Potter Nils Lou is recognized as an international authority on kiln building, but he’s not too busy to have students over to his own studio, where they fire ceramics in the wood-fueled kiln he built 25 years ago.
His students recently helped him celebrate its 25th anniversary, firing the kiln and placing their clay works inside to fire for three to four days.
Lou, whose ceramics have been on display in galleries and exhibitions throughout the U.S., designed and built the kiln at his studio in Oregon’s wine country. It’s a replica of an eighth-century Korean anagama, which means “cave kiln,” and like potters for thousands of years, Lou fuels his kiln with firewood, in contrast to the electric or gas-fueled kilns most potters use.
“Fire has been essential to our existence and development,” he says. “We respond to the flame intuitively. The kiln is a tool, a device, an insulated box that concentrates and directs heat to the pots. It is also a mystery that invokes our prayers, epithets, coarse and gentle words.
“The firing of fuel-fired kilns relies heavily on science,” Lou says, “but it ultimately means using common sense mixed with a little intuition and experience. Most firing problems eventually yield to a common-sense approach if there is an understanding of the process.”