Artisan craft demonstration: pit-fired ceramics at Polesden Lacey

An example of pit-fired ceramics featuring a red and black striped patina

On Wednesday to Thursday, 1-2 June Polesden Lacey will host a very special artisan craft demonstration in the gardens. We invite you to witness the fascinating process by which earthen ceramics are fired to create a patina of faulous colours and patterns. It's free to attend, so feel free to discover this old school form of craft.

Mary Kaun-English is an expert in ceramic pit-firing. The National Trust sells the results of this artisan craft in shops throughout the UK. Mary will offer a demonstration of the craft process on Wednesday and Thursday, 1-2 June and visitors are welcome to watch.

The process of pit-firing

Pit firing is a modern adaptation of an age-old method and is an active collaboration with the elements of earth, wind and fire.  In a pit, in the earth or sand, unglazed ceramic sculptures are placed on a bed of wood shavings.

Creating colour

Organic materials such as coffee grounds, banana peels and seaweed are placed around the work, as well as copper wire and steel wool; these materials will contribute colour to the ceramics as they burn.  The ceramics are then covered with firewood and lit.  

Once the wood is vigorously burning the pit is covered with metal sheeting to retain the heat. Though the fast and hot fire tests the ceramics to the limit of their tolerance and contributes to a high breakage rate, the successful pieces make the loss rate worthwhile.  The warm reds, pinks, blues and yellows that result from the collaboration with the fire and air make each unique piece embody the colours of the earth.

To find out more about Mary's work, watch this video:

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