Wood-fired Pottery: "Tradition"

Photo Essay, Carroll County Times, July 5, 2009

By Ken Koons

Pots glow inside a wood-fired kiln.

Potter Nick Corso plays his banjo in between adding wood to his blazing kiln.

Nick Corso checks the kiln fire with a poker.

Nick Corso creates a pot on a spinning pottery wheel.

potter Finished pots are ready to be removed from the wood-fired kiln.

Documentary Film, Carroll County Times, July 5, 2009

By Ken Koons

Watch it on Youtube.

Article, Carroll County Times, July 5, 2009

By Brandon Oland, Times Staff Writer

When Nick Corso fires his wood- fired kiln, he's never sure what will happen to the dozens of pots inside.

They could become glistening stoneware suitable for use in kitchens or gardens. Or, they could become warped in a fiery oven that reaches 2,400 degrees.

A few days after he fires his kiln and everything inside cools, Corso returns to see the results of his labor.

He removes bricks from the kiln's opening and gets to see much-anticipated results.

"It's like opening presents on Christmas," Corso said.

Most of his works wind up being true gifts. But every once in a while a pot emerges from the kiln damaged. It's an unpleasant surprise comparable to being on the receiving end of a dreaded holiday fruitcake.

Such is the maddening life of a potter like Corso, who chooses a traditional method to create stoneware.

Corso relies on an outdoor wood- fired kiln he built himself outside his studio at Shiloh Pottery in Hampstead.

The business owned by longtime potter Ken Hankins features electric kilns on site.

Yet Corso, 27, is a throwback. He prefers wood firings, even though they are more labor intensive and unpredictable.

He said he prefers the natural finish of pots in a wood- fired kiln.

The ash created by the kiln's flame gives every pot a unique texture and finish -- even when accidents happen.

While working in his studio June 24, Corso sipped water from a green and tan jug shaped like a miniature bowling ball.

"People see this and say 'oooh, that's a good one,'" Corso said.

Before a recent kiln firing, Corso placed his drinking jug atop a stack of other pots.

Yet during the firing, it fell down. Flames inside the kiln melted the jug's glaze.

The finished jug looked completely different than if it had not fallen down.

Corso liked it enough to keep it for his own personal use.

Of course, Corso encounters other less-thrilling surprises from his kiln.

Some pots become scorched inside the kiln.

He leaves those in a pile outside the kiln or, if he's in a particularly frustrated mood, hurls them against a rock outside his studio.

But for the most part, Corso's pots are success stories.

He sells them at Shiloh Pottery and at shows throughout the region.

"I think he makes really beautiful pots," Hankins said. "I'm really jealous of him. I used to do wood firings, but I never got them to turn out quite like his."

Corso had an interest in making pottery almost his whole life.

His mother gave him a plastic pottery wheel when he was 4 years old.

That wheel sparked his imagination, and he's been molding clay and creating pots ever since.

He took a class at McDaniel College taught by Hankins, who offered him the opportunity to work at his studio six years ago.

"I recognized right away the he was pretty exceptional at pottery," Hankins said.

Corso built his studio and outdoor kiln in an area surrounded by trees.

He molds his pots on a spinning wheel and dips them in glaze.

Once he creates between 100 and 120 pots, he has enough to fill his kiln.

Then he must go through the arduous process of stoking his wood- fired kiln.

Corso must spend 20 hours inserting wood into his oven and keeping a close eye on the process.

During down moments, he'll read books or strum his guitar -- hoping all the while that the pots inside turn out the way he envisioned.