Dan Finch Anagama Wood Fire Workshop

May 31, 2018

It was both an enlightening and invigorating experience to observe the recent anagama kiln firing at Dan Finch Pottery featuring potter Tom Coleman and wood fire master Chris Gustin.

I met Dan in spring of 1999 after I had returned from the Peace Corps in Nicaragua where I had connected to the potters and pottery tradition of a not well documented Central American Indian tradition.

When I met Dan, showed him the pots, and explained the cultural exchange I was organizing for potters from Nicaragua to visit North Carolina, he said, “the door is always open here, and you are always welcome.”

Close to 20 years later that door to Dan’s studio has always been open.  Not just to visiting potters from the San Juan de Oriente, Nicaragua but to an entire community of local potters who commune on Thursdays at Dan’s to learn, share and interact with clay.

Over the years I have heard the names of well know potters like Peter Voulkos, Don Reitz and Peter Callas who would come do workshops at Dan’s farm and pottery studio.

This time, with the wood fire Anagram kiln workshop featuring Tom and Chris I didn’t have to hear the stories as I actually got to peak in, ask some questions and produce a amateur, but thoroughly interesting, iPhone video of a majority of the process.

Dan has been a friend and advocate for my work with traditional Nicaraguan potters over the years and our relationship allowed me the opportunity to present myself to the close knit group participating in the workshop.

I was taken by the experience and quality of the participants which included life long potters to educators to serious pottery collectors turned pottery practitioners. 

The kiln was almost fully loaded when I first arrived.  It was the perfect time to see the last group of shelves being stacked by Chris Gustin and the other participants.  I observed the detail and care taken in selecting the pieces, leveling the shelves, placing the clay wads to set everything perfectly in place.  It was overwhelming to think that this was day four of arranging over 2000 pieces in the massive anagama kiln.

My conversation on the video with Chris Gustin in front of the kiln in between coordinated stoking of the kiln was the moment that I became totally engaged and fascinated by the process, the participants and the commitment.

I could tell that Chris wasn’t too eager to talk in front of the camera but as he explained the basic premise of the work shop it became clear that his words began to reflect the emotions and the incites that have earned him the title of wood fire master.

There was much attention paid to the firing process as the three temperature gages reflected the distribution of heat as Chris directed the firing process that would heat the entire kiln to 2400 degrees throughout.

The five day cooling process was time to relax and visit different areas of North Carolina including various different pottery studios around the well know Sea Grove pottery community.

I met the group as they visited Mark Hewitt Pottery in Pittsboro, NC.  It was great to see the camaraderie between the the various master potters all with decades of experience.  I took note how excited, curious and passionate all were even after a lifetime of experimenting in clay.

The ambiance at Mark’s studio and home, on the farm, with the kilns and the gallery were special.  Yeah, I bought a pot, as did nearly everyone else.

It was a couple of days later when the kiln at Dan’s was to be open that I had to juggle my schedule to get out to the farm to see how the pots looked coming out of the kiln.  Everyone participating was more anxious than excited that Saturday morning.  I got some footage and pictures but it was later that night when I returned, when everyone was mellowed out, that I was able to get some reflections on the work shop, the results and the process.

It wasn’t until then that I was able to sit down with Tom Coleman, one of the most celebrated potters in the American movement about his experience and incites on the workshop.

Tom had visited Dan’s many times and has grown an appreciation for both the community which has grown at Dan’s studio as well as the greater movement and tradition of North Carolina pottery.

There were many special takes from my conversation with Tom which I tried to represent on the video in order to share the collective experience of the event.

The coordination between the participants, the laughs, the questions, the conversations of executive level pottery talk that I could just nod my head at but not clearly understand was all wonderful.

I know that my little iPhone video of the entire experience won’t do the entire event justice but like Tom Coleman said of the pottery experience for students at Dan’s farm, “you just do a little bit, get comfortable, and come back for more.”

It’s real easy to get comfortable at Dan Finch pottery.  I appreciate all of the participants giving me the opportunity to observe…..and I can’t wait to go back for more.

Paul H Devoti




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