Julie Naster - Wood Fired Kiln Potter
When Julie Naster and her husband Rob decided in 1990 to purchase 18 forested acres in the mountains between Boulder and Nederland, Colorado, both had a passion for hands-on creativity.
"That's what brought us together, so it was natural and inevitable that we would build our own home, and we wanted to do it with rammed earth in the Santa Fe style. It has taken more work than we initially imagined, but it has also been a fulfillment of our original vision."
Julie’s relationship with ceramics began in early adulthood. She connected with the intimacy of getting her hands in clay and creating functional beauty from primary elements. After ten years as a potter she took a detour to attend engineering school and worked for several Colorado companies. She worked as an executive leadership consultant for two decades, but eventually was called back to ceramics in 2013.
Naster’s first foray back into ceramics was a workshop she took at Anderson Ranch Arts Center with Doug Casebeer. His style resonated with her as did his use of a specific wood-fired kiln, and it reignited her love for the medium. With Casebeer’s help, she began to plan the construction of her own kiln, and the winds of change were with her when disaster struck later that year.
With the devastating flood that hit Boulder in the fall of 2013, the ground on the property became saturated and when a wild microburst swept over their land, it toppled a swath of approximately 100 trees! The land around their home initially seemed devastated by the disaster..... but out of heartbreak emerged possibility.
Julie and Rob, with the help of their neighbors, tackled cleaning up the storm-riddled acres and harvesting the downed trees. With such a large volume of wood, it became completely clear that a wood-fired kiln was meant to be!
In early 2015, they began kiln construction, giving their mostly lodgepole-pine stockpile new purpose. Casebeer had designed and built the kiln at Anderson Ranch, and came to help with the initial construction. Grit and determination resulted in the 22,000-pound- plus, fire-breathing behemoth now residing on their property as seen in the image at the right. In the top most image, Julie is standing before the mouth of that behemoth kiln. The kiln is housed in a shed that Rob built for Julie as a very special Valentine's Day gift. How about that for turning adversity into advantage!
Also in the fall of 2015, Julie spent an influential three weeks at Anderson Ranch with Takashi Nakazato, a celebrated contemporary Japanese potter whose family has a generations-long history in the medium. Takashi’s expert craftsmanship, married to the simplicity and elegance of his personal style, helped to shape Julie’s own evolving artistic voice.
“I worked hard there, always inspired. I often arrived at the studio at 5:00 a.m., and Takashi would already be there working. His pieces speak to those who see them; you feel drawn to hold them in your hand, to experience their feel, their texture. During those weeks my own aspirations to achieve those qualities were reinforced.”
The Process is demanding....The Kiln Gods Prevailing
Naster’s work takes place in three spaces.
1. Inside her home, she has a small studio where designs begin. It contains art books, notes, photos, work tables and her wheel. Using mostly white “B clay,” a mixture of stoneware and porcelain that provides the flexibility and smoothness of porcelain with the durability of stoneware, she produces each finely crafted piece.
2. Once several dozen pieces are ready, she moves them to her outside workshop for bisque firing. She also uses that space for storing raw materials and mixing glazes. Glazing takes place back in the indoor studio.
3. It is the third, phase, spanning roughly 30 hours plus cooling time, in which fire, heat, ash, and soda come together to create her final product. Called “atmospheric firing,” the wood-fired kiln demands intense attendance.
- Each batch is loaded into the kiln chamber and sealed in with bricks, with a couple of small peep holes left open for checking progress. The first 12-hour phase of firing is accomplished overnight with propane,. Early the next morning Julie, along with her firing partner(s), start feeding wood into the firebox. Throughout the day, the temperature of the kiln builds to Cone 10 or 11 (about 2,300°F) on the pyrometric cone chart (cones are small ceramic pieces that are placed in front of peep holes in the kiln; they bend as they reach specific temperatures, providing an accurate visual gauge of the temperature at those locations).
- Wood is fed into the firebox every three to 10 minutes throughout the day and into the night.
- Once top temperature is achieved, Julie dons full protective gear and sprays a soda solution into the kiln. Its vapor combines with the clay and glazes to produce the beautiful variations in color and texture that are her signature.
The results of this labor-intensive cycle can be highly variable, but it is that unpredictability, the giving of her art over to what she, tongue-in-cheek, calls the “kiln gods” that is most exciting for Julie. Here is where nature informs her work.
Each piece, offered exclusively here, contains a manifestation of Julie's collaboration with the kiln. Each clearly channels the alchemy of sky, earth, and forest, informed by the tradition of Japanese elegance.
"To hold a piece in your hand is to experience that magic, to touch upon an innate connection to its creation and its creator".
Julie Naster | Vessels with Purpose
Exclusively at 52RHODA. Only Here. Only Ours. Only YOURS.