Pit Firing

For the past month, I’ve been taking a class in indigeneous pottery making from the Museum of Archaelogy in London, Ontario. I’ve been learning about how to locate, identify, harvest and prepare raw clay from nature. I was completely overwhelmed by how difficult and complicated it is to get a successful clay body that can be shaped, will survive firing, and be durable. I have a whole new appreciation for store bought clay.

Well… I didn’t end up hunting for raw clay or spend the many, many hours prepping it like my fellow classmates. I decided to appreciate the knowledge and process others were going through from afar and just make pots out of store bought clay. I know… a little disappointing. But I did research ancient pottery designs from my local area and used traditional techniques, shapes and designs when creating my pots.

Our teacher (the fabulous Chris Snedden yet again!), had recently learned that there was actually no archaeological evidence that the indigenous people of Southwestern Ontario used pit firing to fire their pottery. So this year, he decided to do two firings, one which is above ground and the current best guess as to how they fired their pots and a pit fire.

For the above ground method, after our initial fire burned down to coals, we placed the pots around the coals to gently start to heat them up. This was referred to as “introducing the pots to the fire”. This is similar to a bisque firing that contemporary potters do in an electric kiln. My teacher and I each had one pot that had not been bisque fired beforehand as an experiment (the two gray pots at the front of the left hand image). They needed to be introduced more slowly as the moisture in them evaporated. After an hour of “introducing” the pots to the fire and inching them closer, they eventually were sitting right on top of the hot coals.

My greenware (unbisqued pot) did not survive. It was introduced to the heat too quickly and part of the bottom exploded.

We then built a new fire around the pile of pots sitting on the coals. The fire around the pots was then slowly moved closer to the pots and then slowly piled on top of the pots. It took about 1.5 hours to slowly move the fire on top of the pots. Eventually, the pots were completely covered in a big bonfire about 5 hours after we started. We went through a lot of wood. The bonfire was left to burn down on it’s own and the pots to cool undisturbed until the next day.

One of my pots hidden under the fire. Stay safe little pot! We’ll see you in the morning.

Yesterday we did the pit fire at the annual Pow Wow in London, Ontario. It was a magical experience with beautiful drumming and chanting behind us as we lovingly nestled our pots in a pit of wood shavings and then sprinkled them with some minerals, and berries and flowers we picked nearby. The vibe was amazing! We then covered the pit with lots of wood and set it on fire.

We let the fire burn down with sheets of metal over it to keep the heat in, left it overnight to cool down and dug them out in the morning.

We then used floor wax to polish them to help bring out the colours.

The final result!

One Reply to “Pit Firing”

  1. Such patience and passion, Melanie! I also appreciate the colours and the positioning of the clay works with the colourful and serene outdoors.

    eva saphir says:

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