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Wellington Anagama Kiln Firing Part 12

by Alan Ross - 13/Dec/2017
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"Wicket Dance" performed with aplomb by Peter Rumble and Mal Sole who were paying homage to the kiln in anticipation of good results.

The opening of the Wellington Potters Association’s Te Haunui anagama kiln and associated BBQ on Sunday 19 November 2017 attracted some 90 anagama enthusiasts, the curious and friends.  Excellent weather, unlike last year, accompanied the event.

The kiln was fired for 98 hours and 40 minutes, the culmination of a great team effort involving 8 shift leaders and, at least officially, 38 shift members.  Encouragingly, 36.17% of the participants were new recruits.  Their work was underpinned by the preparatory work of members of the Anagama Team comprising Andy Rattenbury, Megumi Ogo, Peter Rumble, Mal Sole and Dave Marshall assisted by many other volunteers. Central to the success of the firing was the ongoing, unstinting support of June and Graeme Houston on whose Te Haunui property the kiln is located.

This firing, or more particularly the preparatory work, was challenging.  Those challenges included:

  • Reconstructing the front section of the kiln roof and the face of the kiln; and installing additional buttressing to restrict lateral movement.  In the course of the 12 preceding firings the roof had begun to slump and the face lean forward.  This work involved the construction of temporary formers to support the brickwork, and the removal of two layers of bricks, ceramic fibre and the outer coating of adobe.  Where possible bricks were cleaned and reused.  However, it was necessary to use a quantity of new tapered firebricks.  This was an arduous and demanding task carried out over a period of many weeks by Peter Rumble, Mal Sole and Dave Marshall.  The kiln was then fired for several hours to harden the mortar used and test the integrity of the repairs.
  • Re-shaping a steep clay bank adjacent to the kiln that had been progressively collapsing causing the kiln to flood on occasions. The excavation process involved a lot of seriously demanding physical work – plus a couple of wheel barrows and the services of a digger operated by Graeme Houston. 
  • Installing additional drains.
  • The delayed production of firewood and the loss of drying time.  Wet weather in March and April; some problems with the splitter and chainsaw malfunctions were the main contributing factors.   The repairs being made to the kiln also meant that firewood could not be easily stacked on either side until the work had been completed.  As dry wood is essential to the success of a firing it was decided to postpone the firing from September until November.  At one point we contemplated postponing the firing until February 2018. In July a “Stackathon” was staged to successfully complete the stacking of wood.  Eight members (Jenny Loader, Mike Baker, Guy Baker, Alan Carabott, Georgie Craw, Nick Coyle, Peter Rumble and Dave Marshall) wheel-barrowed and stacked around the equivalent of 12 cubic metres of timber over a 5-hour period – quite an achievement.  We generally use approximately 12 cords or 43.44 cubic metres of firewood.  Special mention should also be made of Andrew McKaskell, Megumi Ogo, Lyuba Zhilkina and Aly Ortega who assisted in preparing and stacking firewood.

From the outset we have generally been able to generate enough income from firing fees to cover the cost of maintaining and firing the kiln.  The initial firing fee was $8 per kg (bisque weight).  This was subsequently increased to $9 in 2014 and $10 in 2016.  This year in anticipation of the cost of the kiln repair work, buying new shelves and an increase in the cost of still heavily discounted firewood, we increased the fee to $12 per kg.  Unfortunately this firing operated at a loss.

In August an anagama “Show and Tell” day organised by Peter Rumble, ably assisted by Mal Sole, attracted a number of anagama stalwarts and prospective participants.    While fewer people attended than we’d hope, it was a great opportunity for those who did to get one-to-one advice and insights into the anagama process from two experienced practitioners.

Anticipating the number, weight and dimensions of pieces presented on receiving day each year is always fraught with difficulty.  These factors have a major bearing on the exacting work involved in loading the kiln; particularly the placement of the individual pieces and also the duration of the loading process.

For those with a statistical bent, here is some receiving day comparative data:


Firing

Number of Potters

Pots Submitted

Weight (kg)

10th

40

235

209

11th

60

Unknown

394

12th

64

377

267

13th

63 approx.

278

222


Hurdy-gurdy musicians  Philippa Boy and Merrilyn Moonen playing at the kiln opening.

Our usual practice is to load the kiln and after an interval of a few days to allow the principal loaders to recover, fire the beast.  However, on this occasion the kiln was loaded in late September and early October rather than in November, when the postponed firing occurred, because of the availability of Anagama Team members at that time to undertake the work.

The kiln was fired from Wednesday 8 November to Sunday 12 November when it was sealed and allowed to slumber for a week.

Logging operations on the property, involving some 20 logging truck movements each day, meant that those driving to the kiln to perform firing duties had to be especially vigilant on the narrow road leading to the property and kiln site.  Parking restrictions were also imposed to ensure that parked vehicles did not impede the movement of the trucks.

The kiln’s wicket (temporary brick door) was removed at about 10:30 am on Sunday the 19th. Shortly thereafter, to the accompaniment of hurdy-gurdy music provided by Philippa Boy and Merrilyn Moonen, a chain gang was formed to move pots extracted from the still warm kiln to an adjacent greenhouse where they were photographed and displayed.  We are indebted to Chris Parkin and Sheryl Gallagher who photographed the proceedings.  Their photographs and others can be viewed at these sites: 

Anagama Photos

Opening:
https://get.google.com/albumarchive/100922083361490761860/album/AF1QipPYndCDAzcoJmF0V900V_8ww94jrlwsbOYtl_QM?source=pwa&authKey=CMPKus3y2MKbogE

Night Shift Images:
https://get.google.com/albumarchive/100922083361490761860/album/AF1QipPOad4yzjt2HBJXiAJk-Bvf_6dbdCQkhqxxS_q3?source=pwa&authKey=CPnBmZ2m6r7dkQE

Miscellaneous:
https://get.google.com/albumarchive/100922083361490761860/album/AF1QipNAM0QHFJlcR4_gBVxB8trwueYqSOLVhW7ka3E5?source=pwa&authKey=CMqnxvTn_-SeWQ 

Presentations were made by Andy Rattenbury to fellow members of the Anagama Team and Graeme and June Houston.  Both Andy and Peter Rumble made presentations to Mike Atkins recognising his unique contribution to the Te Haunui Anagama adventure.

Anneke Borren, a stalwart of anagama firings who has developed wanderlust, presented personalised wall plates she had made to members on the Anagama Team in recognition of their contributions.  This thoughtful gesture was greatly appreciated by the recipients and the enthusiasts present.  Anneke is planning to sell her home and studio and travel around the country in a campervan.

The Anagama Team has met and reviewed the firing and started planning for the 2018 event, tentatively scheduled for August.  There may be opportunities for delegates attending the Ceramics  Association of NZ’s Convention  to visit the kiln during the firing.

Assessing the success or otherwise of a firing can be a subjective process.  However, judging from the smiles and accompanying happy chatter as the pots were displayed, the firing can be adjudged a qualified success.
The harshest critics of each firing are the members of the Anagama Team.  Their constructive criticism helps to improve and refine arrangements for conducting subsequent firings.  Some of their observations include:

  • The lack of variety in pots submitted for the firing.  The uniformity of pots suggests that people may have too slavishly heeded the published strictures on the types of pots that were acceptable.  This information will be reviewed.
  • There was little build up of ash resulting in a lack of naturally occurring glaze.
  • A number of pots extracted from the front of the kiln were unfortunately stuck together.  Possible culprits:  Earthquake induced movement and wadding drying out because of the lapse of time between loading the kiln and firing it.
  • Only 278 pots were included in this firing in contrast to 377 in the previous firing.  The conclusion was that there was too much room/empty space in the kiln and that the pots need to be packed more tightly.  The increase in the firing fee from $10 to $12 per kg may have deterred some people from submitting as many pots as before.
  • Should aim to attract 330 – 350 pots for the next firing.

Preparation for the 14th anagama firing has started with some firewood being produced, and the kiln shelves and props given a preliminary clean.  From small beginnings great things can emerge.....

Alan Ross
Anagama Coordinator



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