Pottery Dreams: Peel's kiln opening to the public

1 of 4

Tours and workshops at John Peel's wood-fired salt kiln, located near his century-old home at 980 Ham Overman Road, are set for his Annual Kiln Opening on Nov. 3-4.

image1 (2).jpeg

By Anna Goodwin McCarthy

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The extensive process utilized by John Peel is reflected in the beauty of his pottery.

Located near his century-old home at 980 Ham Overman Road is a wood-fired salt kiln Peel constructed last year, which he uses to fire his pottery.

Peel is offering the public an opportunity to visit the site, tour his pottery workshop and learn about his process at his Annual Kiln Opening on Nov. 3-4.

“I think pottery is art for everybody,” said Peel.

“People use it everyday,” he said, describing the functional aspects of pottery. And ,his pottery is safe for use in the oven, dishwasher and microwave.

Peel begins the process by creating his pots on a potter’s wheel or by hand.

“I use local North Carolina clays,” he said.

After the form is created, Peel decorates it using slips, which he describes as a watered-down clay similar to the consistency of milk.

He conducts a bisque firing of the pots in an electric kiln. It takes multiple loads in the electric kiln, which is smaller than the wood-fired salt kiln where they will be transferred later in the process. This step makes the form more ceramic, so it will not get quite as hot and return to the clay form in the wood-fired salt kiln.

Peel removes the pots from the electric kiln, “cleans them up and adds glaze with different splashes of color.”

Peel elects not to glaze all of his pots, preferring to see the effect of the wood-fired salt kiln on its texture.

After he glazes the pots, he adds wadding. The purpose of the wadding is to keep the clay from sticking to the shelves and lids while in the kiln.

“It keeps everything separated,” said Peel.

It takes Peel about two days to load the wood-fired salt kiln which is about 45 cubic feet.

“Each pot comes out differently depending on where it is in the kiln,” said Peel. “The flame leaves different markings on the pots.”

Peel lays a wall of bricks in front of the door to close the kiln. The fire is started using split pine.

“My kiln is unique,” said Peel, explaining how a Bourry box design is used with the fire burning upside down. Peel said this type of design was first used centuries ago.

“It is a slow gradual building of heat,” said Peel with temperatures rising to 2,400 degrees.

Peel said you are able to view the process from the outside of the kiln through small holes.

The view is extraordinary. “It is kind of like a river of fire that wraps around the pots,” said Peel.

During the process, Peel sprays five pounds of salt into the kiln. As it vaporizes, the sodium sticks to the silica in the clay creating distinct designs.

“The salt can leave an orange peel-like texture to the work,” said Peel.

Constantly watching the flame, Peel monitors his pyrometer which shows the temperature inside the kiln. He adds wood every five to 10 minutes during the firing which can last between 24 and 30 hours.

After the process is complete, the pottery cools for three days.

Peel, who teaches art at Northeastern High School, earned his bachelor’s degrees in fine arts in both ceramics and art education from East Carolina University. He has a master’s degree in school administration from Elizabeth City State University. Two years ago, he received an educator scholarship to attend Penland School of Crafts in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Pottery incorporates many subjects including science, history and math, according to Peel. “Pottery takes everything you have learned and connects it.”

The Annual Kiln Opening event is free and will be open to the public on Nov. 3 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Nov. 4 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For more information visit John Peel Pottery on Facebook at https://m.facebook.com/johnpeelpottery/?ref=content_filter, his website at https://www.johnpeelpottery.com or Instagram.