Works in Woodfire – Kiwi Ceramists

My partner and I bought a beautiful pit fired bottle 5-7 years ago in Coromandel Town. The muddy, lumpy form was being exhibited as part of a community ceramics show in the town hall. It was love at first sight. A rich, rustic and heavily textured piece that looks like it was just pulled from the riverbank, and which draws your eye despite its small size.

From memory the maker was from Matamata and they had dug and fired the deep reddish clay on their own property (if you know who this might be, please let me know!). Even though we’re living overseas now, every time I see something with that characteristic woodfire warmth I think of our little jug sitting in our Wellington storage unit.

I can’t wait for the day when we lift out our collection again. In the meantime, i’ll enjoy this tropical sunshine and admire the magic of woodfiring through the eyes of the web.

These seven NZ based ceramists come to woodfiring from a range of positions – some woodfire as their standard practice (like Rahu Rd Pottery) while others are involved in community firings annually or occasional workshops that supplement their regular practice (such as Galit Maxwell or Rui Emma Zhang).

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red purple background with white text and beige line illustration of a pot. Text reads 7 Kiwi ceramists working in woodfire. the humble mud, a ceramics blog by Carragh Amos. thehumblemud.com carraghamos.com

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Elena Renker

Long Bay, Auckland
@elena_renker
Website

Wood fired sake cups in golden oranges, and black with white glaze splashes. Made by New Zealand based ceramist Elena Renker
Elena Renker : Sake cups

“But for me a tea bowl is probably the most fascinating and intriguing thing to make, an object of contemplation combining functional and sculptural elements. A tea bowl allows for the greatest artistic freedom within the confines of strict rules.”

Elena Renker

Elena Renker is truly a master potter. Capturing everything that makes me lust after woodfired ware, these textured pieces are a sight to behold. Rugged carved surfaces and bold earthy colours contrast beautifully with the crispy glaze. Her practice is woodfire based and that definitely shows in her mastery of the process and these incredible outcomes. Oookay i’m gushing a little, sorry. Although, think that’s gushing? Check out her store reviews – it sounds like having one of these guys around is a spiritual experience.

For those fellow ceramists also drooling over this set of ceramics, Renker does occasionally teach workshops at Auckland Studio Potters. Give them a buzz or check in with her directly to take part.

Galit Maxwell

Wellington
@galitmaxwell
Website

Pottery by New Zealand ceramist Galit Maxwell. 6 anagama woodfired ceramic tumblers in browns and blues, sitting on mulch bark textured background.
Galit Maxwell : Anagama Wood Fired Tumblers 

“I believe that when our everyday objects are made by hand from natural resources it elevates our daily tasks to rituals. “

Galit Maxwell

Galit Maxwell is a member of the Wellington Potters Association (and teacher) who like many of the local ceramists takes part in their pretty damn great annual anagama firing at Horokiwi. Regardless of their daily studio practice or style many members at the club submit work into the traditional wood kiln once a year. If you live in Welly and haven’t made the most of this I highly recommend it, it’s a great experience. That said, not everything comes out as glorious as Maxwell’s cups. The tonal variation in the browns on these is exceptional.

If you’re into anagama check out her instagram page for a larger selection of the works she fired at the event last year – including some brilliant vessels. These anagama pieces are in sharp contrast to her regular studio practice, which is primarily matte tableware in clean lines and softer tones.

Jenn Leov

Kāpiti Coast
@jennleovceramics

Five pit fired ceramic objects on a wooden crate in the sunshine, by New Zealand ceramist Jenn Leov. Two are wood fired bangle bracelets.
Jenn Leov : Pit fired works (excluding mug, right)

These pit fired forms have more of a lightness to them than some of the other kiln fired objects I’ve collated here, both in the smokier surface tones and in the gentle handbuilt forms. All of these objects have been pit fired except for the mug on the right. Leov pit fires her ceramic forms and bangles in her backyard (is there anything more Kiwi?). She doesn’t have a website yet, but it’s on the way. Until then catch her at local markets around Paekākāriki (Kāpiti  Coast) and the Manawatū. See @jennleovceramics for upcoming events.

Dave Marshall

Wellington
@paulpaulpots

A single pale purple salt fired vase with black ash and white speckles, on a white background, by New Zealand ceramist and ceramic artist Dave Marshall.
Dave Marshall : Hiratsu Feldspar

This vessel in Hiratsu Feldspar stood out with it’s unusual lavender tones and that delicious run of black ash over the left side. I love this whole collection of vessels and teapots from around this time (most much earthier colours), a series of simple forms with engrossing textures and woodfire effects. Marshall sits somewhere between potter and conceptual artist, exhibiting in contemporary spaces that engage questions around contemporary craft (such as The Dowse). Like to see some in person? Check out From Here On Out this weekend, a group exhibition on until the 20th August at The Engine Room, Massey University (Te Whanga-nui-a-Tara ).

Rui Emma Zhang

Warkworth
@rui_emma_zhang
Website

Five carved clay cups in browns and whites, wood fired, by New Zealand ceramist Rui Emma Zhang.
Rui Emma Zhang : Elena Renker workshop pots

Although new to this woodfiring process, Rui Emma Zhang’s eye for design and ceramic technique have shone in this set of yunomi tea bowls. These were created in a workshop led by Elena Renker (see above). If you didn’t already think you should head over and book a workshop with Renker, you’d better check again – the results speak for themselves. With such earthy and elegant forms she has created I’m really hoping to see Zhang continue with this technique.

Steve Aitken

Auckland
@sidestokesteve

A rectangle vase with grid pattern in shades of copper and brown, , by New Zealand potter and ceramist Steve Aitkin.
Steve Aitken : Slab built vase, woodfiring. Applied slips , natural ash.

An architectural slab-built form might not have been what you first imagined when you read ‘woodfire’, but the way the smooth surface allows the tones to shine is incredible. The contrast of the crispness of these tonal lines (slips) and the natural wood ash is very effective. Those delicate smoky wave effects lend a depth and warmth to the graphic form and pattern. Most of the work Aitken produces is woodfired and / or salt glazed.

Duncan Shearer and Charade Honey

Paeroa
@rahu_road_pottery
Website

View into an opened wood kiln showing stacks of blue, grey and brown pots, by New Zealand ceramists and potters Duncan Shearer and Charde Honey of Rahu Road Pottery.
Rahu Road Pottery : Soda firing kiln opening.

“I use a wood kiln to fire my work as it provides the richest surfaces that compliment my forms. The physical nature of this firing process and its inherent unpredictability give my work freshness and a decorating touch that speaks about process…

I construct kilns out of various unlikely materials and in diverse configurations in an effort to explore how contained fire behaves. “

Duncan Shearer

If you’re a sucker for kiln openings (guilty) you should probably check out the social feed of Rahu Road Pottery. Soda firing eye candy for miles. I can’t quite put my finger on it but something about Rahu Road really touches on my memories of NZ pottery studio and gallery visits as a child. They have a very ‘New Zealand Pottery’ aesthetic to their forms… don’t ask me what that is. The best way I could put it is Barry Brickell – esque? A warmth that embraces nature and the landscape of Aotearoa.

Pop in next time you’re road tripping the North Island – Honey & Shearer have a small ceramics gallery at 142 Rahu Rd, near the beautiful Karangahake Gorge.

To be honest it can be a real struggle finding information on contemporary NZ ceramic artists online – which is part of why I wanted to build this blog.

There’s something about potters and ceramic artists being a bit adverse to the ways of websites, social media and… maybe just technology? And even more so when they’re involved in woodfiring over electric kilns. If you know of any great wood fire ceramists in Aotearoa send them through or comment below, I’m still looking.

Also, someone hook me up with the artist in Matamata that I may have bought that mud jug from!

Need more mud? DISCOVER new clay artists here, or you can find the rest of my posts specifically on NZ ceramicists and potters under NEW ZEALAND CERAMICS.

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