ARTICLES


 

 


 

 

Ceramics Monthly November 2005
57

 


LUMINOSITY:
James Haggerty’s Low-Fire Lusters

by Linda Janos


It’s 5:30 A.M. on a crisp morning in Santa Barbara, California. But
despite the early hour and the chill in the air, James Haggerty is
already up. Although it’s barely light out, he carefully checks the kiln
temperature, eager to peek inside like a child with a present. The
result of each firing is always a surprise.
“This was a tricky load because the pieces on the bottom needed
to be much cooler than those on the top,” he says. “So it required a
lot of attention and adjusting the flame to keep the temperatures
right for both glazes.”
He gingerly opens the kiln revealing the brilliant, colorful pieces
of iridescent pottery on the top shelf. Unlocking the secrets of strike
firing has been a long and arduous process. This low-fire reduction
method involves inserting combustible materials, such as leaves or
wood, into the kiln during the firing, which creates a smoky, oxygen-
free atmosphere, covering the glaze surface with gloriously rich
luster, unusual textures, craters and melt fissures. It is a very difficult
technique to master; however, Haggerty’s persistence and the time
and effort spent on research and experimentation has paid off. This
morning’s kiln load is exceptionally beautiful and he is quite pleased
with the results.
“Look at those crystals,” he says holding up a small blue-and-gold
luster bowl. “I have never gotten anything like those before.
Believe it or not, this was one of my ‘pig pots’—that’s what I call any
ugly piece that needs to be refired. I used to set aside or throw out
anything that didn’t come out the way I’d hoped before I realized
that I could multifire. As a matter of fact, some of my very best
pieces were once pig pots.”
Haggerty’s love affair with clay began with his first ceramics class
at age thirteen. He was instantly hooked. As his interest in ceramics
deepened, he became increasingly intrigued with glazes. At sixteen
he was the youngest student in a glaze calculation class taught by the
late Vivika Heino, well known for her mastery of glaze chemistry.
“Quite frankly, I was a bit reluctant [to enroll in the class] at
first,” he reflects. “But I really wanted the information, even though
I was a bit too young to understand it fully.”
His intense interest in trying new ideas and techniques led to one
of the most significant incidents that shaped his creative development.
As a young student at the California College of Arts and
Crafts in northern California, he came across thousands of test tiles
and notes from the late Richard Behrens, an expert in glaze research.
“Test tiles that students had done were hanging on the wall and
I was looking at them,” Haggerty recalls. “The lab tech came up
and saw that I was interested in them and said, ‘That’s the way
Behrens did it.’ He got a key and opened up this cabinet and there
they were. The tiles had been locked away since the 1970s and
contained materials that were no longer available, such as amblygonite
and barium sulfate. I received permission to copy his notes and
study his tiles.”
Haggerty soon realized that he needed more technical information
in his education and decided to transfer to Otis Parsons Art
Institute in Los Angeles. Ralph Bacerra, who also had been a student
of Heino’s, was teaching there, and Haggerty figured Bacerra could
teach him what he needed to know about glaze calculation. While
attending Otis, Haggerty was introduced to many different ceramic
materials, methods and techniques. He loved the constant exploration
of new ideas.
After Otis, Haggerty returned to his hometown of Santa Barbara,
where he began producing raku pottery. A turning point in his
young career occurred when he came across a copy of Cullin W.
Parmalee’s book Ceramic Glazes.
“Prior to reading the book I was getting interested in glazes that I
liked, but I wanted to find a luster effect that was more permanent
than raku. To have information about the different methods for
firing the kiln to produce luster opened up a whole new world of
glazes and firing techniques, but my work was still limited.”
With a wry smile, Haggerty recalls when he submitted work to
be juried for acceptance into the Ventura Potter’s Guild in southern
California. Heino was one of the jurors and although she approved
his work, she commented, “I really have a problem when I look at
your pots. You’ve tried many forms, which shows your search for
identity, but I think you have become more intrigued with the luster
than the whole.”
Those words stayed with him and he began refining his forms
and glazes. At the annual Ventura Potter’s Guild show, Heino came
up to his booth and said, “I see you’ve got the strike-firing technique
down, but have you considered challenging yourself further by
seeing what happens if you multifire these glazes?”
“That was one of the beautiful things about Vivika,” Haggerty
mused. “She would always temper her criticisms with really great
suggestions and a lot of support.” He took her suggestions to heart
and began researching other artists who had mastered different
strike-firing methods.
Haggerty is an enthusiastic admirer of the work of Gertrude and Otto Natzler, who are known for their highly crafted forms and remarkable glazes. He studied their work as well as the work of Beatrice Wood, in hopes of learning about their techniques and materials, but found very little information.
“Out of their kilns came surfaces and textures that I’d never seen before that just amazed me,” he recalled. “I realized that if I was ever going to figure out how it was done, I would have to do it on my own. So I continuously adjusted the firing, the temperature and used a variety of materials in the glazes. I introduced combustible materials, such as leaves and wood, into the kiln at various stages during the firing.
Sometimes it worked and I had incredible luster effects, and other times the glazes would be dark, murky or blistered. I took copious notes on the outcome of every kiln load. By using that, the information in Parmalee’s book, plus my acquired knowledge of chemistry and glaze calculation, I eventually learned how to master strike firing.”
After two years of testing, he had a palette that was diverse in both color and texture.
“I love how unpredictable strike firing is. It’s exciting never knowing what I am going to end up with. For me, the ultimate driving force behind my art is my exploration of materials. It’s this constant mystery that fuels my imagination and my creativity with ceramics.”

GLAZE RECIPES:

Crater Underglaze
(Cone 08–04)
Borax (powder) .................................. 5%
Talc ................................................... 15
Frit 3269 ............................................ 25
EPK (Edgar Plastic Kaolin) .................... 15
Kentucky Ball Clay (OM 4) .................. 15
Silica (Flint) ......................................... 25
100%
Add: Silicon Carbide (100 mesh) ......... 2%

Bright Yellow
(Cone 06)
Gerstley Borate .................................. 6%
Frit 3195 ............................................ 10
Frit 5301 ............................................ 70
EPK (Edgar Plastic Kaolin) .................... 7
Silica (Flint) ......................................... 7
100%
Add: Stain 41545 ............................... 8%

Top Crater Glaze
(Cone 08–04)
Frit 3134 ......................................... 52.1%
EPK (Edgar Plastic Kaolin) ................. 11.1
Silica (Flint) ...................................... 36.8
100.0%

 



Red Luster
(Cone 05)
Cryolite ........................................... 6.0%
Lithium Carbonate .......................... 3.0
Soda Ash ........................................ 3.0
Frit 2369 ......................................... 58.0
Frit 5301 ......................................... 12.0
EPK (Edgar Plastic Kaolin) ................. 8.0
Silica (Flint) ...................................... 10.0
100.0%
Add: Copper Carbonate .................. 1.5%
Cool kiln down to 1320°F (716°C), then reduce
the kiln until it is dark.

 

Ruby Luster
(Cone 06)
Lithium Carbonate ............................. 7%
Nepheline Syenite ............................... 8
Frit 3269 ............................................ 50
Frit 3278 ............................................ 17
EPK (Edgar Plastic Kaolin) .................... 8
Silica (Flint) ......................................... 10
100%
Add: Borax ......................................... 5%
Copper Carbonate ..................... 3%

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Blue & Gold Luster Crater Vase,” 7 inches (18 centimeters) in height, with Crater Underglaze, then Top Crater Glaze was applied thickly. After reaching Cone 04 in
a 7¹/2-cubic-foot top-loading kiln, it was cooled to 1350°F (732°C) with the damper
open. Then the damper was closed and 5–7 lbs of eucalyptus wood was inserted.

Ceramics Monthly
November 2005
58
PHOTOS: SCOTT MCCLAINE

“Gold Ruckled Crater Bowl,” 13 inches (33 centimeters) in height, with Crater Underglaze, then Top Crater Glaze was applied with an addition of 7% manganese dioxide and 2% copper carbonate. “I draw much of my inspiration from the nature that surrounds me in California—the diverse plant life and geological formations have always fascinated me,”Haggerty states.

Ceramics Monthly
November 2005
59

 

 

“Copper Luster Crater Vase,” 8 inches (20 centimeters) in height. First, Crater Underglaze was applied, then a coat of Top Crater Glaze was applied with an addition of 0.5% cobalt carbonate, followed by a
second coat of Top Crater Glaze with 1% copper carbonate;
by James Haggerty, Santa Barbara, California.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


 

Last Updated 2/2017
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