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.

The Sasukenei Woodfired Kiln at Hendrik Schöne’s Pottery

My third wood firing. Third time, third kiln.

If you ask a question in pottery, invariably the answer is “it depends”. The clay body, the throwing style, the temperature and humidity of the air, how long you’ve waited, the speed and temperature of the first firing, the ingredients in the glaze, the glaze recipe, the glaze thickness, the fuel used for the second firing, the speed and temperature of the second firing, the placement in the kiln, the speed of the cooling of the second firing, and. And. And.

New kilns, new glazes, new unknowns.

Relaxing as the kiln burns. The countrysides ajoining Hendrik Schöne's pottery are a mixture of farmland, wind power, forest, and industry.

Filling the kiln with wood: each few minutes, a few sticks branches entire tree trunks.

This time around I went off to Saxony, Germany, to fire with Hendrik Schöne. He’s been potting for longer than I’ve been alive, has been building kilns for a decade, and lives in a former water mill off in the borderlands of Germany-Poland-Czech where one can stand in one spot and see see solar/wind power-coal power-tourist restaurants atop a hill (respectively).

Firing the Sasukenei kiln at night. At left is the chimney, more than 6 meters tall. The red glow at the top is not fire, but rather a reflection of the fire that flows through the kiln and up out the chimney.

For me, a special treat was the “hikidashi”, a Japanese word which literally means “pulled-out.” In the ceramic sense, it pots which pulled from the kiln when blisteringly hot (1300 degrees Celsius) and cooled in a bucket of water.

This treatment, combined with a glaze that’s 50% iron oxide and 50% wood ash endows them with a luscious matte black surface. When you’re lucky.

In this kiln there are only three spyholes which are the of the right size and position for hikidashi, so when you’re lucky a max of 3-6 hikidashi pieces come from each firing. Lucky me, both of my pieces came out; the other four were less fortunate.

Two cups glazed with a high-iron (50% iron oxide, 50% wood ash) glaze, as viewed through a small spyhole at the rear of the woodfired kiln. These are intended for 'hikidashi', which means that they will be pulled from the kiln when red hot (1300 degrees Celsius) and cooled in a bucket of water. This treatment endows them with a luscious matte black surface.

The hikidashi cup, after being pulled from the kiln whilst red-hot and now ready for use.

One day to chop the wood (12 cubic meters in all).

Two days to fill the kiln.

Three days to fire the kiln.

Four days to cool the kiln.

One day to open the kiln.

There are ways you can control the process. You do have a hand in choosing your materials, and in shaping your materials, and in feeding the fire. Yet, it’s also relaxing and oh so stressful to give yourself to the kiln. To let the kiln give you something. To let pots be born, not be made. At no point in pottery can you change the outcome: you can’t go back, you can’t go sideways, you can only go forward. To accept the failed pots, to celebrate the successes, to make it better next time. To the next time.