By Robert Fountain
For the Express
Art students from the Town of Webb Union Free School District enrolled in Studio, Ceramics, and Independent art classes performed a Native American pit firing and created natural sculpture builds on June 1, with K-12 art teacher, Robert Fountain and chaperone, Tim Leach. This was the second year the trip was held at Adirondack Woodcraft Camps.
Pit firing is a Native American inspired method of ceramic firing that creates unpredictable smoke patterns on the work’s surface. First, students completed the traditional coil building of their hand-sized pieces with buff high fire clay as it is stronger than typical white clay and can withstand the thermal shock involved in a quick burning pit fire. Once the piece became “bone dry” or greenware, terra sigillata was applied. Terra sigillata generally is translated as, “sealed-earth.” Terra sigillata is similar to glaze.
The work after being polished and bisque fired was then placed within a 3x3x4 foot pit that was generously dug at Woodcraft Camps by Dave Leach. Upon arrival in the morning we began preparing the firing pit.
First, it was lined with eight inches of sawdust that all 25 pieces were carefully nestled into. Secondly, 12 inches of paper shreds were layered on top of the work to cushion and protect it throughout the firing. The third step in the pit preparation consists of layering kindling on top of the paper shreds. Students carefully filled the pit with some dry split wood and surrounding brush. Connor Rockhill, Haley Josephson, and Haley Bush had the honor of lighting the pit this year.
The pit burned at temperatures exceeding 1000 degrees for approximately 4 hours. Once the fire was reduced to a thick bed of scorching hot coals students carefully maneuvered with long sticks through the coals to expose their ceramic work. Each and every piece retrieved from the firing was unique, dynamic, and successful. No two pieces are alike. A pit firing encompasses a vast array of uncontrollable variables. Thankfully, on this day all worked in our favor.
While the ceramic work fired within the blazing flames and scorching coals students worked in groups to construct Andy Goldsworthy influenced sculptures around the Woodcraft grounds. Goldsworthy is a British sculptor, photographer, and environmentalist living in Scotland who produces site-specific sculptures and land art situated in natural settings. Students were introduced to him through viewing his award winning “Rivers and Tides” documentary film. He regards all of his creations as fleeting and photographs each piece upon completion. His goal is to understand nature by creating within it as intimately as possible. His art involves the use of natural and found objects, to create both temporary and permanent sculptures, which draw out the character of their environment.
Anxiously the students and I scouted the weather for days in hopes of sunshine and blue skies. The morning cast a warm light and light breeze to keep the bugs away. The sun poked around as students built their sculptures and made for a brilliant picnic lunch. Everyone involved continually smiles about the day and is pleased with their fine art.
This educational field trip was an exceptional success and an experience that will last in students’ minds forever. I thank interim principal, Mr. Klossner and Mr. Leach at Woodcraft Camps for permitting this opportunity for the second year. I would like to take this time to thank superintendent Germer, administration, staff, students, and the entire Town of Webb community for another incredible year of teaching art. I look forward to many more years of serving as the fine arts educator of your children.
I encourage you and your family to view art student passion at its finest at www.towschool.org. Click the “Jr/ Sr Departments” tab found at the top of the page and then “Art”. You will find a variety of slideshows encompassing the Pit Firing field trip, Views student show, other field trips, student work, and daily K-12 fun within the art room.
Robert Fountain is an art teacher in the Town of Webb School District.