Anagama, Again: Firing the Janjagama Woodfired Pottery Kiln, July, 2017.

I make my pottery in Vienna my home, and others make their pottery in their home, and sometimes our paths cross. This a time, this a crossing: my second firing of the anagama woodfired kiln at Atelje Janja Gora, Croatia. I the American living in Austria, firing with others from Slovenia, Croatia, and Taiwan.

(photos from the previous firing here)

Erik Haugsby Pottery firing the "Janjagama" Anagama kiln at Atelje Janja Gora

We fired for a total of 39 hours, and reached a max of 1293°C. The kiln was packed tightly, very tightly, making it difficult to attain and maintain these highest temperatures. Whereas with other firings it was possible to go from 1200° to 1350°+ without so much as looking at the kiln (perhaps not looking was the trick), with this one we struggled for tens of hours to get just 100 degrees higher. But in a way, better: a longer firing leads to more wood ash building up on the pots, and beautiful wood ash is the hallmark of an anagama kiln.

Not a single piece glazed (I learned from my mistakes last time I fired at this kiln), the clay will develop a color and texture all its own from the path the fire weaves through the kiln. Fire is wood ash, physical objects burning themselves away, and as it lands on pots it sticks to the pots and melts to the pots, yes please.

Erik Haugsby Pottery firing the "Janjagama" Anagama kiln at Atelje Janja Gora

Anja Slapnicar, at the left, has fired this kiln some 10 times. Branko Šupica, at right, built the kiln in 2013.

Erik Haugsby Pottery firing the "Janjagama" Anagama kiln at Atelje Janja Gora

Liank Wu here, a Taiwanese potter under whom Anja spent some time working. Wu himself works under (for 19 years, he says) the potter Lin Jui-Hwa: the potter who set the Guinness world record for highest temperature in a wood-fired kiln i.e. 1563°C. Sure there are some potters who fire to such temperatures without needing a Guinness team (sometimes without needing a pyrometer), Kumano Kuroemon comes to mind, but still.

Erik Haugsby Pottery firing the "Janjagama" Anagama kiln at Atelje Janja Gora

Erik Haugsby Pottery firing the "Janjagama" Anagama kiln at Atelje Janja Gora

Erik Haugsby Pottery firing the "Janjagama" Anagama kiln at Atelje Janja Gora

Inside that kiln there is 1200+ degrees C and a meter or two away you’re drinking water trying to stay slightly cooler. The kiln’s walls are thick, thick helps insulate in a way but also maintains temperature. Once it starts getting hot, it starts staying hot. Cooling down takes a good 7 days, from 1200 to 20ish.

Erik Haugsby Pottery firing the "Janjagama" Anagama kiln at Atelje Janja Gora

Black smoke, reduction, when the kiln’s atmosphere is deprived of oxygen. Fire needs oxygen to breath, so given said dearth it starts to suck it from the pots: the oxides in the glaze, and in the body. This causes deliciously irreversible changes in both glaze and body: a glaze what with enough oxygen will look glossy jade green in reduction turns a blood red, for example.

Kilns often move between oxidation, saturated with oxygen, and reduction; a good firer knows 1. which atmosphere is appropriate for the works inside 2. how to get that atmosphere 3. when to get that atmosphere. Some glazes need reduction, some glazes need capital-R Reduction, some clay bodies need reduction, some need capital-R reduction; sometimes, like this time where we used no glazes on the pots, reduction happens but it isn’t a goal.

Erik Haugsby Pottery firing the "Janjagama" Anagama kiln at Atelje Janja Gora

And it’s done. The kiln signed and sealed, the pieces waiting till the opening and the delivery.

Wood-fired pottery in the Janjagama Anagama kiln: October, 2016

Firing pottery is the last step of the making process, where all the gestures and decisions and movements and accidents are solidified. No going back, no going sideways, whatever comes out is. Is, just is.

Firing is effectively just heating the pots up, and letting them cool down. There are a few different ways that you can do this, with today the most popular being using electricity (think: high-powered toaster oven), gas, and wood. I use an electric kiln in my studio. My first experience with wood-fired pottery was in October, 2016, and here are some notes from back then:

Janagama Wood-Fired Kiln Erik Haugsby Pottery

I’ve met a few potters around where I live, and one of them lead me to a kiln at a place called Atelje Janja Gora, a house-cum-pottery in the hill-lands of central Croatia. It’s run by a husband-and-wife of Branko Šupica and Danijela Pešut who hold occasional workshops and firings. 10 of us got together with our pots and plates and cups and bowls and vases and shape and love, hoped for the best and came out with not-the-worst.

This kiln is an “anagama”, an ancient kiln design (first built some 2000, 3000 years ago) that spread across Korea and Japan and which let them fire with higher temperatures and more consistent results than western potters achieved in the 1500s. It’s essentially a tunnel: the wood is put in the front, it burns through the chamber and melted ash lands on the pots, and then the heat exists through the rear chimney.

Janagama Wood-Fired Kiln Erik Haugsby Pottery

This kiln was built in 2013, with help by the Belgian kiln-builder Lou Smedts, and it’s been fired about twice a year since then. The last firing went to a pyrometer reading of 1300c in 12 hours and although cone 11 was down in the front the back barely hit 1100c. Their goal this time was to get up to temperature and hold it till some 50-60 hours elapsed.

My first wood firing ever. My first (since university) cone 10 firing, first (since university) reduction firing.

There were a few surprises along the way, largely due to my misunderstanding. I thought it would be a salt firing, so I read up and glazed up appropriately. Turns out they used 1 kg of salt primarily for sealing up the surfaces, as opposed to inducing effects. And nobody else glazed because they were hoping for major ash accumulation.

Janagama Wood-Fired Kiln Erik Haugsby Pottery

It follows that they planned for a 60-ish hour firing to cone 11+. About 22 hours in, about 4 hours after reaching 1300c and some 8 hours after reaching 1200c, we took a peek inside and saw one of the kiln shelves in the front stack bending badly. We sealed the kiln up right then and there: better to not get so much ash than to risk losing the first if not all 3 stacks.

Janagama Wood-Fired Kiln Erik Haugsby Pottery

Janagama Wood-Fired Kiln Erik Haugsby Pottery

Janagama Wood-Fired Kiln Erik Haugsby Pottery

Janagama Wood-Fired Kiln Erik Haugsby Pottery

So, it sat and cooled five days. The pyrometer still read 88c on the morning of the opening day. We opened it.

Janagama Wood-Fired Kiln Erik Haugsby Pottery

Janagama Wood-Fired Kiln Erik Haugsby Pottery

I had lots of issues with my glazes/glazing. All glazes were mixed from recipes using powders purchased from my local pottery supply. I’d never used any of them before. But some of the stuff worked out. Only one piece actually broke and that’s because during stoking it got pushed up against the wall and melted together.

Janagama Wood-Fired Kiln Erik Haugsby Pottery

Janagama Wood-Fired Kiln Erik Haugsby Pottery

Janagama Wood-Fired Kiln Erik Haugsby Pottery