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A potter’s pride

New London artist featured in the MAFAC’s latest exhibit finds wood firing is the way to go in pottery

September 24, 2011
By Cindy Votruba , Marshall Independent

Not only is Bill Gossman mayor of New London, he is also a full-time potter.

Gossman, who is known for his wheel-thrown and wood-fired pottery in the region, has his work on display at the Marshall Area Fine Arts Council's arts center through Oct. 21.

His first experience with clay was in kindergarten, Gossman said, but he didn't really start honing his pottery skill until he was in high school. His art teacher had studied ceramics.

"He saw I had some talent and desire to work with it more," Gossman said. "I wanted to keep making pots."

Gossman went to college in Mankato for a couple of years, but "wasn't learning fast enough" for what he wanted to do. So he got a job as a potter as he had enough skill to do production work, he said.

He started on his own in 1975 and had a studio in River Falls, Wis. He got interested in wood-firing pottery from a couple of other potters in the area.

He went to Denmark in 1979 where he built his first wood-fire kiln. He also spent a couple of years in Africa, where he met another potter who had a small workshop there.

"The raw materials were from the ground in Swaziland," Gossman said. He and his family moved to New London in 1990 where he's been ever since.

Since 1979, Gossman said he's built about 10 kilns as that is when he started firing with wood. He, along with another person, built his personal wood-fire kiln in 1998.

Gossman said it took about a month to build his home kiln.

"I had an idea in my head of how I wanted it," he said.

The kiln is a climbing wood-fueled kiln built into a hillside, where each chamber is higher than the other, Gossman said. The bricks were in different shapes and sizes.

"It was like putting together a jigsaw puzzle," he said.

Gossman said he does about four firings a year.

"Normally I'll fire the whole kiln with three chambers," he said.

And the firings turn into an event of sorts, he said, with organizing a crew to help with the firing process and making food. Gossman's friends and colleagues are able to fire their own artworks.

It's not just artists who come to the firings, he said, as sometimes people from the community will stop and watch.

"They just like the camaraderie and the exchange of stories," he said.

The kiln fits 120 cubic feet of pottery, Gossman said.

"That can vary between 300 to 1,000 pieces," he said.

Each firing lasts between 30 to 36 hours.

He recently started to redesign his kiln, modifying the first chamber to do more pots. Gossman said there is atmosphere and effects in each chamber.

"Additional color is achieved as the flames go past and through the forms, drawing oxides and the impurities to the surface of the clay," Gossman said in his artist statement to MAFAC. "I enjoy seeing the effects of the fire and flames recorded on the surface of the form."

"I strive to keep the process as low tech as feasible without sacrificing the quality of the final result," Gossman added in his artist statement. "Simplicity in my work and life is what I strive for."



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