This past winter I decided to harvest my own clay from the land. I did this last year in the same place, a small corner of bliss in the southwest part of France. This year would be a bit different as I would dig my own pit to fire the works. This process requires a lot of hard work and patience, however I love that it reconnected me to fundamental reasons why I am so in love with the material of clay.

Taking the earth and incorporating it into my work has allowed me to form a more visceral and poignant connection to the land. It’s been such an incredible journey discovering the roots of this remarkable material. The direct contact with the raw clay reminds you of it’s origin. The time spent taking on this process seems minuscule and arbitrary compared to the journey that has spanned millions of years for it to become clay.   

In total, I created seven vessels. I also decided to alter them in the end and subsequently developed a new style. These vases are blank canvases, not only because of what might happen in the pit but also with the decisions I made to make them more sculptural works of art. There is so much unexpected to grapple with - will it break? will the effects be as intended? will any of this actually work? - having more work to try the process out with made more sense and since I was addicted to the studio, I got prolific. From digging the pit to gathering combustibles and dried flowers and leaves — to acquiring a lot of sawdust, ultimately the essence of fire is what brings it together.


I love thinking about how clay is formed from molten lava cooling, forming stone as it cools. Years of amalgamation and erosion of these stones create clay, and now here I am returning it to its original state (well sort of). I’ve never dug my own pit to fire my work in and man was it tough (I had help 😉). We had such a gorgeous two days to do this, preparing for the fire and then ultimately the celebration of the fire, which did not cool for more than a couple of days. Patience was the hardest thing to conquer as I didn’t want to open the pit too early running the risk of breaking the works. Firing raw wild clay in a pit is very risky and normally results in a lot of breakage. Most of the time pit fired works are fired in an electric kiln first, but I tried it anyway. We had a lovely celebration with our friends in France between a setting sun and a rising moon. It was a beautiful way to commemorate this experience and celebrate that I even got this far.

As with any art you make, it can take a while to like it, especially when the process is left to the fate of a fire. At first, I wasn’t sure if I approved of my results and my inner critic stepped in. But over time I have grown fond of the uniform coloring of the more structural vases. I didn’t get your typical results that a pit firing would normally result in, but then again, I did it with unfired clay from the earth, so of course the outcome would vary. I’m happy enough that everything survived and I’m proud I even got to this point in the process.

This is the second time I have conducted this experiment in France. I leave my work with the people who so graciously host us and who have supported the project since day 1. This ultimately has connected me more to a place I love and people who have made the place so special for me over the past year. I also could not have done any of it without the help of my partner, @robin_lochmann who helped me immensely.

© Keegan Luttrell 2023