The Downeast Lakes Land Trust was pleased to host potter Felise Levine for a multi-day primitive style pottery class. Participants began by learning basic hand building pottery techniques, producing pinch pots, as well as pieces utilizing the coil and slab methods. After a two-week drying period, pottery students returned to decorate, create texture and burnish their pots in preparation for their firing.
The pottery was then taken to Cobscook Community Learning Center, who generously agreed to bisque fire the pieces. While bisque firing is not a traditional step in primitive pottery making, the process assures that more pieces survive the final less controllable pit firing process.
Upon the pottery’s return, the real excitement set in, as materials as diverse as seaweed, corn husks, pine needles and cattle dung were gathered for the pit fire. “Contemporary pit firing techniques often yield remarkable surface effects on decorative ware. Vibrant and exciting colorful designs are imprinted on unglazed clay forms by dancing flames carrying fumes from selected combustible materials and chemicals.” explained Felise.
“Pit firing has as many variations as there have been potters doing it throughout the ages.” Felise told the participants as they layered the pit with sawdust, salt, pine cones, seaweed, brined corn husks and pine needles, copper carbonate, kindling wood and quartered logs, and set it ablaze. “This methodology results in multiple color development on the clay surface. The carefully constructed bonfire framework is designed to leave the pieces ‘flame painted (fumed by chemicals and vapors from the combustibles) as they are exposed to oxidation and reduction atmospheres.”
Following a night in which the pieces were baked in the pit beneath a large piece of metal roofing, the pit was unloaded. “It’s like Christmas or Channuka, ” said a delighted Felise, as she engaged in the archaeological process of removing the pieces from the pit. “Each item is an unexpected gift!”
The Downeast Lakes Land Trust regularly hosts speakers, work parties, and workshops, and leads outdoor adventures that highlight the natural and cultural history of the Maine woods and waters. These programs support the DLLT’s commitment to protecting both the environmental and economic health of the Downeast Lakes region. Visit our website to discover what is happening next!