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bonfire bummer

updated mon 31 mar 97


Eric Mindling on fri 14 mar 97

I'm in Oaxaca, Mexico working with potters who have done all their
firing for the last few millennia in bonfires. Here are a few things
I've observed in their firings. First, they bring to it a whole lot of
accumulated experience. Second, there is still inevitble breakage. The
wind kicks up, the soil was a little moist, the pot wasn't fully dry,
the clay nahual got in there with a sledge hammer.
Factors that help the pot come out the other end of the firing intact:
The clay is generally very high in sand temper. (I once brought a
potter a lump of the Rod's Bod clay that I used up at the University in
California, and she wouldn't beleive that it was clay. To smooth,
doesn't smell like earth). Pots are fired green, but always pre-heated,
either in the morning sun, or around the coals of the kitchen fire.
Firings are generally done with the pots placed on a bed of sticks,
then covered with big shards of deceased pots and then piled all around
with wood, dung, dried agave stalks or whatever else is available.
Firings are quick, usually 45 minutes and in this time the potter will
often add more wood to parts of the fire that she's determined aren't
hot enough.
Pots are always burnished, I don't know if this helps in the firing by
strengthening the clay or is just an asthetic touch. Likely both and
Good luck! From Oaxaca where the traditional potters swim upstream in a
heavy flow of platic buckets, tin cups and aluminum pans.

Eric Mindling
Manos De Oaxaca