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Contents of new three-chamber wood-fired kiln to be unveiled Saturday in New London, Minn.

New London potter Bill Gossman stands by his newly expanded wood-fire kiln that was built using Legacy grant money. Space in the three-chambered kiln will be leased to potters during events that are expected to bring artists from around the state to New London. (Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange)

NEW LONDON - A unique three-chambered wood-fired kiln that was expanded this summer in New London with the help of state Legacy funds got its inaugural firing last weekend when a rotating cast of nine individuals spent 33 consecutive hours stoking a blaze that brought the kiln to 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit.

On Saturday morning the bricks that sealed the door of the tomb-like structure will be removed and more than 500 individual pieces of pottery made by seven different potters will be revealed during an opening that is open to spectators.

It's an event that's expected to be repeated several times a year for many years to come as Bill Gossman fulfills his Legacy grant promise to develop an art project that has public involvement and will have a long-lasting effect on the community.

For Gossman, who makes his living solely from pottery, the newly expanded kiln will offer the community an opportunity to learn more about the intricacies of wood-fired pottery.

"It adds to our local culture," said Gossman.

But he said the kiln is also about creating an economic boom for the town where he serves as mayor.

Wood-fired kilns are a sought-after commodity. Because the expense and extensive labor make it difficult for potters to have their own, Gossman intends to lease space in his kiln, which he called an "economic asset" that could draw potters from a 100-mile radius, including the Twin Cities.

Craig Edwards, who operates Banner Oak Pottery just a few blocks from Gossman's backyard kiln, also has a large single-chamber wood-fired kiln for his business.

Edwards and Gossman have discussed teaming up to host dual firings in their kilns and that has the potential to attract a large number of potters, including international artists, to the small town.

Gossman said he intends to market space in his kiln through standard routes, like clay outlets in the Cities, as well as through social media like Facebook and his website:

Gossman originally built his kiln in 1998.

After receiving the $7,500 Legacy grant he dismantled much of the old kiln and rebuilt the last large chamber, incorporating a unique design that allows the three separate chambers to be fired individually or all at once.

He said his first-of-a-kind design is a hybrid of the Japanese Anagama and Noborigama kilns. The addition of a fire box in-between the chambers was "my own innovation," said Gossman. That allows chambers to be by-passed depending on the need and speed of pottery orders. "It's pretty versatile," he said.

Called a "climbing kiln," the structure is built at a slight incline that follows the topography of Gossman's backyard that gives the kiln a caterpillar-type appearance.

The first two chambers are small and built for efficient firing for Gossman's pottery. The large chamber will have a more communal use.

Preparing for a wood firing takes about three weeks, not counting the time it takes to actually make the pots.

Setting up shelves and placing the pots in the chamber is time-consuming, as is procuring two to three cords of wood that is needed for each firing.

Despite its size, Gossman said he was pleased that the large chamber reached the required 2,400 degree mark in 33 hours. He had expected it would take about 48 hours.

"It's more efficient than I planned on," he said. "It's meeting my highest expectations."

At 2,400 degrees, ash from the wood that lands on the pottery reaches a melting point to create a unique, but unpredictable glaze. The large chamber can also accommodate a salt-fired glaze.

It takes several days for the kiln to cool down enough to be opened.

Getting a first glimpse of how the pots turned out is always an exciting and nerve-wracking experience. Gossman said he tries to push thoughts of what the pots will look like out of his mind during the firing and cool-down process.

That way he's always "pleasantly surprised" when the kiln is finally opened.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750