“Though not random, surfaces and even changes to the form are unpredictable. The best results are often unplanned.”
Ken Shenstone is a ceramic artist based in Albion, Michigan. His kiln, which he built to serve a community of wood-firing potters, is one of the largest anagama kilns in the United States, measuring 1,000 cubic feet. This kiln is a design based on a blend of inspirations - the traditional hill climbing kilns of Japan as well as the steel industry surrounding Albion (Shenstone collected used industrial refractory brick from a local foundry to construct this kiln.)
Firing with wood is a collaboration with chance and fire. The final result of the firing depends on the wood, the atmosphere, the placement of a pot when loading the kiln, as well as the potter's skill of crafting work that will benefit and be enhanced by the interaction of the natural wood ash and pre-applied glazes. Ken says, “Though not random, surfaces and even changes to the form are unpredictable. The best results are often unplanned.”
The CultureVerse team spent the day with Ken in early March 2022. We scanned several pieces of pottery as well as the large kiln. Moving through the scan, you can view the kiln in its entirety - it's 45 feet long from mouth to tail. The structure of the kiln is supported by the natural earth surrounding the kiln as well as buttresses constructed of fieldstone.
This kiln takes a team of about 12 people working round-the-clock for two weeks. Once the kiln is loaded, all openings are closed - they are opened only when it is time to stoke the kiln with wood. The fire is started at the front of the kiln, which is the lowest part further away from the chimney. A small bit of kindling is all that is needed to start a small campfire sized fire in the mouth of the kiln. Over the course of two weeks, the kin and the pottery inside are transformed from a cold, dark, and cave-like to an red and glowing inferno. A river of fire travels from the front of the kiln and up through the chimney - all the while depositing ash on the surface of the pottery and forming it into a glaze with the heat produced by the burning wood.
For nearly 40 years, this kiln has been fired by scores of people who change with each generation. What stays consistent is the need to work collaboratively and have a beautiful energy surrounding each firing.
Over time, we will be adding information to this scan as well as to our website about Ken, his kiln, his studio, and his work.
See other kilns Ken and his community have built, as well as his work at https://ken-shenstone.squarespace.com/