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Operation Wood-Stoke at the University of Montevallo

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When the anagama kiln at the University of Montevallo is fired in early November in an event dubbed “Wood-Stoke,” there will be a “dream team” of ceramic artists present to observe, assist, and fire their own works of art. Ceramicists from as far away as New York and Louisiana, as well as from the Birmingham area, will be on hand to experiment with innovative techniques in the ceramic arts.

The anagama kiln, affectionately known as “Fat Bastard,” was designed by Scott Meyer, professor of art at UM, and built by Meyer and his students on the University of Montevallo campus – firing for the first time in spring of 2002. It has since gathered an international reputation not only for the classic nature of the wood-fire products but for a spirit of collaboration and experimentation it has fostered. It has drawn a growing list of nationally and internationally significant artists from both inside and outside the ceramics community. While the tradition of anagama firing is more than 3,000 years old, the contemporary artists who have gathered around this kiln do so to fulfill aesthetic and conceptual issues relevant today. This means that each firing seeks new applications and adaptations of ancient techniques.

In a new twist, some of the pottery pieces will be extracted from the kiln while still hot, cooled in a chemical solution to help prevent cracking, then replaced in the kiln. This ancient Japanese firing technique, called hiki-dashi, changes the color and patina of the finished product.

Meyer said, “Operation Wood-Stoke will involve probably the largest and most significant group of artists in its history. Like its musical reference, attendance seems to have grown exponentially as its time approaches. With ‘headliners’ such as Richard Hirsch planning a series of exciting experiments, this event could be special.”

Addressing the gathering of such distinguished artists, Meyer says, “The best I can describe all this is to compare it to bands or to theater where the same or similar mixes of people are seen tackling a variety of related projects. Most of this depends, more than is typical, on human interaction. The talent is through the roof, but it’s really the compatibility of the various people, their approaches to creativity, that fosters these bonds. Art history is certainly full of these groupings of artists who gather around an idea. But often, those groupings become dysfunctional with egos and tension and conflict. As funny as this sounds, I think the Rolling Stones have more the idea for longevity. Each person has their own identity and other projects to keep them fresh, and then, when they assemble as the Stones, for the most part, they are hungry for contact and happy to make more music together.”