6th International Wood-fire Symposium at Kohila, Estonia,
2nd–23rd July 2006.
I was lucky enough to be invited to spend most of the month of July 2006 in the idyllic setting of Tohisoo Manor Park, Kohila, Estonia. There has been a symposium held there since 2001 with 68 participants from 16 countries. While the vast majority have been from the three Baltic countries, there have been participants from the USA, Denmark, Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden, Holland, Taiwan, Japan, Poland, Turkey, Russia, Finland and now Ireland. The logbook makes interesting reading with everyone writing in his or her own language.
1) Firing Crew for first firing of ‘Esthoggama, kiln during 6th Wood-Fire Symposium, Kohila, Estonia, July 2006.
Back Row-Left to Right:
Urmas Puhkan, Estonia; Jane Jermyn, Ireland; Stefan Jakob, Switzerland; Darius Barcas, Lithuania; Hsu Chao Ping (Bobby Hsu), Taiwan; Kadri Parnamets, Estonia; Inese Brants, Latvia; Lidia Kupczynska-Janowiak, Poland.
Krzystof Rozpondek, Poland; Kulli Koiv, Estonia; Arina Alincai, Romania; Reeli Haamer, Estonia.
Partick Bayer, Finland; Aigi Orav, Estonia; Haja Eist, Estonia.
(Names in bold are participants, Stefan helped with that firing, the others are some of the organising team)
Photo: Stefan Jakob
The project began back in the mid-1990’s when Professor Richard Spiller from East Carolina, USA, suggested the possibility of building a wood-fired kiln in Estonia. Then in 1998 a collection was made during a Wood-fire conference in the States to help build the kiln. It would be the first of it’s kind in Estonia and the Baltic region.
In 2000 potters from Seagrove, North Carolina, received funding from Art Link towards the project and travelled to Estonia to assist with the kiln building. This took place over a very hectic three weeks that summer with many local volunteers also lending a hand. The Estonian Ceramics Society, Kohila Cultural Centre and The Estonian Academy of Arts now own the kiln jointly. The 3.6 cubic metres kiln, known as the ‘Esthoggama’, has now been fired over 45 times. Considering the limited time available each year (due to the severe winters), this is a fair achievement.
Work waiting to be packed into the kiln
The kiln’s descriptive name helps to explain its design origins – a combination of anagama and groundhog type kilns. The single chamber takes approximately 30 hours to reach 1300-1320 C, with each firing using approximately 4 cubic metres of mainly softwood off-cuts. It can accommodate works up to 130cms in height, which enables fairly large-scale works to be fired. A diverse selection of work, mainly sculptural, is created during the three weeks.
The packed kiln
The symposium has played a significant part in the re-introduction of wood firing into Estonia, giving local ceramic artists the opportunity to share experiences and knowledge together with the international band of artists that gather there each July. Students from the Estonian Academy of Arts as well as others from Latvia, Lithuania and Finland also regularly use the facility.
Tohisoo Manor House
The setting of Tohisoo Manor Park is perfect for the kiln and symposium. It is approximately 40Kms from Tallinn on the edge of the small town of Kohila and there is a plentiful supply of wood available. The Manor became a community cultural centre in the late 1990’s and is used for a variety of activities. There is on-site accommodation available and the 12 of us spent an intensely creative three weeks making our work and firing the kiln twice.
Each participant was given 100Kgs of clay to work with - 80Kgs of heavily grogged and 20 of smoother clay. After a week of frenetic making the first firing took place, luckily the clay was very forgiving, so it was easy enough to get the work dry in time during the hot sunny weather.
I also experimented with making paperclay. I made a slip using the dried out scraps from the first week mixed with a few drops of liquid waterglass, then added pre-soaked and drained toilet paper, beating the mixture with a wooden spoon. As there was a shortage of plaster batts, I used my patented method of recycling clay when on the move – a pile of newspapers covered with cotton cloth, it worked really well and I had usable clay within 24 hours, which also stood up to the rigours of wood firing.
Firing the kiln
There is a great sense of friendly co-operation and teamwork throughout the whole symposium and on the Sunday we spent an enjoyable, if somewhat hot and sweaty, time packing the kiln under the guidance of Urmas Puhkan, Head of Ceramics at the Estonian Academy of Arts. The kiln was then left to heat up gently overnight with an electric blow heater and firing started at 8:00am on Monday morning, with teams of two working together in three-hour sessions. Around mid-day on Tuesday side-stoking began with a team of six working together. Twice during this period 20Kgs of wheat-bran were blown into the front firebox, producing a golden toasted speckled effect on the work. Each firing uses approximately 4 cubic metres of softwood off-cuts from a local timber-mill.
The whole procedure was repeated again after another week of busy making. By this stage we were all becoming ‘old hands’ at wood firing. One of the interesting aspects of this symposium is that not everyone is an experienced wood-firer; a number of the ceramicists had never wood-fired before; indeed some found that they had to let go some of their preconceptions regarding how their work should look.
Blowing in the bran
The grand-finale was an exhibition of the work on the grass in front of the Manor House on the last Saturday, followed by a buffet and party far into the night/early morning. Amongst the guests were a group of Latvian ceramic artists who had hired a mini-bus and come from Riga for the day and the Irish Ambassador, who I hasten to add, left in the early evening!
The fired kiln
It is not all hard labour during the three weeks – we enjoyed a number of trips to various parts of Estonia, barbeques, parties, swimming in the river which flows past the house and a sauna in one of the only Soviet style saunas left – complete with appropriate music.
Relaxing by the Baltic!
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