The 15th anagama kiln fire opening – Anneke Borren

The 15th anagama kiln fire opening….was a success story, which we weren’t quite sure about during the firing itself.
It could be called ” the mystery of the shelf that disappeared!”
It wasn’t a hallucination, it wasn’t there; when Mal and Peter broke open the wicket (door) of the kiln at 10.30 that Sunday morning.
Some of the door bricks were heavily carbonised but no shelf.
Poking around the ashes, at the bottom of the kiln, no real sign.
The conclusion has to be that it vaporised?
Shit, the kiln must have been hot!
Well, we of the Firing Teams knew that.
The kiln drew right through, beautifully, during the last few sessions.
The flame out of the chimney was often high and concern was raised about the tree.
The tree still lives, but somewhat scorched and bare one side.
I often wonder what that tree tells other trees about the dragon kiln rearing its fury…
there must be a kink in the growth rings during these past 15 years!
It would make a lovely children’s story!!
It’s just as well that Graeme and June Houston (the farm owners on which the kiln stands) are entirely three dimensional in their continued hosting of this pottery extravaganza and take most things in their stride.
We are extremely grateful to them; it’s a big deal hosting that number of, mostly townies, on a working farm.
Graeme got into the clay this year himself, producing a pair of boots, as an emergency pair, we could cement them close to the door, and ask the firers to fill them.
Good idea, when, in my experience, it’s my ankles that take the brunt of the heat.
The system of the line from inside the kiln when being emptied, sneaking through the pit, up the steps to the shed, for identification and photography, worked well, thanks to you line people.
It took more than four hours to unload, and Peter and Mal were exhausted at the end of it.
Thanks heaps to them for being Trojans!
Some disappointments, but not as many as we feared.
Five people connected themselves through their pots into eternity; visually an interesting collapse.
The ” wadding” had become a problem, when the abundance of ash overflowed as glaze onto the wadding, which made it difficult to get off at times.
Big debate for next year; the Chester Nealie wadding versus the John Wineera recipe.
The loss of shelving has become a problem and we need to deal with it. This signals a likely increase in the firing charge for 2020.
From my professional potter’s viewpoint we need to make sure that the pots made by members relate in shape and form to the firing techniques of the dragon kiln…
not just in the type of clay used but also in a certain adaptation of form to the kiln.
The rim of a pot holds the shape of the pot together so very thin edges just deform; too thin at the bottom, same thing. Leave the bottoms of your shape free of glaze at least 5 centimetres. That way the drips stay on the pot instead of flowing onto the wadding, or worse, the shelves.
Try to leave a contrast with patterning and give the wood ash something to do.
So stacking is hugely important, and each pot put in, at the coal face (so to speak) needs to be evaluated in terms of where the wadding goes.
Stacking is a democratic exercise, trying to give each shape its own potential, and thereby, a better outcome.
So in the light of all that, the kiln disgorged some beautiful pots!
Mal and Peter and their small team are to be congratulated for their commitment, huge time giving and knowledge, but the learning never stops.
And in the atmosphere of ” random”, the pots attain their own timelessness.
For those who need figures…
About 380 pots were received from 75 potters.
And Mal had to race home to get a few more in-fillers.
The organisation around the firing gets better each year and, for me, the shifts are the highlight of participation.
We farewelled Alan Ross, the stalwart of the shifts organisation, and we thank him for the huge efforts he has made, right from the beginning, in the 17 years of the kiln being
dug out, made, repaired several times, and continued vigilance ahead.
Irreplaceable, Alan!!
Please stay as an observer, and keep singing (?) with Mal, and Peter!
I’ve included some photo snapshots I took on the opening day of the kiln…
which look like an archeological dig.
Consider yourself to have taken part in the clay history of New Zealand.

Read more about the 2019 Anagama firing and see photos from the day.