Fire up!

Making pottery? You’ll need a kiln to fire and harden your pot.

A brief history of kilns reveals they range all the way from a fire pit dug in the ground to big industrial-sized kilns for firing rows and stacks of plates, cups, whatever.

Minnesota potter Donovan Palmquist builds kilns in between those sizes.

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Here he is in an image captured by MPR’s Jeff Thompson earlier this week in a work space on the 14 acre compound near Farmington south of the Twin Cities, where he and his kiln and pottery partner Colleen Riley live.

You can hear Palmquist talk about kilns in a Minnesota Sounds and Voices report I prepared for this afternoon’s All Things Considered.

Working quietly over the years, (“not a lot of gold and glitter in the kiln building business. . . .”) Palmquist has become famous in the somewhat rarefied world of kiln construction.

He estimates he’s built 370 kilns in 40 states over nearly two decades. This year he built a kiln for Harvard and one for Red Wing Pottery.

Visitors to the Riley and Palmquist pottery compound are always welcome and especially so this weekend as part of the south central Minnesota studio ArTour and sale, an annual event.

There’s a pile of old growth oak, ash and maple trees in the middle of the yard. Palmquist says the wood is needed to fuel his voracious wood kiln, a slumbering giant of brick the size of a small house.

The behemoth comes alive after helpers have stacked the pots inside, split four cords of wood to stoke the kiln for two days to reach the right firing temperature.

Palmquist’s description of the event evokes a medieval scene of fire, food, and socializing as the team works around the clock to fire pots, one of humankind’s oldest crafts.

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