Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Current State of Affairs

The current state of affairs on Josh Copus' property

My property in Madison County, which is the host site for the Carolina Kiln Build, has undergone massive changes in the recent months. This past winter I completed a laundry list of major grading projects on the property. This included redesigning and re-grading the existing driveway, and adding 50 yards of new road to increase access to my kiln. I buried the old foundation of the house I deconstructed and set on fire and completely re-graded the whole area. I took down some more trees and started the site excavation for the new kilns. I dug trenches and ran 500 ft of drainage tile to solve ‘the water problem’ on my land. I organized and consolidated all of my bricks and building materials. I also consolidated my 11 dump truck loads of clay so that it takes up much less space. I ran a fairly good size track-hoe for a week, and traded some custom tile work with my good friend who runs JAG construction company for the use of his skid-steer. Combining the heavy machinery with ingenuity, grit, and pure determination I was able complete my goal of being able to plant some grass by this spring. It’s springtime now and the grass is growing. There is a huge pile of bricks and building materials for the kilns and shed construction this summer. I made a huge rock-pile and have been salvaging some old bricks to use in the landscaping around the kiln. I have been working on this property for two years now and it is just finally starting to turn the corner. It has been a messy construction zone for most of those two years and it is satisfying to see it start to come to a more visually restful place. It truly is an awesome time and I am getting exciting to share it with all the participants of the kiln build this summer.

The kiln and studio area before grading

The same view after this winter's activities

A view of the old homesite and various piles of things yet to be consolidated

The same view after grading, awaiting a new house

The current pile of bricks and other building materials

Preliminary site excavation for the new kilns

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Knoche's Kilnbuilding Rap

My kiln building experience began with 400 salvaged hardbricks from a friends mini salt kiln. At that point I literally had now idea what I was doing. I had taken a few pottery classes and a few shifts at a wood firing. However, I already felt my self drawn to both the results and process and was anxious to learn more. My first attempt was a little corbled arch with an internal firebox and short little stack. It made a lot of smoke and fire and maybe got close to high bisque temperature. I tore this defacto bisque kiln down after the first firing and rebuilt it modeled after what is often called the "Phoenix Fastfire" with the fire box below the ware chamber. I only fired this kiln a few times before moving to Thailand, but it did fire easily to cone 11 in about 6 hours. Although the stacking space was only about 2 cubic feet, hardly large enough to produce a quantity of work on par with the amount of time and labor it took to fire, I considered this kiln a success simply because reached temperature.

Jeff Shapiro's tunnel kiln, rebuilt during my apprenticeship

After returning from a year of teaching english in Thailand, I began an apprenticeship with ceramist Jeff Shapiro. During my time with Jeff we tore down his existing anagama and rebuilt it with a much different design. The new kiln was designed specifically to accommodate loading and firing large work. The interior measurements of the new kiln are about 6.5 x 6.5 x 15 feet long. This was my first experience with large scale kiln building and my first exposure to the many issues involved in kiln building including materials, intended firing method, loading characteristics, planned longevity, etc. In addition to rebuilding Jeff's large anagama we also build a small experimental tube kiln and rebuilt the arch on his small wood/gas "teabowl" kiln. Here is a link to pictures of Jeff's kilns. I feel it was particularily valuable for me to have fired Jeffs old anagama then the new one which I helped build. This let me see the effects that the design changes had on the firing and the finished work.

After finishing my apprenticeship I moved temporarily to Herman, Nebraska where I helped my friends John Martelle and Liz Vercruysse build their anagama. This was a particularily interesting kiln to build. While they had amassed plenty of scavenged material to build the kiln with, there were almost no regular straight firebick. We had every other kiln of brick imaginable, lots of different arches and wedge bricks, key bricks, skewbacks, sideskews, large tiles, enormous oversize brick and seven different kinds of castable. From these materials we built a fairly sizable tube style anagama that measures about 5 x 5 x 12 feet of interior room

We spend mornings making pottery and afternoons and evenings building the kiln. In a little under two months we built the kiln, made all the work to fill it, fired it for a week, let it cool for a week and then had a sale. The project was a huge success.

Larry Heally's mini kiln

Later that summer I returned to New York to assist Jeff and his new apprentice with a special project building several large scale sculptures. During this time I also, had the opportunity to build a small woodburing kiln for a friend. For this kiln I chose to expand on some ideas I had in mind since constructing my second kiln (the little "phoenix fastfire"). This new kiln was built using only about 350 soft firebrick of various shapes and a few hundred pounds of homemade castable. This was a very little kiln (about 2 cubic feet of stacking space), but it fired beautifully and easily on about a wheelbarrow full of firewood. Also, it only made a little smoke around bisque temperatures--before and after there were only clear heat waves. Building this tiny kiln reinforced much of what I had learned during my previous experiences of woodkiln design and firing.

Josh Copus' Community Temple under construction

In fall of 2006 I moved to Asheville, NC and joined the Clayspace Co-op. I helped In early 2007 Josh Copus, founder of Clayspace and studio mate, bought land north of Asheville and began acquiring material for his kiln. The Community Temple was constructed during the summer of 2007. More information on this kiln can be found at However, for me this kiln building experience was valuable both because the kiln itself is an interesting and complicated design and also because this is the kiln that would fire numerous times with Josh and the other members of the Clayspace.

In addition to these experiences I have participated in several group kiln buildings as well as a couple of partial rebuild and repair projects. For me building wood fired kilns is more than just constructing a tool. It is a valuable experience in its own right from which I have learned a bit about engineering, team work, problem solving and creativity. So far, each kiln has been unique and so has each experience. My hope is that each successive kiln is better and each successive experience is smoother.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Josh's Kiln Building Background Check

The kiln building team, rejoicing after the first firing

The most significant kiln building experience of my life occurred at the Hurricane Mountain Center for the Earth Arts in Keene, New York. During the course of 4 weeks I worked and lived with 5 other artist as we built and fired a two chamber climbing kiln. Will Ruggles designed the kiln and Michael Hunt and Naomi Dalglish lead the construction team, which consisted of my close friend Ted, Naomi’s college friend Grace and her now husband Evan. The kiln consisted of a Thai shaped front chamber similar to Michael’s own kiln, followed by a catenary cross draught chamber for salting. The design was an evolution of the Rock Creek climbing kiln that Will and Douglass Rankin made in North Carolina almost 30 years ago and has been widely build throughout the country since then. The Hurricane Mountain Kiln was the first time that Will designed a chamber kiln with a Thai shape as the first chamber, and was conceived for potentially longer firings that could build more ash and produce more wood fired ‘effects’ in the front chamber. This kiln would also serve as the precursor for the design collaboration that Will and I would later work on for my own kiln, the ‘Community Temple’.

Michael and Ted level the situation

The experience of making the Hurricane Mountain kiln was significant for me in a variety of ways. Most importantly it was during this time that I became completely confident in my kiln building ability. The method of immersing yourself in something as a way of really learning it is something that I firmly believe in. It’s like learning a language in a country that speaks that language, it is everywhere, and it becomes the background for everything you do. We knew what we were going to do when we woke up in the morning, we worked on the kiln everyday, and we spent evenings discussing what we had done that day and planning what was going to happen the next day. The kiln was our language and we all came to speak it fluently.

Looking from the back of the kiln at the finished form work

Building this kiln was also an immersion into the ideas of Will Ruggles about kiln design principles and construction methods. I had known Will for quite some time prior to this, and fired the Penland School kiln that he and Douglass built. I read the article in The Studio Potter about that kiln but it seemed like merely an introduction to his way of thinking about kiln design. I have never met anyone that thinks about kilns in such a thoughtful, intelligent, and intuitive way as Will Ruggles. I also could not have asked for a better conduit for that knowledge than Michael Hunt. More than any other people I have met or any book I have read, these two people have influenced my excitement for making kilns and informed my methods for building them.

Josh working the mortar box, mixing the castable for the kiln

In addition to the technical information and kiln building competency that I gained during this experience, there are so many other benefits of being involved that have continued to make a difference in my life and career. We had so much fun, swimming in rivers everyday, cooking and eating food together. We were all brought a lot closer by the experience. When we were not talking about kilns, we were mostly talking about pottery. My interest in local and non-industrially processed materials took off after talking with Michael and Naomi about their process and the wild clay they use.

The nearly finished kiln

All told it was a life-changing event that remains hugely memorable for me to this day. I had worked on many kilns prior to this one and have built many since then, but no kiln, save my own, was more influential and informative as the experience of making this one. This experience is also part of what I am modeling the Carolina Kiln Build after. The idea of working closely with other artist, fully immersing yourself in the project, eating and drinking together, swimming in rivers, creating lasting memories and funny stories for years to come is what this thing is about.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Real Deal

This whole project began simply enough. We wanted to make another kiln. The vision for my property had always included a complex of different kilns; it was only a matter of when they would get built. Following the construction of my first kiln, aptly named the ‘Community Temple’, I had set about working on a number of other pressing concerns, mainly making and selling pottery to alleviate my seemingly dire financial situation.

Josh Copus' kiln, the Community Temple

During this time I also continued to work out on my property, building a studio, continuing to improve my living situation, and generally improving the state of my land through grading work of all sorts. I never intended to build the other kilns so soon. A number of events took place to lead us to the point we are today. Two most significant of these were Eric’s new situation and the possibility of securing more bricks.
First, Eric bought a home in Asheville, which is great but is no place for a wood kiln. Eric and I are in agreement about the realities of making a start as a young artist, and we both understand that firing with other people can be incredibly beneficial but there comes a time when working on someone else’s schedule becomes limiting. In many cases, for a young artist to take the next step means making their own kiln, and we both agreed that Eric had reached that point. Having no place to put it, a decision was reached for it to be housed on my property and jointly built and owned by Eric and I.
It is one thing to decide that you are going to make a kiln and an entirely different thing to actually do it. The cost of materials is prohibitively expensive and the amount of time, energy, and know-how it takes to pull it off can be daunting. During the construction of the ‘Temple’, I was blessed to discover a source of bricks that allowed me to make my kiln with my limited financial resources. By maintaining a positive relationship with ‘the source’, my ability to obtain more bricks remained intact and coupled with the falling price of petroleum, it was decided that there was no time like the present to start running bricks again.

The brick running machine all loaded up and ready to role.
(please understand that these bricks are not available anymore and I have been asked by the parties involved not to reveal any information about this situation. Please be considerate of this request and do not try to uncover the location of this source)

As the reality of making another kiln started to come to fruition, we began to realize that we also had an amazing opportunity to do something more than just build a new kiln. We envisioned an event that would bring a group of artists together to exchange knowledge and inspiration, and share in the benefits of the experience. We saw this as opportunity to build momentum and add energy to the work we have already begun. We wanted to form new friendships and continue contributing to the ceramics community. Those were just some of the ideas behind the Carolina Kiln Build.
I think more than anything we wanted to teach and inspire other people to build their own wood-burning kilns. Eric and I both learned to how to build kilns by actually building kilns and we believe that there is really no substitute the type of education that occurs when you are working with bricks and mortar. There is no better way to learn something than by actually doing it, and both Eric and I are fortunate to have been involved in a variety of kiln building projects. However, we also realized that our situations may be relatively unique and not everyone has the access to the same types of opportunities that we have.
We wanted to provide those types of opportunities to other people because we felt that there was a need for it. There are other kiln building workshops, and they are definitely filling a certain need in our community, but in my experience they are generally cost prohibitive and often focused on teaching participants to build the kiln that is being built in the workshop and not as much interested in teaching the skills and creative thinking necessary to build any type of kiln. What we mean by this is often kiln building workshops are working with a specific design and all the materials to build that design have been ordered in advance and everything you need is on site and organized…all that you have to do is put the pieces together. Of course this is the ideal way to build a kiln, but in all honesty it is often not a reality. In my experience it is much more realistic to find the materials first, and generally that means using weird stuff or old stuff, and then find a way to build what you want with what you have. This approach involves a lot of creative thinking and on-site decision making, but all of that problem solving and head scratching can create confidence in a person that just following directions is incapable of. This has been our experience and it is our intention to share this experience with others.
We also wanted to make this experience affordable, so that other young artists like ourselves without a lot of money could be involved. We also set about securing affordable lodging so that the participants could live and cook meals on-site, which will further reduce the cost. It is hard enough to not make any money for three weeks and the reality of having to pay out on top of that seemed like it would deter a lot of people from the ability to participate. Therefore, We chose to not charge tuition for this event and simply trade our knowledge for the labor of the people involved.


The Clay Space Coop


The Carolina Kiln


Application deadline May 31, 2009

Notification date June 10, 2009

Carolina Kiln Build Aug 10-31, 2009

The Carolina Kiln Build is a kiln-building based event orchestrated by Eric Knoche and Josh Copus. This event centers on the construction of two Anagama type wood-burning kilns in the mountains of Western North Carolina. One will be a large simple tube, built with a flat floor to accommodate firing larger work and the other will be an egg shape climbing Anagama buried in a hillside.

The intention of the Carolina Kiln-build is to offer an opportunity for students to learn how to build wood-burning kilns through active participation and immersion in the process. This event seeks to foster creative thought about wood-fired ceramics and present a comprehensive approach to the construction of wood-burning kilns. Our ultimate objective is to provide the inspiration for participants to make their own kilns following this experience.

Involvement in the Carolina Kiln-build is by application only and space is limited to eight participants. Kiln building experience is not necessary, however the genuine desire to learn is imperative. See application guidelines below.

Tuition for this event does not cost money. Knowledge and experience will be exchanged for the time and energy of participation. On-site accommodations, including dorm style housing, full kitchen, and indoor plumbing, are generously provided for the cost of seven dollars a day. Participants are responsible for their own food and spirit costs, and should budget a minimum of 70 dollars a week for this purpose.

In order to achieve the intended results all participants are required to live on-site and participate in the full duration of the event.

The pace of work during the Carolina Kiln-build will be lively and swift. Participants are expected to work everyday and the nature of this project will require lifting and moving of heavy material.

Application Guidelines

Applications should consist of

A brief essay of intention. Please discuss your reasons for wanting to participate in the Carolina Kiln Build, your goals as a ceramic artist, your experiences with ceramics and kiln building. About one double spaced page.

2. Resume*

3. 1-5 images of work*

*Please note that we are asking for images and resume only to get a better picture of applicants. Depth of resume or development of work are not deciding factors in participation.

All applications and inquiries should electronically be sent to

Application deadline May 31, 2009

Notification date June 10, 2009

Carolina Kiln Build Aug 10-31, 2009

Learn by doing. Intentions are everything. With our thoughts we make the world.