Our Clay is custom blended at STARworks Clay factory in Star, North Carolina. Raw clay is dug from mineral rich clay beds in the North Carolina Piedmont. The minimally refined clay contains a variety of particle sizes - making for a more workable clay and more dynamic final product.
Pugging The Clay
To prepare the clay to be thrown, it is next processed through a pug mill, which homogenizes the clay body and removes air particles, increasing the clay’s plasticity.
Weighing Up The Balls
Before the potter begins to throw, freshly pugged bolts of clay are sliced into wedges of equal weight and formed into egg-shaped balls.
Throwing on The Wheel
Our work is thrown by hand on a potter’s wheel. Our potters make work in “runs”, meaning that they will throw anywhere from 30 to 300 of the same form at a time. This production-style of throwing allows for greater consistency in product and allows for new potters to improve their hand skills most efficiently.
All The Details
Thrown pots are then placed on ware boards and set on racks to dry. The dirt floor of our workshop works double duty: it keeps the shop damp and cool so that pots can dry slowly and evenly, and eliminates the need to sweep the floor! When the pots reach a “leather hard” stage, clay from the bottoms of our plates, bowls, and serving ware is trimmed away, revealing a more curvaceous profile and a footed base. Mugs and pitchers receive handles. Finally, each pot is stamped with the East Fork Makers Mark. [Photo of Stamped Plate]
Glazing & Firing
Up to this point, the process for pots in the East Fork Collection and pots made for the wood kiln by the East Fork Guild have been mostly identical. Glazes for both kilns are formulated and mixed exclusively in our workshop using materials mined in North Carolina and the Southeast.
Gas Fired Pots
Pots made for the East Fork Collection are fired exclusively in our gas-burning kiln. These pots are fired twice: first in a low-temperature “bisque” firing, and second in a higher temperature “glaze firing”. This efficient process results in pots that are consistent in color and quality from firing to firing, allowing us to collaborate with other makers and designers and work with chefs to create uniform, stackable, highly-functional dinnerware for their restaurants.
Prior to the purchase of our Blaauw kiln in 2015, all pots at East Fork were fired in our Anagama-style wood kiln, which Alex built with the help of friends in 2009. This is a hot, sweaty, labor and time intensive process. Over the course of several months, between 600 and 1,000 pieces of pottery are made to fill the 36 foot long, 6 foot tall structure. Someone prepares the wood, cutting each board to a uniform length and separating wood for the main hearth from wood for the side ports. The pots are carefully loaded from back to front on kiln shelves stacked high on upright bricks. For three days and three nights, someone tends to the fire, feeding wood into the firebox every few minutes to maintain a slowly rising temperature. By the time the kiln has reached 2,350 degrees, a small team of fire-tenders work in concert to spread the flames evenly throughout the kiln. 150 pounds of salt are introduced into the white-hot kiln using a leaf blower. When the firing is finished, the pots cool slowly for 3 days. After unloading, each pot is carefully sanded clean of detritus.
The hard work pays off in pots with wild, dynamic, and serendipitous surface textures in a rich palette of earthy browns, grays, and greens. Though we are currently taking a hiatus from firing the wood kiln to focus on the East Fork Collection, you can expect to see limited quantities of decorative, one-off, wood-fired pieces made under the East Fork Guild in the future.
Photos by Mike Belleme capture the heat, intensity and spirit of the wood-firing process.