Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pit Firing Project

This month clay students got an opportunity to create work for a pit fire- the oldest form of firing pottery dating back to around 30,000BC. We started out by making hollow forms that were burnished ( rubbed with a smooth stone- or kitchen spoons in our case) throughout the stages of dryness until shiny. 
Students burnishing pottery to be pit fired
Pottery was bisqued and students brought a variety of combustibles to wrap around their artwork including: Sawdust/ wood chips, twine, seaweed, potato chips, pork rind chips, moss and leaves, copper and steel mesh dish scrubbers, copper wire, newspaper, leaves/ twigs, etc. Each artwork was wrapped in various combustibles and placed into the pit that had been layered with additional materials. 

Pottery wrapped in various materials

Here is the basic process of a pit fire: To prepare the pit fire, a shallow pit is dug and layered with combustible materials ( I just used my fire pit out back). Pots are placed above the base layer of combustibles and then covered with more combustibles ( saw dust, newspaper, wood chips, manure, etc.). A fire is built on top and let burn until it dies down, then is smothered ( I poured wood chips over it) and allowed to smolder undisturbed until cool. *This is the smoky part (Students were not present during this stage of the process). The smoke swirls around the pots, penetrating into the clay and coloring the surface. Different elements in the combustibles leave different colors on the pots ( carbon= black, copper= pink, salt= yellow). 

This was such a cool project because students were able to participate in much of the process and experiment with different materials to see what colors they produce when burned. The project also gave students a glimpse of traditional pottery techniques and presented them with new challenges. Students will polish their pieces tomorrow with wax to enhance the colors and I will post more photos of the finished pieces then. I am excited to see how they come out!