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mata ortiz style firing

updated wed 13 nov 02


Shelley Corwin on tue 12 nov 02

Snail et al-good explanation.-all was still the same about 3 weeks ago when
juan fired at the Heard museum in Az., that is,the same as in his yard about
a year ago. the thing about juan and the mata ortiz potters is their
willingness to experiment. and their adaptabiity to being able to fire at
exhibitions without their own wood and manure. like someone who knows how to
use gas to do a reduction fire, will find it easier to see what they do than
someone who only knows flip the electric. cottonwood is used if handy. split
wood is used. sawdusts, even hardwood, is too slow and dense. it can be
used, but it produces different effects, its necessary to remember they keep
filed in their heads the differences in fuels and they adjust things like
depth, size of the wood to the clay and pot size, things you don't see them
do. usually they fire only one pot at a time, less to lose, so it may be
easier to try. i love the broken shard box in their studios, its is full of
everyones junk. Junk! they think. but, it is juan's learning principle
they follow-experiment. toss everything into the fire, see what happens. and
so everyone goes their own unique way in surface design, some incredibly
detailed, others with lots of negative space. some carve, some use graphite.
all unique. its fascinating for collectors or novices to see the development
of an artist as they become more proficient with a brush or more confident.
many only paint, many only pot.
also, re fuel, we have experimented in sawdust type firings, in cans, double
drums, bonfires, etc. also with peat moss from the garden store. you get some
nice coppery raku type greens and blues but, the clays aren't hard enough,
either commercial or dug.
the MO clay will break easily in an open fire and if too hot. its crucial you
choose the clay from the right depth in the mountain, with just the right
level of pumice. then, you have to mix it exactly, or you lose some of the
parts you need. it appears to be sitting around in buckets randomly, but it
is exactly like a chemists lab. it can't seem to sustain a hotter temp than
the quick burn. with wood, juan says wood is a pain in the butt, he uses
manure because it works and is even. but, leave him with a pile of any wood,
he will say, sure, thats ok, not to be offensive, and he will take 40 years
of experimentinig, put it into the brain hopper and out comes a perfect pot.
thats the difference between a master and a regular potter who can flip a
switch or get his clay already mixed. for students they will fire several
small pots under a saggar. he also gives them his toughest clay. he doesn't
use manure powdered under it anymore. thats not to say he won't decide to do
it for some reason. said, its not necessary.
I suggest-spend some time and a little $ and go down there. the potters
answer any questions, you can watch firings, their houses are all open. its
like a tip to bountiful, very relaxing and really makes you energized. and
theres a great museum, pacquime.

which also reminds me, at idyllwild native arts program the first year maria
martinez was there, tom fresh told me this story. she said she needed "cedar
wood" to fire. they went out locally and chopped it to her specs. the
firing was terrible, not hot enough. no one could understand. eventually tom
went to maria's, they fired, she said, see, the cedarwood is the best. tom
took a closer look and found that her cedarwood was not the same as his-it
was actually a different wood entirely. once again, the craft has to be
watched, felt, observed, etc. on the spot. not from a photo or video when
somone says "wood". hard and soft woods, by the way, fire at different temps,
and each one again at its own btu. hard is hotter but catches slower, soft
will pick up that lag but the fire temp will drop until the hard begin to
burn again. manure is a steady burn. mo pots are thin and very reactive.
so, imagine the lasagna necessary if regular wood were used, and the
unreliablility. not so simple, but it sure looks easy when a master does it.