In this post we will be Looking In on ceramic artist Richard Munster. Richard is a 2016 – 2018 Art & History Museums – Maitland Artist-in-Action award recipient. He worked on the A&H campus out of Studio 13, where he investigated the interactions between a wide variety of alternative material choices, as well as the possible artistic interpretations that would result from these interactions. Since leaving the Artist-in-Action program, Richard has taught studio art classes at Valencia College, and also maintains a vibrant practice out of his home studio. 

Last week, he fired a new body of work in his backyard wood fire kiln. This creative act requires three days of around-the-clock monitoring, with a group of artists working in shifts throughout the 72-hour process. 

The process involves several steps. The work must first be fired slowly at a low temperature in an electric kiln, in what is called a bisque or biscuit firing. This step ensures the work is thoroughly dry, with the moisture being driven out from deep within the clay body. Standard pottery requires this firing to be below 200 degrees for about twelve hours, but larger works require up to three days. 

Once the pieces are dry, the wood fire kiln is loaded, with much thought given to the different interior zones, which can produce radically different results. The bottom section is reserved for sculptural work that can take the brunt of the full force of the flame and ash. The upper portion underneath the arch, where the forces are more subtle, contains more utilitarian pottery pieces. During the duration of the firing, an ideal target temperature of around 2,300 degrees must be maintained by strategically stoking the fire and controlling the airflow through these different zones.

Even with this focused effort, the results are unknown until the kiln is allowed to cool and the contents are unpacked. It is inevitable that each firing will yield both successes and failures. Some pieces will color differently than planned for, while some will succumb to the force of the draft produced by the flame and fall over, becoming fused to the surrounding surfaces. The real beauty of this process lies in the unplanned gems that exceed all expectations. As you can see from the images, this firing was a rousing success.