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Showcase of unique wood-fired ceramics at Wayne Center for the Arts

Brinsley Tyrrell works in a variety of mediums. He fires ceramic pieces in a wood-fired kiln.


When the time comes to unbrick artist Brinsley Tyrrell's Freedom Township wood-fired kiln, there is always an air of suspense and anxious anticipation among the artists.
"Every firing is different," Tyrrell said, "because of the quality of the wood, the weather. Who is doing the firing influences it. Every piece has qualities you can't get in any other kind of kiln."
According to art center pottery coordinator Adam McVicker, there are three main types of kilns: electric, gas and wood-fired.  
In the wood-fired kiln, the fire and ash create glazes. "There is no glaze at all on the pottery you put in," McVicker said. "The first couple of hours of the fire, it rains ash Pompeii-style. Then the ash melts and turns into a glaze."
Part of the appeal to the artists is the uncertainty as to how each piece will turn out. "You can kind of control or make a good guess, but you can never control it 100 percent," McVicker said. "The anticipation is kind of like Christmas and something a little more nerve-wracking."
The kiln itself is a large brick structure. Tyrrell's kiln is approximately 15 feet long and 6-7 feet wide. There are two interior chambers inside. "The front is straight wood-firing," Tyrrell said. "The back is a chamber where we can salt or soda fire."
Using salt in the kiln creates its own unique glaze. "It has all the advantages of wood-firing, plus a different effect," Tyrrell said.
Sometimes the back chamber is used to fire with soda ash, which is similar to salt "but a little softer in appearance."
It takes a specialized type of brick to withstand the temperatures of 2,200-2,300 F required for the kiln. "High-fire refractory brick," Tyrrell said.
Some of the bricks were salvaged from Tyrrell's original wood-fired kiln. Tyrrell and his group discovered those original bricks buried in the ground at a site that had once been the location of some old beehive brick kilns.
The original kiln eventually started to collapse, so last summer the artists took it down and built a new, larger wood-fired kiln.
"This is the seventh time we've fired it," Tyrrell said.
This type of kiln is usually only fired once or twice per year, due to the sheer amount of work involved in the process.
"Somehow we seem to fire ours six, seven or even eight times per year," he said.
Whenever there is enough work to fill the kiln and enough people power to make it happen, that's when it's time to fire it up. Each firing takes about 48 hours.
"The kiln has to be looked after all the time," Tyrrell said. "It goes up very slowly to begin with and then gets quite ferocious."
Once the chambers are filled up with pieces to be fired, there is a hole that is bricked up before the firing begins. "You take loose bricks, and it's like laying a wall, only without the mortar," McVicker said.
After the firing, there are still four or five more days of suspense for the artists while the items cool. "The unbricking is tonight," McVicker said. "I don't know if my pieces are beautiful or will be melted or exploded."
Fired in Freedom will run from Nov. 16 through Dec. 15 with pieces fired in Tyrrell's Northeast Ohio kiln on display and for sale at the Wayne Center for the Arts Looney Gallery, 237 S. Walnut St., Wooster. There will be a closing reception with the artists on Dec. 15 from 6-8 p.m.
"We've been holding a series of Fired in Freedom shows," Tyrrell said, "of work from everybody who is currently firing in the kiln, and that varies from undergrads to grad students, post-grad students, mature artists and super mature artists. It's a great mix."
There is currently a group of 37 artists working with Tyrrell and using the kiln. He won't know for certain which artists' work will appear in the show until he sets up the exhibit.
As Tyrrell prepared to head out to his kiln and unbrick, he said, "In a few hours I'll either be elated or not so happy. The wood-fired kiln is an awful lot of work, but when it works, well, it's worth it."
There is a drawback for the group of artists who gather for the community firing. "We don't fire pizzas in the kiln," Tyrrell said, "though we've talked about building a little pizza oven next to it."
For more about Tyrrell and his art, go to www.artistbrinsleytyrrell.com.

Published: November 9, 2017
New Article ID: 2017171109913