This week, preparations for the Fire & Clay Night are under way with the loading of the big old wood kiln at the Waiohiki Creative Arts Village. Literally, hundreds of pieces of bisqued clay work made by local artists and sculptors are being strategically placed on the stacked up shelves in preparation for lighting of the wood fire.

Once lit, the firing team will work day and night, feeding the beast with wood until it reaches its top temperature, usually close to 1400deg Celsius, before it is left to cool over the following week. It is opened during Labour Weekend (24-25 October) and displayed on Lazy Monday with the peak of excitement on Fire & Clay Night itself – Sunday October 18 after 6pm. Do check the Festival programme to remind yourselves of the details, timings and stages of the events going on there.

Over this two week period, members of the public are encouraged to visit because so much is going on day to day. The planning has included new and curious activities over and above those of past years – beside the annual wood firing are the raku firings, pit firing, open studios, sculpture garden, drumming and live singing. So put it into your Festival plans.

There are two completely new events occurring this week (12-16 October) – the building of an earthen, or cobb wall, with workshops led by Henery Mackeson and the painting of a mural reflecting the local history of Waiohiki.

Mackerson, who’s down from Coromandel Town, leads workshops to give 20 or so workshop attendees a hands-on experience in the ‘how to’ of making mud bricks from local materials and building the cobb wall in a process that he calls ‘Erfworks’.

For the past 40 years Henery has been teaching people how to build their own homes, walls and pizza ovens out of clay. He says, “If it doesn’t cost a lot less than a normal build then something is very wrong!” That’s because most of the materials are natural waste products being given away and because you can do it yourself with a little help from your friends. Materials include a proportion of clay, mixed with fibre (can be anything from discarded coffee sacks to flax or paper pulp) and cement, and a lot of hours of work.

Local artist JR is mural-painting the wall of the former dairy factory with cultural memories evoking life here and about Waiohiki in pre-European times. The hills up behind SH50 provided the strategic setting for one of the largest Maori pa settlements of those times, known as Otatara, and it supported the thousands of people living there. JR was chosen to paint the mural by the Trustees of the Waiohiki Village Arts and Community Trust. His brief has been to consult with iwi members still living in and around the Waiohiki district about what they want the mural to evoke.

As a youngish pakeha (JR is 30 years old) with few Maori connections, he says it has been a truly valuable learning experience to learn about this local history, to hear how tangata whenua lived then and the scale of the pa settlement that was Otatara. He reserves his special thanks for the stories and memories told by resident sculptor Hugh Tareha, who he describes as ‘an encyclopedia of knowledge’. Rain this week is making the painting a stop-start process, but he will continue between the showers until it is completed.

The mural-painting and clay wall-building add to the interest for drop-in visitors, along with the other fascinating activities taking place during this two-week period.

Lead photo: Waiohiki kiln
2nd photo: Henery Mackeson demonstrates clay wall building at Waiohiki village this week.

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