North Notes: Unusual Kiln Opening Set for Saturday
One of the more unusual kilns in Moore County pottery country will be opened this weekend in Westmoore.
Cady Clay Works will hold its annual Gallery Gala Saturday. Potter John Mellage spent three years building the area's first "Anagama" wood-fired kiln.
"Anagama is a Japanese term which means single-chambered climbing kiln," he says. "It's hard to wait three or four days for the kiln to cool before we unload it. After giving up so much control of the final outcome of each pot to the kiln process, it's exciting to unload the kiln! No two pieces are ever alike."
Mellage and his wife, Beth Gore, fire their Anagama each fall. Their unusual kiln stair-steps a steep slope behind their studio to take advantage of natural drafts created when heat rises through the kiln from the firebox at the foot of the hill to the tall chimney at the top of the hill.
"After a month of making pots and three days of loading the kiln, we stoke the kiln with slabs of wood for 55 continuous hours," he says. "Ultimately, the temperature inside the kiln reaches over 2,400 degrees. The flashing from the flame's path, the wood ash that settles on pots as it is carried through the kiln, and the soda we add to create a glazed surface all contribute to the creation of each piece."
The two potters spend several months making more than 600 pieces of pottery to fill the large kiln. After days spent carefully loading and stoking the kiln, there follows another five days of around-the-clock firing, then five long days waiting for the kiln's cooling before Mellage and Gore can finally unload this year's one-of-a-kind treasures and see for the first time how their work turned out. No two firings are ever the same.
This year's Cady Clay Works Gallery Gala not only features wood-fired pottery by Mellage and Gore but also "Images of North Carolina" paintings by Winston-Salem artist Fe de la Torre.
"Join us to see the new creations and tour the studio and kiln," Gore said.
The store will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and refreshments will be served. More than 600 new wood-fired pottery pieces from the annual firing of the wood kiln will be available.
New designs include vases, platters, plates, bowls, birdhouses, bird sculptures, candlesticks, carafes, pitchers, mugs, tumblers and goblets. Each piece of pottery is made by hand on the potter's wheel by Mellage or sculpted from slabs of clay by Gore.
'Gift of Peace'
The couple are strong supporters of author Greg Mortenson's Central Asia Institute (CAI) through Gore's organization Seagrove Potters for Peace. Its 2010 fundraiser for "Three Cups of Tea" has raised nearly $6,000 so far - enough to buy school uniforms for over 1,100 children, or pay annual school fees for nearly 300 students.
"Our kickoff weekend in August was very successful," Gore says. "We sold three times as many pottery items as last year, but we started with five times as many so there are still pieces for sale. We'd love to wind up this event and put all the money to work building schools."
About 24 local area potters are backing Gore's project, each designing one-of-a-kind, specially signed collectible pieces for this fundraiser and donating half of the purchase price to CAI. These potters hope that customers will buy these special pieces for Christmas gift giving.
"It's an opportunity for your gift dollars to work three ways," Gore says. "Each purchase helps peace efforts by educating youth, supports a North Carolina potter, and is a special gift for a loved one."
Mortenson's efforts to build schools and educate youth in Pakistan and Afghanistan earned him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination, and have been endorsed by the U.S. military who turn to him for advice.
"After all," Gore says, "what could be a more appropriate Christmas present than the gift of peace?"
'Build With Clay'
The couple moved to North Carolina 23 years ago. Gore says she has had some kind of art project in the works since the day she was old enough to grip her first crayon. After receiving her degree in art education, she taught elementary school.
He was an engineering student taking a semester's break from college when he visited some friends taking a pottery class.
"They seemed to be having so much fun that I decided to try clay too and felt an instant rapport with it," he says. "I completed that class at Montgomery Technical Institute in Troy, then returned to UNC-Greensboro and changed my major to ceramic design."
He first established his own studio, Eno River Pottery. Then, in 1987, the two opened Cady Clay Works in Westmoore.
"I can still remember the feeling of satisfaction I had when I got my first job making pots and felt I could really call myself a potter," Mellage says. "I still enjoy making production pots as much as one-of-a-kind pieces.
"I believe a potter has an obligation to the person who will ultimately use his pots, to create a piece that is technically sound, suited to its intended use and gracefully balanced - a piece that adds meaning to an everyday activity through its use or its visual presence."
Now, after spending several years on the fringes of the creative process - teaching children, doing potter bookwork and glazing pieces thrown by her husband - Gore is moving into her own as a ceramic artist.
"I am making time to hand build with clay, which I have always loved," she says. "I like the organic, asymmetrical, often serendipitous forms that start with a simple slab of clay. The cool feel of clay in one's hands and the joy of manipulating it toward the idea in one's mind are restful and therapeutic. The idea that a creation of mine may be on earth long after I'm gone seems like a magical connection to the future."
Gore and her husband work in both stoneware and porcelain clay, with subtle glaze accents.
Studio and kiln tours will be available during the gala for a behind-the-scenes view of their process. Cady Clay Works is in the Westmoore community, north of Robbins on N.C. 705.
More information about the event is available by calling (910) 464-5661 or visiting its website at www.cadyclayworks.com.
More like this story