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Images of Canton: Wood Firing at Canton Clay Works

September 27, 2016 Arts and Entertainment, Business, Community No Comments


By John Fitts

CANTON — Many potters love the beautiful, yet slightly unpredictable results of wood firing.

“It’s really manipulating randomness,” said Tim Scull, owner of Canton Clay Works. “There is a certain degree of the unexpected, idiosyncrasies in firings that make pieces unique and one of a kind.”

The firing method is just one of several that clay artists use to harden and finish their pieces. Several methods and kilns are utilized at Canton Clay Works.

But wood firing at Canton Clay Works is somewhat unique in its frequency and educational benefit. Often, it’s somewhat of a luxury. Many artists don’t have regular access to a wood kiln and those that do often only use it a handful of times per year. Some who own one only fire annually.

But at Canton Clay Works, “Yuki,” the on-site Naborigama, or “multi-chambered hill climbing wood fired kiln,” burns at least a dozen times a year. Built in 2003 by Rock Creek Pottery, the kiln features two chambers of approximately 60 cubic feet each.

Canton Clay Works students and staff, along with guests as far away as Florida, bring their pieces to fire in the kiln. The firing itself, with temperatures as hot at 2,400 degrees, generally lasts for two days but from loading to unloading, it’s a week-long process.

While visiting participants pay for the privilege, they are still expected to take ownership of each step and help load, fire and unload.

As part of the process, guests can also take advantage of the studio’s wide array of glazes and flashing slips, which are applied to their pieces prior to firing and can drastically change the final product.

Wood firing, which is firmly rooted in elements of Buddhism and various world cultures, does take a little more education, experimentation and that hint of randomness.

“Once you understand the firing process and you’re part of the firing process, you embrace that attitude much more,” Scull said. “We love the history and the process. The cultural enrichment of the Canton Clay Works is really strong.”

Scull loves to see the excitement that people have when learning, and seeing their completed work for the first time.

“It’s really exciting when people see their pots out of a wood kiln for the very first time or to see someone who’s really much more experienced get what they were planning on because they’ve spent months working on it and figuring it out,” he said.

And even for Scull, there are those unexpected moments.

“250 firings later and I’m still getting pieces that are real surprises,” Scull said. “It’s always about going forward and not worrying about mistakes or the piece that didn’t come out as expected.”

Like the process of wood firing, Scull has learned to go with the unexpected.

He’s seen a lot of changes since the studio opened 16 years ago.

“It’s really been I think the new age term, a journey, in terms of the evolution of a small arts business in a very rocky economy,” he said.

Since first opening, economic challenges and large-scale catastrophic events, such as 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina, have had a “very large financial impact on the arts.”

“Arts education is very dependent on people’s extra funds,” he said.

Scull said he has had to adapt his business numerous times over the years, whether it’s firing more with wood, consolidating and adapt space, having fewer students or moving away from expensive art openings. Essentially he’s learned to do more with less and the increased wood firing is also an economic choice.

“I’m constantly changing my focus and plan,” he said. “We’re here. It’s working, I’m excited to be here 16 years.”

But still, Scull has built an internationally known business in Canton Center and said he’s much more laid back than he once was.

“It’s really fascinating to see with all the unknowns in our economy and life, how that changes you dramatically,” Scull said.

One area Scull is looking at now is increased community focus. Over the summer he held Second Sundays sales and he continues to host other events and is exploring new programs.

From Oct. 1 through Nov. 27, the gallery will showcase its first show in five years, New Works. It will feature 15 local artists that specialize in pottery, painting, two-dimensional art and sculpture.

The show can be viewed Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 to 5 p.m. (closed on Thanksgiving weekend). The studio is at 150 Cherry Brook Road (Route 179)

Canton Clay Works runs a variety of class, artist in residence, internships and other programs. See more at http://www.cantonclayworks.com.

For a contact sheet view or full-screen version of this and other galleries, visit https://johnfitts.smugmug.com. Prints and/or digital downloads can also be purchased at that link.

Readers can also help keep Canton Compass sustainable by donating at https://www.gofundme.com/canton-compass or via 15 Colony Road, Canton, CT 06019.

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