A Studio Show
Recently I went to a semi-annual studio show/sale by a local ceramic artist, Willi Singleton. His work is close to my heart as a tea person because he was trained in Japan, and he fires his ceramics using a Japanese type of kiln called a nobori-gama (a climbing kiln).
A nobori-gama consists of several chambers, large enough to walk inside but not quite tall enough to stand up in, going progressively higher on a hillside. When it’s time to fire, you build the fire to the right temperature over a day or so, maintain the fire for three days, and then let it die down and cool over the last day. It’s an intensive process that requires a team of several people, because there has to be someone watching the fire 24 hours a day to make sure that the kiln doesn’t get too hot or two cold. It’s a very complex process that requires a lot of expertise, because you have to be able to judge the temperature of the fire by its color and to know when to make the fire hotter or colder to produce the right kiln effects. For tea people, ceramics like bowls and water containers fired this way have a texture and a visual impact that you just can’t duplicate with a gas kiln.
Willi makes his living selling his ceramics, and he does shows all over, including some exhibitions in Japan. He does a lot of functional objects like bowls, plates, and cups, and also (because he knows some local tea ceremony practitioners) some utensils specific for tea ceremony, like tea bowls, cold water jars, and sometimes tea containers. Most of the tea practitioners in the area have at least one or two of his things – some of us a bit more. We also use his bowls for classes and demonstrations. The students really tend to like his bowls – some will gravitate to his bowls over the Japanese ones. And some just like the fact that those pieces come from a local source.
I really enjoy that aspect of it, too. In Japan, there are a number of different ceramic-making centers, and a number of the different types of pottery are used in tea ceremony. To me, it’s wonderful to have a local artist who makes his wares in a traditional way, and to be able to use that in our tea gatherings. It brings the whole thing a little closer to home.