Lighting Ceremony for 16th Firing of Johanna Kiln

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Pottery Studio/Dept


The 16th firing of the Johanna Kiln at The Saint John’s Pottery honor three artists who have been pivotal in the international wood-firing community.

It commemorates the efforts of Koie Ryoji, Chuck Hindes and Paul Krueger, all of whom have been closely associated with the studio and died since the last lighting in 2019.

Ryoji, a renowned Japanese ceramicist, was known internationally for his experimental approach to clay and was a frequent studio guest at Saint John’s University. Hindes built the ceramics program at the University of Iowa, is celebrated across the U.S. for helping integrate wood firing into academia and has left a creative legacy in his students – many of whom will participate in the kiln firing at SJU. And Krueger, a former Johnnies assistant wrestling coach, became close friends with master potter Richard Bresnahan. They collaborated on numerous pieces, with Krueger providing intricately designed and knotted reed handles for Bresnahan’s teapots and ceremonial cake platters, many of which are in public and private collections.

“These artists were dynamic, highly creative individuals who had a profound influence on the world of wood-firing and a deep and lasting impact on our community,” said Bresnahan, director at The Saint John’s Pottery and artist-in-residence at SJU. “Their work lives on in the vibrant community that gathers to ceremonially light and fire this kiln.”

Designed by Richard Bresnahan and constructed with the help of apprentices and volunteers, the Johanna Kiln can fire up to 12,000 works of pottery and sculpture. It is named in honor of S. Johanna Becker, OSB and is the largest wood-burning kiln of its kind in North America. The kiln takes at least six weeks to load and is typically fired in the fall.

Once the kiln doors are closed, the lighting ceremony begins. Hundreds of individuals from the Saint John's community–monks, laypersons, and guests–gather to take part in the lighting ceremony. After a short prayer, the kiln area is ritually purified in the Japanese tradition with rice, salt, and sake. The Johanna Kiln is then lit with a handmade torch.

For ten consecutive days, sixty volunteers gather to stoke pieces of wood in several firing shifts that stretch around the clock. Upon completion of the firing, the kiln is sealed with recycled clay to slowly cool for two weeks. Finally, when the kiln is opened, the ceramics are carefully unloaded, cleaned, and prepared for everyday use.

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