Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Kiln Not Taken

When I posted this parody on my blog this morning...

Two kilns diverged and one fired wood,
And sorry I could not manage both
Be one potter, and still live good
And looked down one as far as I could
To where its bag wall bent in ashy growth;

Then built the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was gas and wanted ware;
Though as for that the firing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both their shelving equally lay
In wash, and without the first crack.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere potters and potters hence:
Two kilns diverged, gas and wood, and I—
I took the one more fired by,
And that has made all the difference.

Mark Fitzgerald responded with the perfect prose version of my parody. So I thought I'd share it here:

mug by Mark Fitzgerald


Some thoughts on your lovely poem and other random musings on this path we’ve chosen.
The best results of wood fired pots, the “racers”, make the allure of this technique nearly irresistible. Like so many potters, (and non-potters) many of my favorite pieces are those that have undergone the extended exposure to fly ash, intense heat and unique stacking configurations that are the standard of most wood firings. Even slight variations from one firing to the next, which, by the nature of the entire process are inevitable, yield results that are never exactly repeatable. Only similarity can be achieved. And therein lies the beauty. If expectations were always met and the results were consistently predictable, who in their right mind would subject themselves to the incredibly labor intensive process of firing a wood kiln? It’s precisely that unpredictability and those elusive “racers” that will make someone who is otherwise completely rational, risk weeks or even months of hard work just to bring about.

And I get it! I love wood fired pots. I love the process. And I admire the devotion that those who utilize only this process have to it. What completely mystifies me is how anyone but a very few, can make even a reasonably comfortable living this way. For starters, the loss rate is so much higher and the market is so much narrower for this type of work that one is starting a few steps behind from the outset. I understand that “artists” are not supposed to be market driven to make their work. But for me, reality has a funny way of intruding: materials, overhead and basic living expenses (not to mention planning for future needs) all have to be considered. These are forces that can’t be ignored.

I realized long ago that most of us who have undertaken this as a way of life are constantly on that thin edge between success and failure. I also realized that in order to have even a long shot at being successful, that I would have to make some concessions to the marketplace. After all, in the end, we are all (most of us, anyway) making work that needs a market.

So, I’m a production potter who makes a lot of pieces, not all of which are my favorite things to make…but many are. And I fire a gas kiln because I know I can achieve somewhat predictable results and I have developed a market both locally and regionally that seems to still like what I make. Do I drool over a Jack Troy wood fired bottle or tea bowl? You bet! Do I hope to someday make more “one offs” and fewer production pieces? I do, and I feel that I’m gradually moving in that direction. For now though I’ll continue the process with the already established rhythms and maybe occasionally participate in a communal wood firing as I have done a few times. But I’ll sleep better knowing that when the gas bill comes and a couple of tons of materials need to be purchased I can meet those expenses.

Thanks for the stimulating poem.

Mark Fitzgerald

No comments:

Post a Comment