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Fired Up

Above: Associate professor of art Luke Sheets, right, participates in the firing of a ceramic fire sculpture.

Art professor spends summer learning new craft in Denmark 

Although the majority of Ohio Northern University professors weren’t in the classroom during the summer, many found ways to help advance their own knowledge and, as a result, enrich the way they educate their students.

Associate professor of art Luke Sheets did just that through a rare opportunity to join a team that created a ceramic fire sculpture in Denmark. While working as an artist-in-residence at Guldagergaard International Ceramic Research Center over summer 2018, he was asked to bring to life a design by Sten Lykke Madsen, an 81-year-old internationally acclaimed sculptor and artist from Denmark, by helping create a new sculpture for the facility’s sculpture garden. It was his first experience with building, drying and firing a ceramic piece of such a large size in such a short timeframe.

This wasn’t your average sculpture. It took five intense days of preparation and painstaking work to bring the 13-foot, 1,100-pound work of art to life. It was actually fired in place, a process that required 17 straight hours of stoking a wood fire in a special kiln to bring the final temperature to more than 2,370 degrees Fahrenheit.

The highlight of the fire sculpture experience was when the kiln is opened at top temperature to reveal the glowing sculpture,” Sheets says. “During this opening, we threw glaze material and sawdust onto the still red-hot sculpture to give it the desired finish.

During his time in Denmark this summer, Sheets worked with professional artists from the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Norway, Spain, Denmark, Germany, Estonia and the United States. 

Throughout the experience, one of his primary motivators was gaining a unique skill set and expertise that he could subsequently pass on to his students back in Ada, Ohio.

"As a resident artist, I was able to expand my understanding of low- to mid-temperature glazes and how they respond to the wood kiln – an area of interest to me and part of my recent research,” he says. “For several years, I have toyed with the idea of a student project involving either a ‘fire sculpture’ or some other temporary kiln/performance piece. Having this experience allows me to understand all that is necessary should we decide to attempt this as part of a larger class project."