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There's more than one way to fire pottery

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Show displays differences between wood pit and Raku pottery firing methods


Pottery is often defined by the way it is fired, but how specifically does each technique change the clay’s appearance?

“Alternative Firing Methods,” which begins at the Chehalem Cultural Center next week, aims to clear that up for viewers.

It contains some 60 pieces of pottery made by ceramist Cindy Hoskisson that, as the collection’s title indicates, showcase several artistic techniques considered “alternative” because they differ from the common gas kiln method.

“In the ceramic world we think of gas firing as sort of the standard firing,” Hoskisson said. “There are many, many, many other kinds of firing.”

She enjoys particularly working with three firing techniques: wood firing, Raku and pit firing.SUBMITTED - Unique effect - Ceramist Cindy Hoskisson's Newberg show will give audiences an opportunity to view the distinct differences between three  different pottery firing techniques. Hoskisson will display similarly-shaped bottles that have been fired using the wood firing, pit  firing and Raku methods, to  accurately convey what effect each has on the clay.

Wood firing heats the pottery up to about 2,400 degrees, giving the final product the functional quality that it will hold water and can be used as dishware.

It’s similar to gas firing in that the final product can be used practically and can take every day wear, but differs in that wood-fired pieces do not necessarily need a glaze. The artist can glaze the work to enhance it in certain ways, but it’s not required.

“You can put a raw piece in the kiln and the ash will glaze it,” Hoskisson explained.

The works included in the CCC show were fired at the East Creek anagama kiln in Willamina and the Noble Hill Anagama kiln run by George Fox University professor Mark Terry.

Raku firing comes out of Asian culture, although the style practiced in the west has become fairly Americanized, Hoskisson explained, to the point where the two styles of Raku are “completely different.”

At its core Raku involves heating the pottery up in a kiln, and when it gets up to temperature it’s taken out and put into a reduction chamber: a hole in the ground, a garbage can, a brick box, any place where the piece can sit and be covered without air seeping in.

“When you take the air away, that brings the color out of the pieces,” Hoskisson said.

The pieces in this show fall into a variant of the style called “horse hair Raku.” Once the pottery was brought up to temperature of about 1,800 degrees it was removed from the kiln, but rather than going into a reduction chamber Hoskisson placed horse hair directly onto the pieces, giving them a different appearance and bringing out color.

“Literally when you touch the pieces with the horse hair (it) burns onto the piece and creates a carbonized line,” she said. “You’re looking at horse hair that’s scarred onto it.”

Finally there’s pit firing, which is considered a sort of primitive technique as it dates back eons.

“We assume, fairly logically, that it was the first kind of firing there was,” Hoskisson said, explaining that it likely began “whenever man figured out that if he heated up clay it could be more durable.”

Hoskisson heats up the pit kiln to 1,200 degrees, meaning it won’t end up functional like gas or wood-fired pottery. Stains and chemicals are used on the ceramics to bring out the stylistic results.

Hoskisson is well versed in each method, having worked in wood firing and Raku styles for about 30 years and pit firing for nearly 20. Although she’s worked with each for so long, she doesn’t have a real preference for one over another and was partially inspired to do a show like this to dispel the notion that potters only work with one primary technique. Often artists get labeled as simply a wood-firing artist or a Raku potter.

“We don’t think of ourselves that way,” she said. “We use whatever means we need to use to get the results we’re looking for.”

To properly present each style’s unique traits Hoskisson chose to make bottles in each style, giving a constant form across the board and allowing easier comparison of just the technique.

“I use the bottles themselves as a canvas to show off the firing,” she said.

“Alternative Firing Methods” begins Jan. 5 at the CCC. An artist reception will be held during February’s First Friday Art Walk.