By Wesley Walter, News editor
Beginning on April 18, Montevallo undergraduates as well as former students and guest artists worked around the clock stoking the fire of UM’s Anagama kiln for 100 consecutive hours.
This year’s firing was unique in that it was videoed and broadcast live to other similar wood-fired kilns located in Clemson, South Carolina and in three Chinese cities, Shaoxing, Jingdezhen and Yixing in a digital event called World Fire.
Located in the woods near the Student Retreat Center, the kiln nicknamed “Fat Bastard” has been used to fire ceramics since 2002 under the supervision of art professor Scott Meyer. This year the kiln fired around 60 ceramic pieces.
An anagama kiln, meaning “cave kiln” in Japanese, is a traditional wood-burning kiln used to fire ceramics.
Meyer began researching anagama kilns in 1999 and began construction in 2000 after receiving a large donation of materials to build a series of kilns. According to Meyer, the Anagama has been fired around 30 times since the initial firing in 2002.
The 40-foot kiln features a single chamber which is widest at its front fuel source and becomes increasingly narrow as it up rises up the hill it was built on. Meyer says this design helps the kiln maintain heat by promoting airflow.
“We all know hot air rises. It lets it rise but through a progressively narrower channel,” said Meyer, “It accelerates all the air currents, and it pulls new air behind burning fuel.”
During firing, volunteers worked to bring the heat inside the kiln up to 2400 degrees Fahrenheit, with it occasionally rising higher and having to be brought back down.
The firing process requires 14 cords of wood, a cord being a unit equivalent to around 128 cubic feet. Students began chopping and stockpiling wood in October to prepare for the firing.
This wood is initially loaded through the door at the front of the kiln but as time goes on students begin “side stoking” the kiln to keep up heat by feeding wood through ports found on both of its sides.
In order to stoke the fire with these ports, workers on both sides must open the ports and add wood simultaneously otherwise the pressure inside the kiln will cause the fire to shoot out toward them.
To withstand the heat while stoking, kiln workers wore face shields and heat resistant jackets and gloves. Due to the intensity of the heat, the gloves still occasionally began to melt leading the workers to frequently replace them or wear two pairs at a time.
UM student and kiln volunteer, Madelyn Alexander spoke on the labor force needed to run the kiln saying, “It’s doable with two. It’s ideal with three or four but the more the merrier.”
“Something we’re doing this year that we haven’t done in the past is reduction cooling, so we’ll actually be like depriving it of oxygen by throwing in more wood and burning the fire but it’s like fully sealed off otherwise,” said Alexander. “Reduction does a lot for the work itself. Like brings a lot of cool colors and textures.”
A TV was set up at the kiln allowing its crew to view the firing process at the other locations in real-time. In turn, workers in Clemson and China were able to view Montevallo’s firing live.
According to Meyer, his inspiration for World Fire came during the pandemic after having to increasingly rely on digital communication.
Meyer said, “A dinosaur like me doesn’t really understand computers particularly well but I started realizing how effective they are at reaching people that are not in the same room as you. So after we emerged from all of that awful time, I started thinking, ‘how else could we use this?’”
Meyer said he hopes the collaboration will promote learning and a sense of community amongst those involved saying, “If we actually are able to learn from each other and influence each other I hope that it’s a pilot for other things.”
After firing is complete the pieces remain in the kiln for a week while the kiln cools. Pieces fired in the Anagama will be unloaded on April 29.