Queer Cat 2023
On May 19-21, East Creek Art hosted the first LGBTQIA+-led firing of their wood-soda catenary arch kiln (nicknamed the “Chicken Cat”). Over 50 new and seasoned queer artists came to experience this hands-on wood firing weekend of community-oriented programming, entirely for free.
Where did it take place?
East Creek Art is a ceramics hideaway in Willamina, Oregon, and has been serving students, artists, and educators since 1983. Home to the first Anagama wood-firing kiln west of the Mississippi, East Creek is also home to a 5,000 sq.ft. art studio with ceramics, wood, metal, and glass capability. The East Creek facility also includes camping space, tiny cabins, an outdoor kitchen, a wood fired pizza oven, and more.
What was the event?
In May 2023, two pre-firing workshops were taught to reach novice queer ceramic artists in the Portland Metro Area. The participants attended a 3-day firing of the Chicken Cat Kiln, supported by experienced wood-fire potters and volunteers. Playing off of the name of the kiln, this event is called “Queer Cat 2023”. Over the weekend, community support and education were at the forefront of programming. For example, at least 10 ceramic artists learned how to load their first shelf in the kiln, one of many decision-making tasks that novice artists are entirely excluded from at wood kilns.
A highlight of the 3 days of programming, the firing weekend included a roundtable discussion about queer spaces in the wood-fire community, co-facilitated by Oregon ceramicists and attended by over 30 participants. The event was a catalyst for discussion on increasing the support for, engagement, and retention of people of marginalized communities in the woodfire space. The discussion was guided by 5 prompts and co-facilitated by 4 Oregon ceramic artists. During the discussion areas were identified to create systems to better support marginalized artists long-term. As a result, the community is forming a committee to synthesize these ideas, present them to leadership and implement them in our community, and seek grant funding to further support access to the wood fire space at East Creek.
For a week we waited patiently to open the kiln, which at peak temperatures reaches 2300°F, as it naturally cools. On Saturday, May 27 we returned to East Creek Art to unload the 60 cubic feet of ceramic art contributed by our participants. The unload was a day of celebration as we finally saw the fruits of our collective labor, reflected on the event, and together imagined a way forward for the wood-fire community.
Why does it matter?
Ceramics has a reputation of being difficult to break into due to the specialized tools and facilities required. Wood-firing is typically even less accessible due to the nationwide scarcity of wood kilns, its incredibly high cost, and its history of being a sexist, male-dominated, and disproportionately white field in Oregon and much of the United States.
Queer Cat 2023 aims to challenge patriarchal norms in Oregon’s thriving wood-fire community by promoting the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ Oregonians at wood kilns. Designating this space for queer Oregon artists means that people who don’t normally get to be in the spotlight in these spaces will be empowered to take on leadership roles and learning opportunities that aren’t typically afforded to many.
Who made it happen?
To align with our vision of accessibility, the workshops and firing are entirely free to all participants thanks to grants from the Regional Arts & Culture Council and Oregon Arts Commission, clay in-kind from Clay Art Center in Tacoma and Georgie’s Ceramic and Clay, and generous donations from our community.
Program coordinators were Alex Slydel and Twig C., with assistance from Arminda Gandara and Aubrey Sloan.
Photo credit: Ty and Chey