Farnham Art School used to have a strong reputation for wood firing, and there was in the ‘70s and ‘80s a veritable shanty town of miscellaneous kiln shacks and improvised firing contrivances at the back of the campus, where an alternative culture of fire and sweat, beards and beer held sway. The creeping corporatisation of the institution with its tightening health and safety regime, changes to course structures and, it has to be said, a concurrent decline in student interest, put paid to wood firing in the early ‘90s, when the site was unceremoniously bulldozed and became the upper left corner of the car park. This was an ignominious end for such a hot bed of British pyro-culture, I always thought. The kiln site at Farnham seeded the practice of Katerina Evangelidou, Richard Launder, the late great Patrick Sargent, the paper firings of Sebastian Blackie and many more besides. It is therefore my great pleasure to report that, after a long period of tweaking, a functioning fast-fire wood kiln now thrives again in the remaining parcel of kiln site. This signifies a re-kindling of the anarchic, unpredictable and educationally priceless spirit of clay and fire that was for so long the beating heart of ceramics at Farnham.
There’s really nothing quite like it. The wood kiln is a living beast, with singular demands. Wood is a fuel that requires resourcefulness, responsiveness and great physical energy. At a time when most regard a kiln as having no more functionality or spirit than a microwave oven, it is a joy to introduce people to the personality, nuance, mystery, absorption, exhaustion, sweat and satisfaction of wood firing. The Kiln Club’s membership is expanding and anyone is welcome to join.
Ashley Howard sees wood firing as, ‘…an important asset to the course, and an increasingly rare one too. I really want to put wood firing on the map again at Farnham. In a climate of ceramics course closures nationally, we need to keep the fire burning.’ This is a prescient statement and an admirable goal, one close to my heart. Wood firing in education fires more than kilns; it fires the human imagination. It is as powerful and relevant to the Nintendo DX generation as it was to the T Rex generation. I am proud to be associated with the re-kindling of that spirit at Farnham. I may become a wood firer yet…
To join Kiln Club Farnham, contact Ros Perton on: firstname.lastname@example.org
or contact Gareth Mason: www.garethmason.net