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Student participates in kiln workshop

January 1, 2012

Central Wyoming College art student Max Spencer participated in an advanced and intense workshop at New Jersey’s Peters Valley Craft Center this past summer run by Lander native Bruce Dehnert.

Spencer, a ceramics student of Danny Brown, participated in an “anagama” workshop where he worked on his art for one week and then spent another week loading and firing the massive kiln, Brown explained.

“The anagama kiln in Peters Valley is something like 75 feet long, big enough to stand up in, and requires about 12 cords of wood to fire over a week-long period,” the ceramics instructor said. “From a contemporary art perspective it’s an eye opener, from a historical perspective it looms even larger for anyone interested in the arts or the history of this region.”

The anagama is an ancient type of pottery kiln brought to Japan from China via Korea in the 5th Century. The kiln at Peters Valley was the first built in the U.S., and is among the largest in the country, Brown said.

Using wood to fire the kiln not only produces heat of up to 1400 degrees centigrade, it also produces fly ash that settles on the pieces during the firing. Brown said the complex interaction between flame, ash and the minerals of the clay body forms a natural ash glaze, providing a great variation in color, texture and thickness.

Half of the workshop’s tuition for Spencer, and that of Levon Miller, a CWC graduate who participated in a Peters Valley workshop the year before, was covered by a scholarship provided by Dehnert, who is internationally known. The remaining half of their tuition was raised by the department’s Fall Chili Bowl and Spring Planter sales.

Spencer’s workshop was taught by Dan Murphy, a professor of art at Utah State University, which is where Brown earned his bachelor’s degree. Miller’s workshop was led by Fred Olsen, who Brown said “literally wrote the book on kiln firing and building. “The Kiln Book,” Brown said, is the standard text “on everyone’s shelf.”

Miller is now working on his bachelors of fine arts degree in ceramics at Northern Arizona University, which Brown said has possibly the largest wood firing program in the U.S.

Spencer and Miller were selected for participation in the workshop based on drive and genuine interest in ceramics as well as their proven skills in the CWC program.