New kiln heats up ceramic arts

August 21, 2010 8:28:00 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


An innovative concept married to a strong dose of enthusiasm and get-it-done is lighting a fire under ceramic arts in the Golden Triangle. The impact could be felt well beyond its borders. 


Fueled by the idea of hosting an annual pottery festival in Columbus and offering expanded opportunities to Mississippi University for Women students and other artisans, a new wood kiln -- a small version of a Japanese Anagama kiln -- is being constructed on the property of Columbus Brick Co., off Military Road, behind Brickerton. 


The MUW Art Department, Columbus Brick Co. President Al Puckett, and Bill Walker, manager of The Shops at Brickerton, have partnered in the kiln-building project, drawing on the expertise of clay artist and MUW assistant professor of art Alisa Holen and knowledgeable brickyard staff. 


The kiln, when fully operational, will offer students and regional artisans an opportunity to work with this unique firing process that reaches near 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit.  


"Al Puckett generously donated all the supplies for building the kiln," said Holen. (Director of Firing) Chuck Deignan at the brick plant has donated a ton of time, labor and know-how. And fabricators Tom Graham and Sam Lawrence have been tremendously helpful with cutting bricks and welding framework." 


History of helping 


Columbus Brick Co. has quietly been supporting the artistic and university population for years. The family-run business established in 1890 has long allowed clay artists to make use of its facilities. It has also partnered with Mississippi State University architectural and engineering divisions on student training and tours. 


Puckett said, "We''ve tried to support the local community of artists that use clay as a medium in any way we can for a long time. In working over the years, even as far back as when David Frank was at the W, and now with art department head Robert Gibson, somewhere along the line the idea of trying to put on some kind of pottery festival came up." 


Holen''s advent at MUW in the fall of 2008 provided a renewed focus on ceramics and an inspiration for the wood kiln project, bringing a pottery festival closer to reality. 






Wood kilns are few and far between, according to Holen. Firing one requires a "committed community of people." 


"A kiln that size usually takes upwards of 40 hours; it''s nearly impossible to fire alone, as the kiln requires constant stoking with wood," she explained. Firing usually is done in six to eight hours shifts, with two to three people on each shift. 


"I thought this would be a great opportunity for students to be able to fire their own work, to work as a team and to learn about the historic significance and ever-changing atmosphere in a wood kiln." 


Scrap wood from Swedenburg Tree Farm is being acquired for the igloo-like kiln. It''s estimated each firing will require more then three cords of wood. 




Empty Bowls 


The inaugural firing is planned for fall, some time before the second annual Empty Bowls event at Brickerton Nov. 6. Organized by Holen, area students and community members last year made approximately 500 ceramic bowls to be sold, raising about $6,000 to benefit the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen in Columbus, and Global Connections'' African children''s'' relief. 


Holen announced the MUW clay studio will be open for community bowl-making days this year Oct. 8-9. Interested groups are invited to book studio time on other dates by contacting her at [email protected] Anyone with a viable source of scrap wood for use in the wood kiln is also asked to make contact 


The art instructor sees the brick company''s willingness to give back as a huge plus for the Golden Triangle and region. 


"Al Puckett and Bill Walker have a great vision of what they want to have happen regarding a pottery festival and even a residency program. I''m extremely impressed with the fact that they both head ''for profit'' companies but have a desire to do things for the community that are both artistic and philanthropic. They''ve been great to work with, and I firmly believe anything they set out to do will happen!"

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.