Amy Song: Tea Pots and Wood Firing at River Song Pottery
With the new year upon us, Ceramic Supply Chicago is pleased to be reviving our Second Saturday Workshops – with a twist. Like many things recently, the new year’s first workshop will be virtual and online through Instagram Live, and will feature a demonstration by potter Amy Song. So, shake off that holiday lethargy, tune in, and get those creative juices flowing.
Amy Song is the owner of River Song Pottery, located on five acres in rural Plano, Illinois. Since 2018, Song and her crew have met at the barn about five times a year for firings. The barn houses a wood-firing train kiln in a spacious barn on the property. The firings range from 36 to 54 hours and require a crew continuously tending the fire. Crews range from 6-12 local potters. Song says she fell in love with wood firing while taking classes at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove and was inspired to build her own train kiln after falling in love with the train there.
A native mid-westerner, Song earned a B.A. in Studio Art with an emphasis in Ceramics at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. She taught school in Virginia for a number of years before returning to the Midwest with her husband. After having two kids, “I was a full-time mom and sought out ceramic classes to get back into clay. Waubonsee has a great program, where I took classes for five years,” she says. She refined her technique, focused on functional dinnerware pieces, and quickly fell in love with wood firing. “I am drawn to the idea of elevating the experience of food and drink,” she says, “and I prefer to stick to simple forms. I fire hot and I like a lot of ash, to enrich the surface.” By 2017, Song was ready to branch out on her own. She visited other potteries, fired various wood kilns with generous artists, and looked for property to build a kiln (and future homesite!) and established River Song Pottery.
On January 9, Song will demonstrate the construction of a teapot. The tea pot is one of her signature forms. As a high school student, Song took a ceramic class on a whim because the drawing class was full. Like so many artists, she was inspired by her teacher, whom she describes as a “gruff, old-school potter.” His influence set her on a life course, planting the seeds of her aesthetic sensibilities today. She tells of making her very first tea pot in an advanced high school class, that was subsequently stolen from the studio. “I think maybe I’m still searching for that pot,” she quips. “I love living with handmade pots,” she says. “I love the little details – a perfect lip, a beautiful foot, a rich surface.” While she demonstrates her construction technique for Instagram viewers, she will field questions and discussion from viewers, not only about tea pots, but also about wood firing and upcoming multi-day workshops at River Song.
Song is an artist potter who makes one of a kind pots. She aims to fill about half of the train kiln for her private firings. She works from her home studio and sells primarily online. The quarterly firings at River Song often number between 400 and 500 pots and are cooperative experiences between many potters. The site is rustic – there is no running water or sewage – but potters may camp onsite or stay in local hotels for the workshops. “We have a composting toilet and rain barrels,” Song says, “and my home is a short drive for showers.” The firings are big events that provide an outlet for camaraderie and sharing amongst artists.
Photo credit: Alex Olson
While the Covid-19 pandemic has mostly curtailed firing workshops, Song hopes to resume in the summer and has planned a regular, in-person workshop for June 7 through 14 that will feature guest artist Lindsay Oesterritter, who specializes in reduction-cooled surfaces. The workshop spans 8 days; participants will engage in all aspects of the firing.
Song has kept the kiln going during the pandemic with carefully planned scheduling. Her local crew is extremely experienced and brought family members to be the extra set of hands needed to tend a hot kiln. This allowed full staffing for the firing while limiting exposure between pods. She is also dreaming and planning on putting together a pottery tour in the area for the fall. For an enterprise that is two years old, River Song Pottery is a valuable resource for potters in the area and will likely continue to grow as life returns to pre-pandemic activities.
Amy’s work and upcoming workshops can be found at www.amysongceramics.com
To join Song’s Instagram demonstration on Saturday, January 9, at 10:00 a.m. CST, visit @amysongceramics on Instagram Live, or https://ceramicsupplychicago.com/pages/workshops-events
A big thank you to Jan Grice for the article!