Walk through the front doors of the Mathers Museum of World Cultures right now, and the giant replica of a wood-fired kiln in the front exhibit might just catch your eye.
And here’s the kicker: The replica isn’t nearly as large as a real wood-fired kiln, which can easily be 12 feet long and more than 3 feet tall. (Think of it as a giant tunnel that, once its back shelves are filled with items, has a continuously burning blaze at the front that fires the pottery inside. Sometimes the fire is kept burning for several days, at temperatures of more than 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit.)
The replica kiln is part of an exhibit, “Melted Ash: Michiana Wood Fired Pottery” curated by IU Bloomington folklore graduate student Meredith McGriff, that’s on display through the end of December.
McGriff began studying a close-knit group of potters in northern Indiana as part of a project for Traditional Arts Indiana. The partnership between IU Bloomington and the Indiana Arts Commission is dedicated to expanding public awareness of Indiana’s traditional practices and works to identify, document and understand more fully the many ways in which cultural values and the arts are embedded in daily life.
“There are around 10 full-time potters working in this area of northern Indiana and Michigan, often referred to as Michiana because it’s so close to the border,” she said. “Many of them went to Goshen College and apprenticed with Dick Lehman. When I interviewed them for TAI and saw their collaborative process and their excitement about pottery, I wanted to show people their work and how their beautiful pottery is made.”
In addition to the replica kiln, the exhibit includes a display of Michiana pottery, a smaller display that can be handled by visitors, a replica workroom that follows the creation of a piece of pottery from clay to wheel to kiln, and details about each artist featured.
McGriff also organized a one-day symposium from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 16 at the museum to complement the exhibit, which seeks to promote interdisciplinary conversations about clay as a medium and the significant human connections made through the process of creating pottery. The symposium is free and open to the public. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register or for additional information.