NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art

A Photographic Tour of Firing Pottery

Firing Traditonal Eastern Woodlands Earthenware Pottery in an Open Fire Pit

In a shallow open hearth, set up rocks that the pots will rest on during firing. It is important to know that these rocks will withstand the heat of an intense fire, so if you are unsure, take rocks that have already been through, and survived, a fire without shattering.
Before firing the pottery, you need to build a warming fire. Start it with some kindling (yes, I'm using a lighter and some paper to start it).
The warming fire should be pretty big, so that you get a good bed of coals around your rocks. It should burn for about an hour.
During the warming fire, place your pots nearer and nearer to the fire. This drives out any moisture that still may be in the clay after the pots have dried for a few weeks. At this point, the pots are as near to the fire as they get without being in it.
When your warming fire has been rduced to a bed of coals, it's time to place the pots onto the rocks. Gather a LOT of hard wood for the actual firing of the pottery.
Put some kindling between the rocks. You want to act quickly now, you dont want the pots to be heated too much from the bottom before you get the fire built over them. Plae them either on their sides or upside down supported by the rocks. Do this quickly before the kindling catches fire.
Quickly put kindling around, and under, and in between the pots.
Quickly build up a pyramid of hardwoods around the pots. Do this quickly, before the coals sets the wood on fire.... It will begin to smoke as you are building it up.
Keep feeding the fire with new hardwood for about two hours... you want the fire inside to get really hot... you want to keep the gaps between the wood as small as possible. You *don't want to see the pots inside (which means they are exposed directly to the open air and are at risk of thermal shock). That's my "poker-stick" in the foregound on the right -- use this long stick to keep the shape of the cone around your fire, often logs will fall to the side, and you need to prop them back up with your "poker-stick".
After a few hours, finally let the fire die down naturally till it is gray charred wood with no flame showing... it should look cherry red inside.
You should have gathered some sod, wet grass, wet leaves, ferns, whatever is available to smother the firing. This is the 'final reduction' of you pottery, when you cut off all the oxygen.
Place the wet dampening material over the pile of coals... act quickly... dont let it catch fire.
It gets really smokey... You need a pretty big pile of dampening material ... again, dont let it catch fire.
Let the fire cool for several hours... I started my warmingfire mid-morning, and the coals after dampening the fire were still cherry red at 8:30 in the evening. It's best to wait till the coals are completely cooled before removing the pots.

Four of the pots after firing -- the black marks on the pots are not soot, they do not wash off... the marks are from the differences in oxidation and reduction of the clay; where the pot is orange, it was more open to the air (oxidized); where the pot is black, the air was cut off (reduced).

Chi Miigwetch (thank you very much) to my boyfriend Brad, for taking all these wonderful pictures while I fired my pots; and to my friend Nunya, for letting me use her fire pit.

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© 1994 - Tara Prindle
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