I remove the bricks from the kiln door two at a time, the fire clay that sealed the gaps on the outside flaking off and scattering on the kiln shed floor. Stacking the bricks according to size beside the chimney so that they will be in the right order for the next firing, layer by layer, the space at the top of the kiln begins to open. A glimpse of the top pots, tantalizing, just the rims, then the body. The colour seems good, they seem to have good ash and flashing.....
It has been two days since the firing. Patience is a potters greatest strength. Now that the kiln has dropped from over 1300 degrees celcius to under 70, I can remove the pots with my bare hands. There is no longer the fear of thermal shock. Now there is just the excitement, the anticipation, the discovery of what results I have been blessed with, what losses there may have been. There are nearly 500 vessels in this firing, a months work, and my family is depending on it's success.
It is now two years since the new kiln was built, and it is firing well. This firing was a perfect 14 hours, the orton cone ten was well bent, meaning the working heat was up to 1325C, and we only used 380kg of fire wood. My production is still not up to my old level, but I'm doing my best. I should be firing again before the end of the month!
Once the door is clear I can see the whole kiln, and it seems to be a good firing. I remove the pots one at a time, checking for flaws, placing them on boards to carry back to the studio if they are good, setting them aside if they are not. Work which is not exhibition quality is set aside to be resorted later, those peices which are of usable standard will be sent to the Tohoku area for the people still living in temporary shelters after the earthquake and tsunami...yes, there are still many, and I hope my pots can help them find a sense of normalcy, a touch of beauty, a moment of joy.
I line the boards up in the studio, sorted by type; kumidashi chawan (汲み出し茶碗) cups for green tea, gohan chawan (ご飯茶碗) rice bowls, plates, sake cups and bottles...
The afternoon light illuminates them with its soft glow. Jade like celadons and tenmoku with the deep black of laquer ware contrast with the golden hues of the lustrous hidasuki. The vessels have gone beyond me, the forces of nature have made them something new and vibrant. It is a good firing.
The series of tests which I spread throughout the kiln have come out well. They are not exactly the colour which I was pursuing, an oribe style green, but they are close. There are historic examples of oribe this colour, but I am looking for a deeper green. These are a touch pale, a bit thin, poor things! I will beef the next batch up a bit, and each firing I get closer. The most satisfying thing about this batch is the stability of the glaze throughout the kiln, top to bottom, fire face to door. There are subtle variations, but not so much as to prevent them working as a set, interacting with the cuisine served on them. Another step in the journey.
I will finish the feet off tomorrow, grinding back any roughness and polishing them to a smooth finish. At this stage there is only 2% lost out of this kiln load, a very gratifying success rate! My next challenge will be to find homes for these vessels, and then I can begin the cycle again. It is important to take joy in ones achievements, no matter how small, for they are part of the journey, and it is the journey which is most important, not the destination.