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The Muse's Storage Box

The Muse's Storage Box
Copyright Diane Lou.

Alchemical Dreams and Disparate Realities

Rust and bones, broken toys and old text, game boards, gears and nests. Even as a child such odd, unwanted items evoked a pit-of-the-stomach response that bordered on exhilaration.
While I make no attempt to conjure up specific feelings in the viewer, the ambiguous juxtapositioning of familiar materials creates art that evokes half-forgotten, dream-like visions that beg to be interpreted by the viewer. There is a sense of deja vu (the already seen) tempered by a sense of jamais vu ( the never seen, or the illusion that the familiar does not seem familiar), and this contradiction asks the viewer to dig deeply, to look inside her own repository of wisdom, intuition and experience to find her own meaning in the familiar objects she sees.
The once-private discards of people's material lives that I collect for my art seem to carry universal memories with them, memories that can engage and mystify the viewer. Their beauty lies within the rust, the erosion, the wear, and the mere fact that they were once possessions.
I play with abandon and with no forethought. Each piece of detritus seems to suggest to me a relationship with some other piece, and I begin to put them together and wait for the mental "buzz" that lets me know I am proceeding as I should. Even at this point, I continue to remain in the play state and will not allow myself to direct the outcome of the piece, a process that requires complete trust. The outcome often mystifies me as much as it might any viewer.
Remember when, as a child, whatever was in reach became the instrument of your creative exploration? That is my life. A rusty, flattened piece of metal on the street, a gnawed bone by the roadside, a unique twisted branch from a tree, a fallen nest, a broken egg, a snake's skin, a dead butterfly...all will be added to my collection and eventually have their beauty honored in one of my pieces. The resulting art creates a new story with its own imagined history, one that invites the viewers to lay some claim on it by allowing themselves to be enveloped by the sight, the history, and the ambiguity of the realities before them.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Anagama firing

To say it is amazing and impressive is probably an understatement.  Standing by the kiln in the dark, watching flames shooting out of the ports and the stack, takes you back in time.  You sense the ancient connection, the primal quality of taking mud from the earth, forming it with your hands, then giving it up to the fire.  No other artistic medium is quite like it.  You do all the work, make the best pot imaginable, then, when you fire it, it can crack, or explode, or turn out horribly...or magnificently.  You never know.

My husband Nils Lou has been a ceramic artist and teacher all his life, and over 20 years ago, he built a large
anagama kiln, the East Creek anagama, on our property.
 What, you may ask, is an anagama?  It is a replica of an 8th century Korean hill-climbing kiln which is fired with wood.  It is built into the bank of 
a hillside, holds about 500 pots, uses 6 cords of wood to fire it, and requires crews of people to stoke it 24/7 for several days.  It has now had over 100 firings done in it, and tomorrow the warming fire will be started for the next one, and by Thursday a.m. the serious stoking begins as we work towards getting to 2400 degrees by Saturday night or Sunday. 

 Last weekend a crew of potters came and helped with the loading, which took all day Friday and half of Saturday.  Each potter has several of their creations in the firing, and will be actively involved in the endless wood-moving, kiln-stoking that goes on during the firing.

For days, approximately every 2-3 minutes, split logs are dropped in the front door of the kiln while tiny sticks of kindling are dropped into each of the 4 side ports.  Doing so requires a leap of faith to get past those childhood admonitions of being told to stay away from hot this case, very, very, very hot things.  When a potter lifts the heavy concrete port door to put in the kindling, she must lean way back or risk an instant singe job on her hair!

It will take a full week for the kiln to cool enough to unload, so the following Saturday, all the participants will stand around expectantly as the door to the kiln is unbricked, the ashes are swept out, and the long process of handing out pot after pot after pot begins.  There are oooh's and aaahhh's, as well as  oh no's.  Each piece is passed around and carefully inspected because everyone wants to see the outcome.  Interestingly much of the glaze color comes from the ash, so the end result is highly unpredictable, but is often breathtakingly beautiful.

This twice a year event marks the spring and fall seasons, when the forest is wet enough to ensure no flames will ignite a fire, and a time of twice-yearly reconnection with fellow artists, students, and friends as we share hard work, good conversation, and yummy food....and the final step for our artistic creations.
(Photos courtesy of Cindy Hoskisson)

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