Public clay firing ends two-week ceramic workshop

Ceramics artist Nina Hole invented a way to build a kiln into her clay structures.

Greg Corradini

A four-ton clay sculpture burst into flames behind the Regis Center for Art on Thursday evening.

Part performance art and part spectacle, the public clay firing was the culmination of a two-week workshop led by Danish ceramics artist Nina Hole. The University, Northern Clay Center and the Mid America College Art Association sponsored the event.

Approximately 200 spectators attended the event. Interpretations of the ritual leapt into the air along with the flames.

“It looks like a burning skyscraper,” said Charles Tommerdahl, a junior at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls, who came all the way to Minneapolis for the event.

Nine participants, some from as far away as England, came to Minneapolis to help build the sculpture and learn more about Hole’s sculpting techniques.

“It’s always amazing to work with someone who has a vision like this from the start,” said Jo Willemsen, a participant from Mason City, Iowa.

Hole said that American Indian headdresses, farm silos and transformer houses influenced her creative vision for the red-and-white sculpture.

“I try to make the strongest statement possible,” she said. “Very simple color patterns and form are what I aim for.”

Although her past ceramic artwork varies in size and theme, Hole began making larger site-specific sculptures in the early 1990s, she said.

Hole said she innovated the sculpture building process when she invented a way to build a kiln into her clay structures, allowing her to fire them on site.

“It is so impractical to bring (parts of the sculpture) inside to the kiln to fire them. The idea of making a sculpture and a kiln as one in the same is very logical,” she said.

Nick Batchelder, a local bricklayer who attended the event, said he learned about the public firing last week when he walked past the artists building the structure.

Batchelder said that although he has seen some brick sculptures and plans on making some of his own, he’s never seen anything like Hole’s sculptures.

“This is a new one for me,” he said.

Steve Rife, a local fire artist, said he came to the event to get a glimpse of Hole’s brand of fire work.

“She definitely has a grasp on her materials, fire and time, and is a master of ceramic alchemy,” Rife said.

Although Hole was once a painter, she said, she was never able to shake the conviction that her destiny lies in mud.

“I am one of those people who have always known what they wanted to do,” Hole said. “Clay was my stuff.”