November 14, 2023
Blackware Firing in Duluth MN
On a chilly Sunday October day up in Duluth my long time friend and fellow collaborator Karin Kraemer of Duluth Pottery and Tile decided to do a Blackware firing. Her crew at her shop which included my daughter Elliot who is interning for her set up a site in her yard to cook up some pots using organic material like leaves, pine needles, salt and sawdust to create smoke flashings. Plus some metals like copper wire and copper carbonate to get some colors to shine through. Karin a master of this Blackware technique who used to fire three times a week when she was a tech back in the day.
She was the grand master working the fire and giving everyone tips on how to get the best marks on their pieces. There were traditional pots and lots of little creatures and some small sculptures being fired up. The Blackware firing sometimes called a pit fire both are similar with the effect on the clay surfaces but different tools to make them. Karin used a 50 gallon barrel as the outside of the kiln. Which has the bottom cut out of it. Then there is a smaller 30 gallon metal barrel with holes punched in it to allow heat to be regulated more evenly. She said usually there are three barrels all together so slow down the fire from get too hot to fast. But she said she has had a hard time finding that middle size barrel lately.
The key she said was to slowly get the clay warmed up. As the clay was not bisque fired already. It was raw dried clay pieces and you have to always go slow so not cause the clay to crack or explode from the heat. If any water or trapped air bubble are in the clay pieces a rapid heat can cause them to explode. So while we are waiting for the fire to warm up the clay and us luckily my daughter baked some chocolate chip cookies to keep us warm and happier!
One of the great things about ceramics is there are so many ways to play with heat and fire to create amazing effects in the clay. A day like this gives me a chance to get outside of my own way of making and firing my tiles and learn new techniques to consider and just have fun. There are many workshops like this around the country that offer for anyone to take part in.
Blackware firing has been around for thousands of years. It is used by artisans of most every culture. One of the most famous 20th century Blackware ceramic artists in the Americas has been Maria Martinez 1887-1980). She was a r Pueblo, and is a well-known ceramicist celebrated for her blackware pottery. It is featured in museums across the globe.
In Minnesota in 2019 the Wiesman Art Museum did an exhibition of The Tewa married couple, Maria and Julian Martinez, of the San Ildefonso Pueblo in present-day New Mexico, are among the most widely recognized twentieth-century potters.
When Layl and Josh visited Greece earlier this year we saw a great many pots from the ancient Greeks who were well know for their black and redware pottery.
Wood in kiln
Luke watching over fire
The fire started
Pots before firing
Pots turning black in firing
Karin dumping sawdust
Putting a lid on it
Ash remains of firing
Viceroy guarding the sawdust
Vase with leaves smoked In
Pots and clay on the table
Karin learned primitive/pit firing techniques at Pigeon Lake aArt Camp in1986. At an art camp that took place (with credit earning classes for artists, students and art teachers) for many years. The university of Wisconsin ran it. Many teachers from many disciplines in the UW system taught there or years. Clay, glass blowing, blacksmithing, painting, watercolr, printmaking, fiber arts, etc.
Karin Kraemer is an artist, entrepreneur and owner of Duluth Pottery, Tile & Gallery. Her show is located in the heart of the Lincoln Park Crafts District of Duluth, MN.
She make pottery and tile as these items have everyday uses – and they bring art to your table, desk, coffee table or wherever you choose to display them. Her main work is Maiolica, an in-glaze, hand painted, tin glaze technique. She make functional pots and tiles that are meant to celebrate the day, drawing from everyday scenes and objects for my imagery. Capturing the color and movement of the moment is my aim – like when the flowers in her garden tremble in a slight breeze, and the sun glows through them.
She has been a potter her entire adult life. Growing up in Minneapolis and in 1986 received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in glass working from St. Cloud State University. After graduation, she was blowing glass in Colorado, Minnesota and Wisconsin. When I moved to West Virginia, I began to use clay and pit fired it in my yard. I also worked in the Clay Center at the West Virginia University and learned a variety of clay techniques. To further my career, Tom and Karin moved to Carbondale, Illinois and did graduate work at Southern Illinois University – receiving a Master in Fine Arts in Ceramics. In 1996, they moved to Victoria, British Columbia and spent two years making pots, gardening and traveling. In 1998, Duluth became my new home.
Today, I teach at local colleges and workshops around the country – and you can find my work at Duluth Pottery, at galleries and at fine art fairs. Duluth Pottery, Tile & Gallery is a place to showcase my artwork and that of other talented artist from our region, and across the country. Located in the Lincoln Parks Crafts District, so the next time you’re nearby, drop on by and say “hello!”