Ceramics Monthly: What was your experience with the first firing of the Reitzagama since the ranch (built and formerly owned by the late Don Reitz) opened to the public? Had some of the invited artists fired the kiln before?
Sheryl Leigh-Davault: The first firing of the Reitzagama was overwhelming and thrilling. I was so excited to be able to meet Chris Gustin and Matt Long. Both of them had fired the anagama with Don. Many of Don’s assistants and friends were there, too, as well as his daughter, Donna Reitz.
I never had the opportunity to meet Don, but I met him through the stories they shared that week. Some were bittersweet, many hilarious, but they gave me a sense of Don as a fascinating man who is dearly missed.
The preparation for the firing was overwhelming—there was so much to do, prepare for, and figure out. Thanks to Don’s last assistant, Ben Roti, all of the most necessary items were covered; wood procurement and preparation, accommodations, readying the kiln, and more. But having up to ten people at one time camped out in my house, a couple more in the old Airstream, and still more in tents on the property was also pretty overwhelming—and a lot of fun!
The firing itself was very successful. Matt and Chris expertly guided artists ranging from people experienced in wood firing to complete beginners. It was an intense experience. Firing the kiln with pieces of Don’s from the Reitz Lost Works project with his friends and family brought the ranch’s legacy full circle for me. I feel connected to those people and this place.
The results were fantastic. There will be many more wood firings at the ranch, but I’ll always treasure this one-of-a-kind experience.
The Yavapai College Verde Valley Gallery hosted a month-long group exhibition celebrating and showcasing our recent firing and also everything we are envisioning going forward, “Rebuilding and Reimagining Reitz Ranch.” For more information, visit: www.yc.edu/v5content/art-galleries/verde.htm
CM: How did you approach creating a program for ceramic artists at the ranch?
SLD: We’re still feeling the program out in a number of ways. I asked for input from academics, including Matt Rude, Matt Long, and people who have been involved in other programs, like Chris Gustin with Haystack, Beth Morean of the Morean Arts Center, Heidi Kreitchet of the American Museum of Ceramic Art, and more. I also spoke to a number of current and former students about their experiences. All of this insight is invaluable. Being new, we have the ability to be flexible, change things up, and adapt when a better way or idea comes along, which is my favorite part. It’s always a work in progress.
Above: Sheryl Leigh-Davault and Squeak next to the Reitzagama. Photo: Dexter D. Woods.