a kiln opening howto

at the preview for mark hewitt’s thrice yearly spring kiln opening, nearly two thousand pieces of pottery are on display. large planters sit along a walk leading up to a rustic barn which houses the rest. but nothing is yet for sale. the preview is just for looking, chatting with the potter (a charismatic briton), and sampling hors d’oeuvres.

the fun happens the morning after, when the aficionados line up in cars outside the pottery as early as 4am. jane and i arrive around 6, the sixth car in line, on 4 hours of sleep. we’re dozing when they open the parking lot (a field next to a pond) at 8am, and people of all ages, mostly older, start lining up. at 9am the sale officially begins. there is one rule. the line must walk toward the barn in the same order without running or cutting. strategy is simple. know what you want and grab it before someone else does. the closer you are to the front, the greater your chances of getting it.

we set everything we’ve collected outside the barn, and for two hours we alternate between guarding our “take” and perusing the pottery that remains. after some consternation, we set aside pots we don’t “need” so we can decide which we definitely want and which we plan to give as gifts (if we can bear to part with them).

two hewitt pots next to rooster on my windowsill

salt-glazed north carolina pottery gets its look from the combination of ash blowing through the kiln and salt pored into the top of the kiln during the firing. the ash interacts chemically with the clay creating a range of speckled browns, tans, and khakis, while the salt gives the pieces a shiny veneer. small squares of blue glass pressed into the clay when it’s soft melt and drip down the sides leaving a blue streak that contrasts with the orangy browns. a few traditional glazes are used sparingly, such as a black manganese, but much of the final look depends on the unpredictable reaction of ash, salt, and clay inside the kiln.

hewitt planter


I shudder to think what you paid for your dried mud collection. :)

a small price to pay for a happy cock.

I had not realized that pottery was such a big deal around here. Should I start collecting some? Is the price right?

the average for the pots we got was $28. the large planter at the bottom was $45, the canister at the top was $25 and the small jug was $9.

(rooster purchased previously)


Those are small-ish pieces (even the planter) that are priced accordingly. If you want larger or more spectacular things, bring a huge wallet—his ‘rep’ has risen!
Mark’s sale process is flawed…just as you described, wherein one carries loot to the field and then sorts it. There should be a lottery to allow only a manageable number of folks in at one time and not allow hoarding of items to be returned, and missed by those who were slightly later in the line (Burlon Craig’s process was a successful testament to that strategy).
There is no pleasure or joy in grabbing everything in sight. You may think it is fun, but it is fundamentally sad.

zod, i would beg to differ. granted i’ve not experienced other kiln opening formats, but i find the exhuberance of the mark hewitt’s openings to be kind of a rush. i agree that it’s not structured for browsing or contemplation. that’s what you do at evening preview the night before.

the first people in line get first dibs on what they want and can grab anything else that looks interesting. seems fair to me. even with canvas bags there’s a limit to what you can grab. then you take it out into the sunlight to look things over in greater detail. seems reasonable.

maybe 2/3 of what i grab i’ll put back, which ensures that those people further back in line have a constantly replenishing array of pots to peruse.

even if the first 50 people grabbed every single pot, there’s nothing stopping the second group of 50 people from scoping out what other people have taken and swooping in when they decide to put something back. or even bartering and trading.

i guess i’m a proponent of simple, decentralized markets. and i find the social mores that form as a result to be quite interesting. such as the cadre of people that line up in their cars at 3 or 4am. i usually get there by 6am, putting me anywhere between the 4th and the 8th car in line.


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