For the Studio Potter Winter/Spring 2016 issue, I wrote an article based on interviews with the potters of Nelson County, Virginia, conducted the previous year. At that time, Noah Hughey-Commers and Kevin Crowe, my husband, were in the process of completing the construction of their new anagama kilns. This is the account of the first firings of the new kilns in town.

 

December 2015 

Noah Hughey-Commers pulled into Tye River Pottery to deliver Kevin Crowe’s large pot, which he’d buckled into the seat beside him like the precious passenger it was. It had been sitting in Noah’s kiln shed at Muddy Creek Pottery ever since the inaugural firing of Noah’s new anagama three weeks earlier. The potters lifted and grunted the pot from the Subaru to the ground, then stepped back to regard it in silence.

“God, Noah,” Kevin said after a few moments. The hefty shoulders of the urn carried a mantel of natural ash, tan grading to a toasty umber on the lower third of the pot.

“Wait till you see the other side,” Noah said, and they walked around the vessel to get a look. The comet streak of a wad mark shot across long drips of gold and celadon, each rivulet outlined in onyx. The entire back looked wet to the touch.

Noah’s journey to that moment had been a long one, beginning with his apprenticeship with Kevin in 2008 and culminating with the completion of his first wood kiln in late 2015. The kiln design was well thought out. He’d consulted with Svend Bayer and Kevin and relied on Fred Olsen’s The Kiln Book. Noah’s kiln is a single chamber. Two feet wide at the chimney, it opens to over eight feet at the widest, where a not-especially tall person might stand upright. In addition to the main firebox in the front, there are three side-stoke ports along the side. From the outside, the kiln resembles an adobe whale. 

During the five years it took to build it, life tossed the good, the bad, and the mundane at Noah: travel, work, financial setbacks, a broken heart, a flood, a Kickstarter grant. 

In September 2015, Noah set a December firing date. Working toward that deadline would force him to finish the punch list of items still remaining: grate for the firebox, metal door for the stoke hole, stilts and shelves to stack the pots, the pots themselves, kiln crew selection, and wood, wood, wood—split and stacked. 

He could fiddle with the kiln forever. But now he owed Kickstarter contributors a return on their investment. Economically and emotionally, it was time.

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