By Bob Hicks
ABOVE EAST CREEK, OREGON —
The East Creek Anagama Kiln sits amid a forest tangle in the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range, above East Creek, which feeds into Willamina Creek, which feeds into the Yamhill River, which feeds into the Willamette River, which feeds into the Columbia River, which empties into the Pacific Ocean, which crosses to Japan and Korea and China, where the anagama style of wood-fired kiln was born roughly two thousand years ago. “Theoretically,” says Nils Lou, pointing down to the rapid chuff of the creek below, “you could put a canoe in the water right there and go anywhere in the world.”
Theoretically. Your canoe might get swamped, but the possibility of such a daring jaunt brings home the essential circularity of living with an anagama. (In Japanese, the word means simply “cave kiln,” so called because of its design that exploits the gravitational and structural advantages of burrowing into the side of a hill.)
Here we are, a decade into the 21st century, celebrating the contemporary possibilities of a troglodytic technology from the time of the first Roman emperor. And when I say contemporary, I mean it. The beauty of the anagama is that, no matter how rigorously you prepare the clay pieces being fired, what comes out of the crucible is largely a result of chance.