In Conversation With
Text By Slow Roads
Photos By Nicole Hummel
"I feel deeply connected to the elements. I shape the earth using water, and use fire to finish the pieces. There is something deeply grounding, anchoring, and centering about working with these elements"
- Nicole Hummel
What do you collect?
Seeds. I have jars and packets, envelopes and tins of seeds that I have saved, from my own garden and from farmer/gardener friends. I especially love to gather and save seeds from flowers, and also heirloom vegetables. It brings me comfort and joy to sow seeds in the late winter and early spring and watch the transformation from tiny seed to fruiting plant, and collect the seeds again. And I love to share the seeds with friends or people that share a passion for growing things. Something about it feels reassuring, like a proactive way of dealing with our wild planet and all of the forces out of my control, a way to find security in food and beauty independent from our exploitative systems.
What inspires you from the past?
People making things from scratch, being resourceful, sharing skills, living off the land, living in community, traditions of craft and creating useful/beautiful products. I love to see this continuing to happen today here and all over the world when I travel.
How are you inspired by nature?
In my work with ceramics, I feel deeply connected to the elements. I shape the earth using water, and use fire to finish the pieces. There is something deeply grounding, anchoring, and centering about working with these elements on a regular basis, something that returns me to my body, sensation, tethers me to the moment. This is what I seek in my work, and it often feels like my work reflects that presence and depth of connection to nature. I am inspired by patterns in nature - constellations, sea foam, lichen, cracked desert land, the way a current moves through a river. When I decorate my ceramics, I often emulate these patterns, sometimes unintentionally because of the nature of working with the elements!
What firing process did you use for this collaboration?
In this collaboration with Slow Roads, I wood fired all the pots in an Anagama Kiln. I worked with a team of about 10 potters to fill a Japanese style kiln that is 30 feet long and which I can stand up inside. We carefully loaded hundreds of pots into the kiln and then fired it for about 5 days, around the clock, using exclusively wood as our fuel.
We fire the kiln to about 2,400 degrees fahrenheit. The lack of oxygen in the kiln, which is achieved using a combination of consistently adding fuel and keeping the kiln very sealed up - forces the flame to search for oxygen in the clay pieces themselves, causing a high reduction of the clay body, giving us very rich, dark results, especially in iron-bearing clay. This is a very community oriented method of firing. The 10 of us worked together to prep the wood, fill the kiln, we worked in shifts to keep the fire burning all night long. When the firing was done we worked together to unload, and then clean the kiln of all of the soot and debris.
How did living/learning at the folk art guild impact your work?
I was 23 years old when I moved to the Folk Art Guild to pursue a pottery apprenticeship with master potter Annie Schliffer. This work entailed all of the studio tasks ranging from making clay and glazes to loading kilns and mopping the floor, as well as learning how to throw on the wheel and market our final work. I was able to help in the design and build of a wood fire kiln, and experiment with various making and firing techniques. It was an incredible environment for learning, open and participatory, and I felt encouraged and pushed to learn all aspects of the craft. All of our pottery was stamped with an anonymous mark, the Guild stamp, which represented the idea that rather than attach our ego to the individual pieces, we were instead channels for this work and it took many more hands than our own to create the pieces. This anonymous approach to the art form was unlike anything I had experienced before or since, a distinct divergence from the art world's focus on the individual. The Guild is also a residential community, and my experience living there, sharing meals and farm chores, and participating in the community life there shaped me in profound ways. I ended up being at the Guild for 6 years, and met my companion and life partner there (Gabe is Annie's son!). After a time I began to long for more independence and developing my own unique style for my work, which I could market as being my own. Gabe and I decided to move back to the West Coast (I am from California originally), setting up a studio in Eugene, Oregon, and we have been here since!