THE pottery kiln at “On the Edge of the Shelf” festival of wood-fired ceramics was truly a sight to behold as it roared to life, resembling a dragon belching fire.
The epic firing reached a crescendo on Tuesday night when after six days the kiln was finally plugged up and shut down.
But not before a spectacular last blast of heat as the wood packers went to town and charcoal was added for extra effect.
The fires were lit last Thursday morning and slowly the temperature inside the anagama-style kiln rose past 1000 degrees.
Tuesday night was the last night of firing and the massive kiln that everyone says resembles a dragon or even a whale is now cooling down.
The 20 international and world-renowned ceramic artists invited to the festival from all over the world now anxiously wait to see how their creations turn out.
For six days, the hundreds of ceramic pieces packed carefully inside the kiln were wood-fired as temperatures reached as much as 1300 degrees and the fine ash created worked its magic on the ceramics’ surface.
The three-week festival held in association with the International Ceramics Symposium has created a community of potters working and living together on Corunna Farm at Mystery Bay.
The symposiums are held every few years around the world and this was a definite one-off for the local area.
The centre of attention was definitely the magnificent and stunning 6-metre long clay and brick kiln on the picturesque banks of Corunna Lake.
Instrumental in building the kiln were Australian wood-fired specialists Kirk Winter and Gyan Daniel Wall.
Working at fever pitch over the previous week to first pack and fire the kiln were American potters Scott Parady and Josh Copus, overseen by festival and symposium patron James Kasper of Iowa.
Parady, from the Napa Valley in California, led the firing advised by other wood-fired ceramics legends and experts including Chester Nealie from Gulgong.
Parady said he was pleased with how the firing went, although it was always a bit of mystery as how the items would turn out.
“It’s had its up and downs, but it’s been a communal effort and the communications issues have sometime made coordination difficult.”
When one of the shelves began to slip on Sunday evening, causing some pots to crash down the cultural differences became apparent with Americans and Australians laughing it off, while the Koreans and Japanese were taking things a little more seriously.
The collapse did result in some premature birth of ceramics pieces that were carefully lifted out using long tongs.
But in the end, all the artists working together in their own styles and methods have created something special.
“The majority of the pieces don’t have any glazes and rather it’s up to the fire and ash,” Parady said.
“The ash floats around like snow settling gently on the pots and with that patterns and effects are formed on the surface.”
He estimates the kiln operators, working 24 hours a day over the past week, probably went through enough wood to heat four houses for a whole winter.
And all that ash remains trapped in the kiln and on the artwork.
Festival organiser and Cobargo potter Daniel Lafferty reckons the artists must have gone through as much as 2.5 tonnes of clay.
Pulling a massive shift on the day of firing were the two young American potters Danielle O’Malley from Montana and Zaine Kenealy from Texas and South Africa.
They did 12 hours until the kiln was shut down just after midnight constantly packing until the back of the kiln, under the chimney was white hot and almost too bright to look at.
The grand finale came when Kirk Winter and Scott Parady poured charcoal and charcoal dust down the central plug causing showers of sparks and doing magic to the ceramics inside.
The cooling off period will also be crucial with the artists slowly opening the door to allow cool air to pass through for a day or two before it is completely opened on Saturday revealing the treasure inside.
Despite the kiln being packed, there was still work being created as the visiting artists holds workshops and seminars on the big studio tent.
French ceramics artist Jean Francois Bourlard and his 14-year-old son Gabriel have been giving spectacular “punk raku” demonstration out of gas-fired kiln.
The visiting potters have also travelled to the local openings of festival related exhibitions in local Far South Coast galleries.
On Saturday night, the son of respected and well-known woodfiring practitioner Owen Rye will introduce the nine woodfire potters featured in his father’s book and showing at Ivy Hill until June 9.
An exhibition entitled Art of Woodfire based around the book of the same name features some of the best practitioners of the art in Australia.
Meet Michael Rye and the artists for drinks from 5pm at Ivy Hill Gallery on Saturday, May 17.
The Gallery is open from 10am to 5pm on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday and is located midway between Bermagui and Tathra on the coast road. More information at www.ivyhill.com.au
Most importantly for the visiting artists and locals, there will be an open market day this Sunday morning where the public is encouraged to come and purchase one the creations.
The festival continues to be a real community with workshops during the day and then movies and music at night with the list of performers including Beautifully Mad, Heath Cullen and Warren Foster from the Gulaga Dancers.