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Just two days before firing the ceramics program’s anagama kiln last semester, College of Visual and Performing Arts professor Errol Willett issued a simple request: “Pray for no rain.”
SU’s rugged, wood-fired kiln, nestled on a hillside behind the Comstock Art Facility, was redesigned three years ago and is put through its paces once or twice each semester. Each time, it is a major event. A curiously simple structure, the kiln inspires dedication of epic proportions among ceramists. “It really is a labor of love,” says Steve Pilcher G’90, who teaches art at Jamesville-DeWitt High School and has participated in several anagama firings. “You can’t go into this half-heartedly.”
The anagama’s roots are firmly Korean, with the Japanese later improving the wood-firing process. The name itself roughly translates to “one hole” or “one entry point.” These kilns, capable of reaching temperatures of 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, were widely employed 400 to 500 years ago, mainly because wood was the only available source of heat. Japanese potters used the simple, front-entry kilns to fire functional pieces—primarily storage vessels.
The Japanese eventually found the single-entry kilns impractical and began building naboragama kilns, which could be entered from the sides to make loading easier. As other firing methods evolved, wood kilns gradually lost their prominence. But potters remain fascinated with the anagama and naboragama, and there are now several hundred wood-fired kilns being used regularly in the United States.
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