Pit-fire Magic 2023
October 21, 2023 | Philadelphia, PA
Invited by the master ceramicist, Marguerita Hagan, to participate in her pit-fire event at her studio during the Philadelphia Open Studio Tours, I experienced the power the fire has on ceramics when oxygen is reduced and smothered from within the pit. The above twin pieces illustrate the beauty of pit-fire.
Working in the Powerhouse Arts Ceramics studio, I hand-built tall bowls out of red and dark brown earthenware dipped in white slip that were then bisque-fired in the kiln. Upon arriving at Marguerita's studio copper carbonate and copper sulfate were painted onto the clay pieces before being put into the pit-fire. Adding the copper chemicals help create various reds, yellows and black shades to the clay while in the pit-fire.
In a simple cement-block frame the treated bisque-fired pots were placed on top of sawdust that acted as a protective padding. Layers of newspaper, kindling wood, and wooden crates were used to set the fire alight.
More copper sulfate was added to the fire to increase a blacken, oxidized effect on the clay pieces. The crew took turns feeding the flame for approximately 6 hours, and then the fire was covered with a heavy steel sheet allowing it to died down overnight.
In the morning the steel sheet was removed and the hot clay pieces remained exposed in the wood ash. Later the wood ash was gently removed from the finished pieces and coated with micro-crystalline wax polish to protect the oxidized effects.
A short film about the event posted on instagram.