Amy Song: Tea Pots and Wood Firing at River Song Pottery
With the new year upon us, Ceramic Supply Chicago is pleased to be reviving our Second Saturday Workshops – with a twist. Like all things these days, the new year’s first workshop will be virtual, online through Instagram Live, and will feature a demonstration by potter Amy Song. So, shake off that holiday lethargy, tune in, and get those creative juices flowing.
Amy Song is the owner of River Song Pottery, a studio located on five acres in rural Plano, Illinois. Since 2018, Song and her crew have assembled at the large barn on the property about five times a year, which houses a wood-firing train kiln. The firings range from 36 to 54 hours and require a crew of six to twelve local potter to continuously tend the fire. Song says she became enchanted with wood firing while taking classes at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove and was inspired to build her own train kiln after falling in love with the one there.
A native mid-westerner, Song earned a B.A. in Studio Art with an emphasis in Ceramics at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. She taught school in Virginia for a number of years. She returned to the mid-west with her husband and started a family. “I was a full-time Mom and sought out ceramic classes to get back into art. Waubonsee has a great program, where I took classes for over five years,” she says. She refined her technique and focused on functional dinnerware pieces, gravitating toward wood-firing. “I like the idea of elevating the food and drink experience,” she says, “and like to stick to simple forms. I fire hot and like a lot of ash, to allow the surface to shine.” By 2017, Song was ready to go out on her own. She visited other potteries, fired various wood kilns with generous artists, and looked for property to build a kiln (and future homesite) and established River Song Pottery.
On January 9, Song will demonstrate the construction of a teapot. The tea pot is one of her signature forms. As a high school student, Song took a ceramic class on a whim because the drawing class was full. Like so many artists, she was inspired by her teacher, whom she describes as a “gruffy old-school potter.” His influence set her on a life course, planting the seeds of her aesthetic sensibilities today. She tells of making her very first tea pot in an advanced high school class, that was subsequently stolen from the studio. “I think maybe I’m still searching for that pot,” she quips. “I love living with handmade pots,” she says. “I love the little details – a perfect lip, a beautiful foot, a glowing surface.” While she demonstrates her construction technique for Instagram viewers, she will entertain questions and discussion from viewers, not only about tea pots, but about wood firing and upcoming multi-day workshops at River Song.
Song is an artist potter who makes one-of-a kind pots. She aims to fill about half of the train kiln for her private firings. She works from her home studio and sells primarily online. The group firings at River Song often number between 400 and 500 pots and are cooperative experiences between many potters. The site is primitive – there is no running water or sewage – but potters may camp onsite or stay in local hotels. “We have a composting toilet and rain barrels,” Song says, “and my home is a short drive for showers.” The firings are big events that provide an outlet for camaraderie and sharing for artists.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has mostly curtailed firing workshops, Song hopes to resume in the summer and has planned a regular in-person workshop for June 7 through 14 that will feature guest artist Lindsay Oesterritter, who specializes in reduction-cooled surfaces. The workshop spans eight days and participants will engage in all aspects of the firing.
Song has kept the kiln going during the pandemic with carefully planned scheduling. Her local crew, who brought family members to be the extra set of hands needed to tend a hot kiln, is extremely experienced. In this way, she was able to have full-staffing for the firing while limiting exposure between pods. She is also dreaming of a fall pottery tour in the area and is starting to plan. For an enterprise that is only two years old, River Song Pottery is a valuable resource for potters in the area and will likely continue to grow as life returns to pre-pandemic activities.
To join Song’s Instagram demonstration on Saturday, January 9, at 10:00 a.m. CST, visit @amysongceramics on Instagram or follow the link through www.amysongceramics.com or https://ceramicsupplychicago.com/pages/workshops-events
With a 75-year history as one of Pittsburgh’s major arts organizations, Pittsburgh Center for Arts and Media (PCA&M) has weathered many changes. Founded as a conglomeration of individual art groups in 1945 as The Arts and Crafts Center, it grew to become a nexus for art education and exhibition with a unified vision and strong leadership. When the center’s current Executive Director, Kyle Houser joined the organization in 2013, a decade of uncertainty had left the group in financial difficulty and organizational turmoil. Houser’s dedication to rebuilding the center’s strengths contributed to a major reorganization in late 2019. Houser says, “2020 was the year to turn the ship around. Unfortunately, in March, we hit an iceberg.”