CATTLE AND HAY BARNS OF THE WESTERN STATES
Throughout the Western States and particularly the coastal regions of Northern California and Oregon there are any number of old nineteenth century barns that still survive, some are in total decay others are renovated. As an active ceramic artist I have long been interested in the shapes and forms of these beautiful rural structures. The simple functionality and elegant lines of these working buildings always seem to fit perfectly into their landscape and I was inspired by this to create a version of my own.
Because they are so old, the weather and time have imparted them a patina that only that combination of things can provide so the idea of making these was at first tempered by the thought that there is no way to make a “decorated” version because that would not reflect their aesthetic at all. Luckily my soda kiln provides the perfect surface treatment.
Kiln temperature is determined by "cones" which are designed to deform at a specific value.
By observing the degree of deformation I can tell when it is time to spray the soda into the kiln and when it has reached its final temperature.
Soda firing is an atmospheric firing technique where “soda” is introduced into the kiln near top temperature (2350°, ∆10). The soda used is just good old Arm and Hammer. Dissolved in water the soda mix is sprayed into the kiln where it instantly vaporizes and is carried on the flame front through the kiln. The soda vapors create a glaze when it lands on a piece (or a kiln post, or the wall of the kiln).
The pieces are first washed with a thin flashing slip that reacts with the soda and also an old Japanese style of glaze called Shino — which also interacts with the soda to create a color and texture that brings to mind old wood and granite.
The results are often a mix of great joy and frustration as there is an element of chance to the outcome. But when you get a lucky it delivers the perfect surface for these pieces without them feeling forced, or contrived.
They are a challenge to make but are very rewarding when I open the kiln the next day and see that the soda god has smiled on me.