By Louise Cort, Malcolm Wright, and Gerry Williams

New York, NY April 16, 1983.


The rise of handcraft in our post-industrial society is a hopeful phenomenon. In the midst of high technology, it is an affirmation of the human touch. This balance of high and low technology is epitomized by the intensified interest on the part of many American potters in woodfiring. An ancient process, eclipsed in recent years, woodfiring is the essence of tradition overlaid with sweat and intuition. Its revival in an atmosphere of innovation and exploration can lead American creative energies toward new aesthetics.

The revival of woodfiring in the United States is due in part to the recent development and maintenance of alter­native social patterns as reflected in changes in living pat­terns. More obvious, however, has been the vigorous cultural exchange between the United States and Japan and the resultant presence of strong Japanese models. Beyond that, we note the search for simple aesthetic truth in the midst of increasing complexity - the revolt of the mystic against the pragmatist. Woodfiring, furthermore, may be the first major ceramic process to rise in recent years outside the pervasive influence of academe.

A recent survey of woodfiring among American potters conducted by Studio Potter (SP, Vol. 11, No. 1) gave evidence of a large number and variety of woodburning kilns in use. The survey revealed, however, that although technical prob­lems relating to building and firing such kilns have in general been resolved, many aesthetic issues have not. Some of these concerns are: the conflict arising from the woodfired pot viewed either as natural object or as conceptual one; aesthetic considerations dealing with glazed or unglazed pots and with long or short firings; the validity of the Japanese role model for the American potter; standards of judgment, especially with regard to elements of accident and chance; and the formal expectations of the American audience con­cerning the woodfired pot.

The symposium was called in the belief that these and other aesthetic concerns needed to be aired and that an interdisciplinary gathering could help clarify these issues as well as focus upon resolves leading to future work. Therefore, a group of potters, historians, collectors, and critics was invited to meet and exchange views. The meeting was held at the Japan Society under the sponsorship of the Daniel Clark Foundation.

Web Editor's note: This is an excerpt of an article which introduced the written or transcribed remarks of panel members: Paul Chaleff, Mary Roehm, Ken Ferguson, Richard M. Danziger, Katsuyuki Sakazume, Robert Moes, Rob Barnard, Nicholas Rodrigues, and Karen McCready. This was the first of a two-part series of articles dealing with woodfire aesthetics. The second part covered the proceedings of the Peters Valley Woodfire Conference held in May 1983 and appeared in issue, Volume 12, Number 2.

Studio Potter members who are logged in can view the panelists' remarks by clicking "Back to Issue" in the upper lefthand corner of this page, and then "Digital Issue" on the issue page of Volume 12, Number 1. If you are not already a member, you can become one here.