Wood Firing: Taming A Feral Aesthetic




A feral cat is any cat that was born in the wild and has not had friendly contact with humans. Cats that were once kept as pets and now live on their own are called strays, and are not considered feral. Feral cats are characterized by fearful behavior: fleeing when approached, and attacking when cornered.
If you’re thinking, “I know geriatric potters are supposed to rate a certain license, but what in the world do feral felines have to do with a conference on wood-fired ceramics?”
Well, stay tuned.

Those of us whose introduction to wood firing began in the 1970s have a perverse debt of gratitude to the oil embargo, which began in October 1973 when the members of the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries proclaimed an oil crisis. By the end of the embargo in March 1974, the price of oil had risen from US$3 per barrel to nearly $12 globally; US prices were significantly higher.
A little background: cobalt oxide was around $50 a pound, and a 50-pound sack of Albany slip cost the same as a standard mug, $3.50.
Peter Voulkos’s big plates were a mind-blowing $750 at Helen Drutt’s gallery during the 1975 NCECA conference in Philadelphia. A vase cost less than $40; a ‘vahse' cost more than that. Garth Clark tried to persuade us to call pots ‘vessel-oriented clay objects’, or VOCOS, and you know how well that caught on.
Don Reitz had been paying 14 cents per gallon for propane and saw the cost jump to over a dollar, comparable to price increases across the US.
Gerry Williams, founder of Studio Potter was one of the first to suggest firing with wood as an alternative to gas or oil, leading to the Phoenix fast-fire kiln. Nobody talked about a ‘wood-fire aesthetic’, because #1, the first wood-fired pots looked a lot like high-fired bisque-ware that needed dusting; #2, potters from coast to coast were saying to one another variations on the following sentence: “All that for this?”;
and #3, a growing sense of pride in being able to flatten cone 10 with enough wood to fit in a VW microbus with two kegs of beer. Odd that nobody appreciated the work enough to buy it.
Pearls before swine.

Garth Clark tried to persuade us to call pots “vessel-oriented clay objects, or VOCOS,” and you know how well that caught on.


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