WOOSTER — There are gas kilns and electric kilns, but Adam McVicker said there’s something altogether different about a wood-fired kiln.
"The act of (keeping the wood burning) is much more hands-on and it takes a while," said McVicker, the ceramics program coordinator at the Wayne Center for the Arts. For artists working in clay, the allure of the wood-fired kiln also is in the heat — above 2,400 degrees — which makes the use of traditional glazes unnecessary, while it also creates some interesting and often surprising effects on the piece being fired.
McVicker is one of 37 clay artists who keeps the fire burning in the kiln on the farm of Brinsley Tyrrell, located in Freedom Township just north of Ravenna. Tyrrell, a British-born artist who was hired in 1972 to head the sculpture department at Kent State University, is retired from academia, but still producing art.
Tyrrell’s first wood-fired kiln was built using bricks from an old commercial kiln in Tuscarawas County, but was fired only 30 times. "But man, it made beautiful pots," McVicker said. "That first kiln, everything would come out amazing every time. They fired it until it almost fell down."
Now there’s a two-kiln structure and friends of Tyrrell — and friends of those friends — who go to Freedom Township have put their best pieces into an exhibit titled "Fired in Freedom," which will open Friday at the Wayne Center for the Arts.
All the pieces will be for sale, McVicker said, and can be picked up following "Fired in Freedom’s" closing reception on Dec. 15 from 6-8 p.m.
The products of the wood-fired kiln will show what happens when clay meets high heat. Rivulets of ash will adhere to the surface, then will melt and create their own glaze, which McVicker said gives the finished product "a sort of Pompeii-ish, volcanic look."
The back side of the kiln is used for firing with soda or salt. "The salt turns into a gas, goes into the atmosphere and melts onto the surface," McVicker said. The result is a dimpling effect on the surface, along with a high gloss.
Salt can be used in a gas kiln, McVicker said, but would corrode an electric version. In all, he said, part of the joy of wood-firing is "there is no way to know what it’s going to look like."
Once the fire is going and the heat level has been established, the kiln will stay busy for about three days, which McVicker said necessitates stoking the fire every 10 minutes and constantly listening to the fire. It becomes a communal experience for the artists, which adds another dimension to the experience.
Tyrrell "had grad students out to do the heavy lifting and splitting firewood," McVicker said, "even though he still does way too much of the work himself."
Among the clay artists who make the trip to Freedom Township are John Klassen, William Ritter, Idris Kabir Syed and Ryan Osborne, though which artists will be part of the WCA show will be determined by who has recently had pieces fired in the kiln.
Reporter Tami Mosser can be reached at 330-287-1655 or firstname.lastname@example.org.