December 6, 2016

The Dirt Divas Say “I Know Jo, Do You?”

dirt-divas-01By Jo Mixon

Jo Mixon, Jo DeKeuster, & Johnese Turri @ Enchanted Circle Pottery

I can proudly say that I am now a full-fledged Enchanted Circle Pottery Dirt Diva! I earned this title by working a six-hour shift at the wood-fired kiln of Kevin and Jo DeKeuster’s pottery studio. I have more respect than ever for these two highly skilled artisans! It is no wonder why they were selected Best Art Gallery in New Mexico 2011 as well as multiple other local, state and international awards.

Their wood-firing process is the most unique aspect of their artwork. “Wood firing an ancient Japanese process produces one of a kind iridescent colors. The kiln reaches such intensely high temperatures (2400 degrees) that the ash melts forming a glaze. The flame surging across the pottery also adds interesting marks and color.” I can now tell you from experience that it is a labor-intensive job and it takes an entire crew to accomplish! This firing took three people five and a half hours to load the kiln (16-1/2 man hours), forty-seven hours of continuous firing in six-hour shifts with at least two people manning the kiln day and night (100 man-hours), four people three hours of mudding around the port holes to begin the cool down process (12 man hours), seven days for the kiln to cool and then three to five people four hours to unload (9 man hours). My head is spinning just writing that all out!

When I went to work my shift as a Dirt Diva, the name Jo has given the women who help on her six-hour shifts, I was a part of the reduction stage. Our goal was to get the heat to slowly reduce and settle towards the back of the kiln. JohneseTurri was on the same shift as I was. This being her third firing, she took me inside to outfitted me with heavy coveralls, gloves, and a bandanna for my neck to protect me from the fire. Then we began.

I was impressed with the massive amounts of wood surrounding the kiln. I soon learned it takes six cords of wood every time they fire. We went to work immediately because there simply is no down time during this entire event. The kiln must be stoked with wood every three minutes. Yep, that’s right. Every three minutes! A timer goes off, you reset it and then add wood to one of two areas. Also during the stoking process, readings must be taken every thirty minutes to gauge the heat in each section of the kiln. As the numbers were read, Jo entered them onto her computer so that she could detect exact changes. If they were not at the level she expertly knew they should be, depending on the readings, she would adjust the damper 1/2″ at a time. Ceramic cones are placed strategically throughout the kiln. These cones must also be read every hour. They begin a melt down process when the kiln is fired-up. By reading the stages of melt, Jo and Kevin gauge even more precisely the levels of heat on their artwork. The readings are done manually through twenty or more small openings all over the kiln. And you guessed it; the three-minute wood stokes are still taking place at the same time. All of this process is on going the entire forty-seven or more hours.

Nearing the end of our six-hour shift Kevin emerged from the studio in preparation for his guys to take over. I asked if he had a name for his crew, Jo’s being the Dirt Diva’s. He just grinned at me and said “We don’t need no fancy name…. we just get the job done!” Then I inquired as to how they both held up during the firings with the rigorous schedule of six-hour shifts. (Each of them mans the kiln at least eight times in the forty-eight hours of firing.) Kevin told me he might try to get a power nap on his off time, but mostly just rested or grabbed a bite to eat. Jo says it’s hard for her to nap because she finds it harder to fully awakened again. They embark upon this fete up to six times per year. With each firing, they obtain permits from the Carson National Forest and employ as many as sixteen volunteers to help them.

When the time is right and the cooling procedure begins, they physically mud around all of the openings on the kiln so that outside air cannot enter. Over the course of the next seven days, the kiln and product will slowly cool naturally. I was just as excited to be there when they opened the doors, as I had been to help with the firing. It felt like Christmas! We carefully removed each individual piece from the massive structure, admiring the beauty of the colors and glazing and inspecting each for cracks or flaws. What emerged was a gorgeous array of functional and sculptured design. I learned that the functional pieces are all dishwasher and microwave safe. Uniquely beautiful, each piece is a one of a kind work of art!

Jo and Kevin would love for you to stop by their gallery in the Taos Canyon. Take a tour of their studio and kiln. It is quite fascinating. I know you will want to purchase at least one piece for yourself!

Visit them at 26871 East Highway 64 or call 575-737-9640. They are open daily May through October from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm and November through April from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

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