Friday, June 5, 2015

Wood, Salt, Ash: I dream of future beads.

Hooked on wood fire, enchanted with salt
(Warning: a lot of clay, alchemy and fire. Very few beads...)

I just unloaded my first ever group wood fired/ salt glazed kiln yesterday. Its ALL I have been working towards for three weeks; which is a scant amount of time to prepare enough work. I loved the entire process and am already dreaming up pendant designs that could work best with these two unique kinds of firing. Let me take you back to Saturday last:
Glazed work on palettes as we prepare to load the noborigama
Seven students and one instructor. Unload your already glazed pieces, 20-30 per person. Make a million wadding balls and glue them to your pots feet/base. Load kiln, 2 large chambers.
Wadding. There are a few of my pieces bottom right. 
Wood fire chamber on the left.  Salt glaze chamber on the right. 
Brick up kiln. The kiln was started at 7:30 pm on Saturday. The overnight crew of two students stoked the kiln steadily UNTIL 4 am. We worked in shifts, continually maintaining and increasing the fire over a 22 hour period, reaching ^ 10/11. So tired but so exhilarated...

Why do ALL THIS, you ask?

There are as many variations as the day is long, but there is a sense of mystery. The chemistry is well documented as to HOW this all happens, but I felt a bit like an alchemist preparing to transmute lead to gold. The sense of mystery, the possibilities, the wonder...

Wood firing: "Burning wood not only produces heat of up to 1400°C (2,500 °F), it also produces fly ash and volatile salts. Wood ash settles on the pieces during the firing, and the complex interaction between flame, ash, and the minerals of the clay body forms a natural ash glaze. This glaze may show great variation in color, texture, and thickness, ranging from smooth and glossy to rough and sharp. The placement of pieces within the kiln distinctly affects the pottery's appearance, as pieces closer to the firebox may receive heavy coats of ash, or even be immersed in embers, while others deeper in the kiln may only be softly touched by ash effects. Other factors that depend on the location include temperature and oxidation/reduction. Besides location in the kiln, (as with other fuel-fired updraft kilns) the way pieces are placed near each other affects the flame path, and, thus, the appearance of pieces within localized zones of the kiln can vary as well. It is said that loading an anagama kiln is the most difficult part of the firing. The potter must imagine the flame path as it rushes through the kiln, and use this sense to paint the pieces with fire."

Wood fired pots: 1. Cynthia Bringle 2. Ted Ernst 3. Terry Inokuma 4. Jennifer Harnetty 

Salt glaze: "Salt glaze pottery is stoneware with a glaze of glossy, translucent and slightly orange-peel-like texture which was formed by throwing common salt into the kiln during the higher temperature part of the firing process. Sodium from the salt reacts with silica in the clay body to form a glassy coating of sodium silicate. The glaze may be colourless or may be coloured various shades of brown (from iron oxide), blue (from cobalt oxide), or purple (from manganese oxide).

Salt glazed pots:  1. Robert Compton 2. Phil Rodgers 3. Oak Hill Pottery  4. Mark Bassett

And yesterday - the unloading! 

First thing we saw as we unblocked the door... The torso was bare clay. Thats the magic of wood firing. 

Pieces from a diverse array of students, and instructors work. 

sampling of my smaller work. More details forthcoming at

Sadly I only slipped one pendant and one cab into the kiln. (Small pieces like that can be annoying to load in a super large communal kiln, and as it was my first time firing with this group I was cautious.) David, our instructor, gave me three palm stones as well. These pieces were unglazed, bare stoneware clay placed in the salt chamber. I love the earthy speckled texture. On the back you can see the bare spot were the pieces was "wadded" (set up on a piece of wet clay to prevent it from fusing to the shelf.) I think the aura of color around the bare spot is beautiful. 

I am on fire, pun intended with ideas! There will most likely be another wood fire workshop in the fall, run by the Perkins Center for the Arts in Moorestown, NJ. I'll be ready. I envision pendants and cabs, some glazed, others glazed in the carved areas only. Some bare clay - "painted with fire" and I see a series with a secret message/word/symbol on the back there the wadding keeps it clear... a secret message worn on your skin. 

Thanks for reading - I know that was a lengthy post with out much correlation to artist made beads and components. But I was excited to share and I DO have dreams of future beads in my head. 


  1. Utterly love this post, so fascinating to hear the magic that goes on behind the scenes and I LOVE your pieces!

  2. I could read about this all day... what an amazing process! I love your pieces... I think I need to do wood firing now!

  3. Fabulous post Jenny - that torso is stunning and I love the gorgeous toasted effect on your goddess pieces. Well worth pursuing this one I think.

  4. So wonderful - love seeing the results and can't wait to see what you do with this next.

  5. That was really interesting! I didn't know anything about either of these processes before reading your post. No wonder you were so excited for the opportunity!

  6. Amazing post! I can't wait to see where this goes for you! Your first pieces are gorgeous!

  7. I love salt-glazed and wood-fired pots-gorgeous product!

  8. That is some amazing artwork! Thank you for the tour of the process.

  9. This was intriguing. I's wondered what salt fired meant. Now I know (a bit). Thanks for sharing!


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