While I was at Ghost Ranch two weeks ago (see my post “Escaping to an Artful Landscape”) I took a 5-day long pit firing workshop. Long before we had electric and gas kilns to fire clay, indigenous people including Native Americans, extracted their clay from local deposits and fired their ceramic ware in pits they dug into the earth. Wood, droppings and other combustible materials were placed around the pots and then
covered with shards, moist clay or more wood. The pit was then lit on fire and tended for hours. This is the oldest known method of firing pottery.
Though pit fired ware is generally not as sturdy as those fired at higher temperatures in modern kilns, they can be quite beautiful- especially if the surface is burnished beforehand. Depending on where the pot is in the pit can affect how the surface responds to flame, smoke, and oxygen. The addition of other salts around the pots can also create colorful patterns. Ceramic artists today are modifying the basic techniques and achieving
stunning results. I’ve been attracted to this method since it is so primitive & close to natural processes. Beautiful useful and decorative items can be created using only the four elements (there is water in the clay).
Due to time constraints and high fire danger at the time, we had to modify our firing methods. Instead of digging pits we had to fire in galvanized tubs and had to fire for shorter amounts of time. Our pieces did not achieve the range of colors that can be possible. Still, I understood the process, had fun, and plan to try this behind my home clay studio.
Below are are some of the pieces I made during the workshop.
The 3 sheep were inspired by the black sheep running loose on the ranch. I identify with black sheep!