The pottery exhibition “Two Potters, Four Kilns, One Fire” is currently on view at Rice Gallery in Mashpee Commons The display features the work of Kimberly Sheehan Medeiros of Pocasset and Hollis Engley of Falmouth.
Ms. Medeiros and Mr. Engley have each been making pots for 25 years. This show is the first exhibit ever of their “wood-fired” pottery. Although both potters have their own gas-fueled reduction kilns, each is fascinated by the process of “wood-firing” and the variation in color and pattern that comes with the flame and ash of wood, built up over hours or days of fire.
In a day when potters can load their kilns and simply turn on an electric or gas-fueled kiln, the ancient technology of the wood kiln is an anachronism. Why go to the trouble of cutting and stacking wood, throwing it into a fire 24 hours a day for nearly a week, exposing yourself to a near-3,000 degree firebox, then cleaning up the inevitably crusty shelves that hold the pots in the fire, the ware chambers, and even the pots before they can be sold?
Ms. Medeiros and Mr. Engley began wood-firing together in 2012 and were part of the crew at the Castle Hill kiln in Truro, firing with Brian Taylor. That kiln, called a “train” because of the long, narrow ware chamber between firebox and chimney, was built a few years ago on the Cold War-era Truro military radar base.
Since Truro, they have fired in three other Massachusetts wood kilns in Tolland, Westport and South Dartmouth.
All of these kilns, as well as individual places within the kilns, produce pots with their own distinctive appearance. A pot placed near the firebox in the South Dartmouth kiln will take the full force of flame and ash over nearly a week, often resulting in a rough, crusty, ash-covered surface that perfectly reflects that inferno. A pot farther back in the kiln, placed near taller pots, may be shadowed from the fire, showing a sweep of color where the hot wind from the firebox swept past, but in lighter tones where that part of the pot was sheltered by the bigger ones nearby.
Ms. Medeiros and Mr. Engley fire with wood not only because of the passion they share for the firing process and the unpredictable way the flame and ash decorate their pots but for the living connection to potters who worked more or less as they did hundreds of years ago.
Rice Gallery is located across from Woodruff’s Art Center in Mashpee Commons. The hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 AM to 6 PM and Sunday from 11 AM to 5 PM.