Innovative Petal Kiln Expands the Possibilities of Firing Large Ceramic Sculpture

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In 2016, the ceramic world lost Nina Hole, the pioneer of “fire sculpture” – large, outdoor ceramic sculpture that was fired in situ as performance pieces. These performances were quite dramatic as Hole removed the insulating fiber blanket that wrapped the pieces midway through the firing to reveal the glowing pieces within. Hole inspired many and her legacy lives on today with contemporary artists who are exploring and expanding on her ideas.

In the January 2017 issue of Ceramics Monthly, we learn about an innovation in the way these pieces are fired. As you can imagine, firing a large piece in situ presents all sorts of challenges and dangers, so a group of artists in North Carolina came up with a way to reduce the risks and expand the possibilities with a brilliant new sculpture kiln design. Read today’s post to learn how they did it! – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

P.S. Want to learn more about the Petal Kiln? Dive into the January 2017 issue of Ceramics Monthly to read the article in full, which includes additional information and images that cover how the kiln was developed and tested. 


Sculpture Kiln Can be Used for Fire Sculpture Performances or Large-scale Ceramic Work

by Nancy Gottovi

The ceramic world lost a major figure with the death of Danish artist Nina Hole last year. Nina was well known for the fire sculptures she built all over the world. These architectural sculptures were built primarily as performance pieces, where the sculpture also acted as a kiln. The sculptures were wrapped in fiber blanket and unwrapped at top temperature.

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Finding the Right Expert

In Star, North Carolina, Estonian kiln master Andres M.I. Allik has been working for the past four years with ceramic artists from around the world at STARworks to design and build a sculpture kiln that can be used for both sculpture reveal performances (where the kiln is dismantled at the end/during the firing to reveal the hot, glowing sculpture), but also as a versatile kiln that can be used to fire large-scale ceramic sculptures easily and safely with conventional cooling.


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We first approached Andres M.I. Allik about helping to create a fire sculpture event at STARworks’ annual FireFest. FireFest is a weekend-long participatory sculpture building event that culminates in the creation of public arts sculptures—in ceramics, glass, and metal. The first two years we simply wrapped the sculptures in fiber blanket as Nina Hole had successfully done for many years. But removing fiber blanket from a sculpture at top temperature presents hazards: loose fiber flying about is noxious. Removing the fiber blanket layers starting at the top of the sculpture and working to the base of the sculpture takes time, and is somewhat dangerous. The first STARworks fire sculpture, Fire Bird (2013) was designed by the Estonian artist Anne Pärtna and was wrapped in fiber blanket supported by curved elongated tiles that acted as a framework to separate the sculpture from the fiber blanket. The following year, ceramic artist Cristina Córdova built a two-meter-tall figurative piece, Star Man (2014), using a heavily grogged, stoneware clay body. We continued using a fire blanket but experimented further with the construction and firing techniques.

For more interesting firing techniques, download your free copy of A Guide to Ceramic Kilns: Choosing the Right Kiln Firing Method and Design For Your Art.

Comments
  • Nancy R.

    Are the fiber blankets made of asbestos? That’s hazardous in itself aside from the dangers in the firing procedure.

  • Hi Nancy, there are many ceramic fiber blankets that are made without absestos. When purchasing one, you can request an MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) to determine all materials used in the manufacturing of the product.

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