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Pottery artist warms to alternate energy kiln

Careen Stoll says ‘environmental ethics’ fires her clay art
by: L.E. BASKOW, Potter Careen Stoll built a large kiln, “The Tin Man,” in her back yard, which she uses to fire the clay creations made in her nearby studio. Stoll will be featured in the annual Art in the Pearl event Sept. 4-6.

It took a while, but potter Careen Stoll has finally mastered making pots and other pieces in her home-built kiln. “Until this year, I hadn’t had any high quality products to share,” says Stoll, a featured artist in the annual Art in the Pearl, Saturday through Monday, Sept. 4 to 6. “And it was a year of failed firings until I learned how to fire in the right way. “It was normal, especially with the firings I’ve been doing. I’ve been making pots in a serious nature for 10 years, and the firings I’ve been pursuing are unusual and it’s a gamble. You gotta deal with serious loss. I’m not Buddhist, but (the feeling is) you just gotta let it go.” Stoll began building her kiln, named “The Tin Man,” about four years ago upon moving to Portland. It has 45 cubic feet of stacking space, which she uses to strategically arrange her pieces. Her idea behind the kiln: She had fed her diesel pickup with waste oil while living in Minnesota and wanted to make a kiln that ran on alternative fuel. She researched things, found that building a round chamber would be more efficient — ergonomic to the flame — and she couldn’t beat the free price of waste vegetable oil. Wood embers are put into space below the ware chamber, with oil blown through a burner to create an atmosphere of 2,300 degrees. She spent one year building the kiln, another year figuring out how to use it. Most potters share kilns with other people, kilns that use electricity or natural gas. “I have some strong environmental ethics,” she says. “I’m certainly not a perfectionist. I try to do what I can without limiting myself too much.” Stoll says she recently finished her seventh firing of the kiln. Her art is distinctive by its round, smooth shapes — she uses eggs and river rocks and bodies as inspiration. “Asymmetry indentation and softness,” she says. “I don’t glaze the exterior of my work,” she says. “With the flame touching the work, I really want the blushing to be skin silky. I burnish the exterior so it’s soft.” In other words, she lets the flame do the decorating, as it leaves colors like speckles on a bird’s egg to dramatic orange-striped iridescence. The 33-year-old Stoll went to Carleton College in Minnesota, where she received her undergraduate degree, and then Utah State, where she received a masters in fine art in 2005. Stoll grew up in Florida, the daughter of a sea captain. Before moving to Portland, she lived in Minnesota, where she worked as a carpenter and studio potter. “I’ve never lived in a larger city before,” Stoll says. “I came here because I just feel accepted here, and I’m excited about the kind of people I run into.” She focuses on making pottery functional, pieces that could be used on the dining room table, because, as her mission statement says, “I find that many of my favorite memories center around a dining experience. It is soothing to know that in this increasingly frenetic world, we can still create environments that speak of community, generosity and sensory comfort.” Of her pottery work, she adds: “When I hear the word pottery, I hear function. When I hear ceramic artist, I don’t hear function.” She has a studio, but it’s small and her kiln sits in the backyard. She’s finally in position to market her work. Stoll’s work can be seen at www.treadlehead.com. She’s also a prominent person in Portland Open Studios, when artists open their studios or homes for visitors to watch them work, scheduled for October. She also teaches at Portland Community College. She is one of 70 new artists among the 130 visual artists at Art in the Pearl. The 14th annual event goes from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 4 and 5, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 6, in the Pearl District. Go to www.artinthepearl.com for more information.