ash glaze — an oozing sticky mass of improbable collaborators, flowing down the sides of the pots, drawn now by gravity's rule, to find their way to the lowest point on the pot.

It is this unlikely blend of biology, chemistry, physics, and intentionality that leads me to a sense of reverence concerning wood-fired forms. The arbitrary interaction of the flames, the fuel sources and the clays create never-to-be-repeated surfaces that are rich with clues, hints, and information to those who would look deeply.

I believe that one can never really make wood-fired pots. One can only collaborate with the materials and the magic of process, to receive the gifts from the kiln with a sense of awe and appreciation.


Dick Lehman