Denman Island Boasts
One of the World's Only
Tozan Anagama Kilns
Update: For 2 and a half days in March 2003, the
burning heat inside the tozan anagama kiln on Denman Island melted
the mineral content of wood ash to pots, vases, sculptures, and
containers that varied from glazed to unglazed, and from fibrous
clay to fine porcelain. The incredibly hot temperature inside the
kiln chamber produced bright blushes and distinctive flashing slips
of colour that verge on iridescent! The results from the Spring
2003 anagama event are visually stunning large and small ceramic
works. View these unique pieces with your own eyes: attend the Denman
Island Annual Pottery Tour!
With the advent of warmer weather and spring flowers comes an annual
pottery event that is unique to Denman Island. Local artist Gordon
Hutchens hosts a weekend of pottery firing utilizing one of the
world's only Tozan Anagama kilns. The potters of Denman gather at
Gordon's and bring with them a wealth of unfired pottery to be finished
in this ancient process. The Tozan Anagama is a wood fired kiln
designed to handle larger pots and sculptures. The colourful history
of the Tozan Anagama, and the blazing process that occurs within
its depths, both contribute to the creation of rare works of art.
History of the Tozan Anagama Kiln
Evidence suggests that the Tozan Anagama kiln was first developed
in China in 200 BC, to fire sculptures for Qin Shi Huangdi, the
first emperor of China. The Emperor commissioned the finest artists
in his Empire to provide his tomb with guards to protect him in
the afterlife. Recently, art historians discovered these 2200-year
old examples of mass-production: 7,500 life-sized warriors and chariots,
all identical. This task was made possible by the sheer size of
the Tozan Anagama kiln. The Emperor then decreed that the artists
and the kiln were to be destroyed. The Tozan Anagama began to fade
out of existence, but not for long
artists managed to escape the Emperor's order and fled to Korea
and Japan, where they quietly continued the tradition of wood fired
pottery. The production of glazed pottery is likely to have gone
on continuously between the 5th and 12th centuries, but once again
the technique fell into disuse.
In 1954, Dr.Yamamoto of Himeji, Japan was asked to resurrect the
ancient kiln. After 16 years of research, he built the only standing
Tozan Anagama kiln in his studio complex. Dr. Yamamoto oversaw the
construction of a second kiln while working as a ceramics instructor
at the University of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. It was in Flagstaff
that B.C. potter, Les Beardsley became captivated by the Tozan Anagama
kiln. He pursued the construction of one at home in Canada, and
by autumn 1995 a third kiln was fired up at Malaspina College in
Nanaimo, B.C. During the creation of this kiln, Gordon Hutchens
met Dr. Yamamoto, and was soon able to realize his lifelong dream
of building a wood fired kiln at his home on Denman Island.
Denman's Own Tozan Anagama Kiln
After a year and a half of development the world's fourth Tozan
Anagama kiln was finished in 1998. It is built into a gentle slope
to help draw the heat and ash up through the 300 cu. ft. chamber
towards the chimney, which rises up 8 ft. at the top of the hill.
The walls of kiln are built with firebrick to a thickness of 9 inches
and are covered with 4 inches of perlite and sandy clay. This ancient
design ensures that the pottery in the chamber achieves maximum
contact with the molten heat and wood ash, creating one-of-a-kind
pieces. Gordon's kiln has exceptionally even heat, therefore requiring
only two and a half days to complete a firing rather than the average
four to five.
Every year, Gordon and his peers gather in a community to fire
the kiln and experience the transformation initiated by the ancient
process. The potters fires several of their own creations. They
take turns tending to the fire and the needs of this temporary work
camp. Les and Bruce Beardsley are brought in to act as the Fire
Masters, esteemed guides who feed the flames.
|Electric Fired Porcelain | Wood
Due to the intensive nature of firing the kiln, only brave and
spontaneous potters are usually attracted to the process. There
is noticeably less focus upon the creation of commercial pieces
and more emphasis on pure artistic expression.
The Tozan Anagama kiln represents a profound symbol of metamorphosis
and the unpredictability of nature. Likened to a sleeping dragon,
the kiln's "belly" is ceremonially awakened, rumbling
and roaring with blazing heat, as it transforms earth into stone.
The lesson of the wood fired kiln is echoed abundantly in nature:
cycles turn but never repeat themselves exactly. Dr.Yamamoto elaborates:
"A firing can often produce unusual results and these
can be admired for their beauty-- Yo-hen. Sometimes such variations
are looked upon as expensive or even priceless. This is not by
accident. This has been brought about by the laws of nature."
Most potters would agree that unloading the kiln makes them feel
like a kid at Christmas. Their anticipation is finally rewarded
when the "sleeping dragon" gives birth to their finished
pieces. The pottery has an unmistakably primitive and natural appearance,
characterized by evocative flashes of colour and a warm texture.
The inspiration of the Tozan Anagama kiln cannot be quelled. Despite
a history that almost led to its demise, it is the beautiful wood
fired pottery and dedicated artists that continue to keep the spirit
of the Tozan Anagama kiln alive today.
Links of Interest
More Denman Island Features