The Coil Method and Pit Firing
Six years ago I first placed my hands in clay and was immediately hooked. I had long admired Native American pottery and the “coil method” they used to produce their pots.
The coil method involves rolling clay into long pieces, then laying the pieces in a circle on top of each other to make the basic pottery form. Once I get the basic shape and while the clay is still wet, I scrape the excess clay with a metallic rib or scraper while continuously reshaping the vessel into its final form. The process can last for hours until I am satisfied with the final shape and thickness of the pot. While long this process can be very meditative. The piece is dried for a few hours and then burnished with a smooth stone. This final burnishing makes the surface extremely smooth and shiny. There is no glaze applied to these pots.
The final step is a firing technique used by many ancient cultures. The pots are loaded into a pit, and fired in combustible materials. These materials may include burled wood shavings, a variety of sawdust, newspaper, straw, metal shavings, ceramic frits, used steel wool, sandpaper, and manure. The fuel is essentially someone else’s garbage. Flashes of colors are obtained by adding various iron and copper slats, and seaweed. The burning of these materials traps carbon on the surface of the burnished forms. Where the fire burns hot, the surface of the form will be gray to white. Where the fire burns slowly, it will be black. The firing time is between 18 to 24 hours. Once cooled, the finished pieces are cleaned and sealed.
As a chemist by trade, I like to think that I understand the mechanisms that lead to the amazing final results but it is almost impossible to predict how the final piece will look. I am always in awe when I open the pit to discover the wonders under the ashes.