The kiln-cairn. A sculpture event for Caithness Prehistoric Festival.

burning posts

Loch Yarrows, Caithness will once again be the venue for a pre-history Festival celebrating the rich Archaeological Heritage of the area.   It will take place on Saturaday 27th August.

This year I have been asked provide a fiery feature in the form of a sculpture kiln.  This is the perfect opportunity for me to experiment with materials and fire.  Ever since I developed a way of making sculptural work  from an adobe matrix of clay, rushes and kelp, I have been turning the idea  of using this material to build a kiln over in my mind. The organic matter burns out as the walls heat up, turning into air pockets which will then hold the heat inside the kiln.


The chamber will be an adobe mix of clay and organic material.
fossil form


I am basing the kiln on a chambered cairn.camster cairn

The first link between the kiln and the cairn will be the shape.  The kiln chamber will be a dome of the clay/organic matrix and will be synonymous with chamber of the cairn.  It will be covered with  ceramic ‘rocks’ to echo the cairns outer shape.

The second link is the idea that excavating a cairn is like opening a kiln.Although the objects have been placed inside, their journey through time ensures that their appearance is unkown.In uncovering the objects you become the first to lay eyes upon their transformed state, and to experience their form.  This is true not only of the contents of the kiln, but of the kiln walls themselves, which will be transformed into a sculptural form.

Of course, being an experimental kiln, there is no certainty as to the results, and maybe nothing will survive, but this again is akin to uncertainty of excavation for the archaeologist.

I have  looked carefully at the design of a  wood fired kiln built by SPA in 2008 which built over a willow basket frame, it in turn, was based on a traditional bottle kiln design. Andrew Appleby from Orkney worked out the sizes of firebox and flu and I will be using his formula for this kiln.

cromarty kiln

The kiln will be built slowly in the week prior to the festival using kelp from Forse bay and rushes from the festival site.  The objects that will go inside the kiln will be a response to the spirit of the project, and will have been made by a group of people, some potters some not some  young and some old.  But they will be a secret until the kiln is opened.

The firing will take place during the festival on Saturday 27th August, and the kiln will then be excavated by the archaeologists on the Sunday.

We will record the progress of the kiln build and the firing as it unfolds and keep everyone posted through facebook and website.

Finally a word about the festival itself, there will be many other events such as flint knapping, spear throwing, pit roasted venison, music and story telling,  and many other interesting things.  It is a great day out.  Information can be found on the festival website or by liking the festival facebook page.


Pit roasted venison actually tasted delicious!

Flint knapping in action


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