Dragon Kiln Firing Party Honors Artist

By JEFF SPRY Cascade AE Feature Writer

Longtime friends artists from throughout Central Oregon gathered recently to honor Brian Worrell his life in ceramics with a kiln firing party memorial in Madras.  Worrell passed away in March of liver cancer to share in a celebration of his inspiration creativity, his wood-fired Dragon Kiln was stoked on May 17-22.   The traditional Japanese Anagama-style kiln creates one-of-a-kind pots, vases bowls that retain a gritty, earthen appearance.  Its huge size allows for hundreds of pieces to be fired within the blistered, cracked walls.

Worrell, a passionate artist Vietnam veteran, had imagined the final firing of the massive Dragon Kiln during his last days.  His wife, Pam, a close circle of friends organized the event to carry out his wishes, hoping his spirit would preside over the occasion feel the heat love generated.

Holding up to 400 pieces of pottery within its enormous brick vault, the Dragon Kiln is a wood-burning furnace designed constructed by the Worrells three years ago.  This was only the third time the kiln had been lit since it was built in 2008.  The imposing, 25-foot long kiln sits beside a small pond on the Worrell hay farm just outside Madras, its locomotive-sized smokestack towering over twenty feet into the sky.

Artist Janet Matson of Cindercone Clay Center in Bend attended was the communications director to schedule volunteer positions.

“That’s what was so exciting to me,” she said.  “You had teachers, established new artists all working together to fire the kiln experience the process do the actual physical work, everybody learning working in harmony.  It’s always a surprise you never know exactly what to expect.  There are so many variables involved with temperature regulation selection of woods.”

Peter Meyers, head of the ceramics department at COCC was an instrumental person in helping make this all happen.  Worrell had arranged with Meyers before his death to carry on the pottery tradition with COCC permission to use the kiln with other artists in the future.

A group of nearly 20 ceramic artists, area art teachers COCC students participated in the memorable firing.   The actual firing stoking lasted six days, involving 24-hour continuous feeding from May 17-22, followed by a week of cooling.   For this particular firing, artists used cords of ponderosa pine, manzanita even wood from an old elm tree on the property, creating an internal temperature of 2400 degrees.  

The end result is pottery with unique properties finishes due to the dusting of ash from the burning woods.  These types of colors textures can only be obtained by these specific kinds of kilns.

Pam Worrell will continue to host kiln firing events as long as others in the community wish to participate to keep the fires burning.  

An exhibition of the pottery from this firing is now at Cindercone Clay Center.  541-633-3403.

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