The summer sizzles with pit firing!

As an Elk Grove Fine Arts Center member artist, I am always excited when I can work with other artists on a creative project.  Recently I hosted a ceramics Pit Fire at my home.  I was joined by 3 other artists who often show their work at the Center, Tony Baker (who was a first place winner at our June Art Competition), Scott Shipley and Frank Mendoza (both Scott and Frank have pieces in the current CRC Ceramics Club July Show).   

We started early, at 8:00 in the morning, decorating our pots with a various combutable materials:  coffee grounds, banana peels, rosemary leaves, bay leaves, mint leaves, copper wire, copper scrubbers,  salt soaked moss, and salted soaked string.  Each piece was then wrapped in a single sheet of newspaper to hold the materials in place, and loaded into the pit onto a bed of sawdust and rice hulls.  Shredded newspaper, kindling and wood were added to fill the pit and then lit. 

Soon we had a roaring fire (always notify the fire department first, telling them when when you start and when you end!!)  For four hours we added wood every 20 minutes to keep the fire hot and flaming.  Since one cannot throw wood on the fire because of the fragile ceramics below,  this requires one to "suit up" with hair protection, goggles, face mask and welding gloves.  Even then, we lost some hairs on our arms as we carefully placed the wood on the fire!  After four hours we allowed the fire to die down to coals, and the pit was covered with a metal box and allowed to slowly burn for over 24 more hours.

In the early evening of the next day everyone returned for the big reveal!  When we removed the metal cover to the pit, it was still so hot, that we had to use hay hooks and the welding gloves to remove the pots from the ashes.  At this point the pots were so hot that the gloves would start to smolder after just a few seconds.  We set the pots to cool on the ground and after about 10 minutes were handle them (still with the gloves on) and clean them with a soft metal brush. 

As we cleaned the pots, the smoky colors and patterns began to revealed themselves.  It is like opening presents at Christmas, you never klnow what you are going to get!  The next step is to wash the pots and then wax and buff them to a high sheen.  We had all really enjoyed the process and were happy with the results!       

Jane Hansjergen
EGFAC Member Artist