Artist Spotlight: Chris Pate

About Chris Pate

Chris Pate was born in central Louisiana, and graduated from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 2009 with a Bachelors of Science in Psychology and Anthropology, as well as an introduction to the ceramic arts. In 2010 he relocated to Portland, Oregon and continued his investigations into clay, firing techniques, and kiln design. In 2012, Pate began wood-firing his work, and has since been the main mode of finishing his ceramic art. After working with many various clay communities and firing dozens of wood fired kilns around the country he moved back to Louisiana summer of 2021. Currently, Pate is working as the Technical Director of Byrdies’ Pottery in the Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans, has designed and built a large Anagama style wood-fired kiln with a strong, budding firing community in Husser, La, and has been working to build community in New Orleans and regionally by sharing his knowledge and experience with atmospheric fired ceramics.

Artist Interview

What do you like about working in Louisiana?
There are many reasons why I like working in Louisiana. For starters, it’s where I was born, raised, and where I was first taught techniques of working in the ceramic arts. Soon after I graduated from UL Lafayette in 2009 I traveled the country and landed in Oregon where I lived and worked for 12 years. There I was introduced to the art of wood fired ceramics, and shown the many ways that community can achieve more than one could ever do alone. Fully inspired, when I returned to Louisiana in 2021 I was eager to get connected with clay community in New Orleans, and to lend my experience in whatever ways were beneficial. The past two years I’ve been honored to work with Lauren Rouatt, Managing Director of Byrdie’s Pottery in the Marigny, to help facilitate a big transition for the community as their Technical Director. Together, Lauren and I re-envisioned Byrdie’s non-profit Board of Directors to create a leadership team that’s exemplary of the diversity of the Marigny Neighborhood, and together with the Board of Directors we began to visualize an upgraded mission for the studio. At the same time, physically, there was the big transition of moving the community studio from its 2nd location on the corner of St. Claude and St. Roch to its new and upgraded home on the corner of St. Roch and Rampart. After an intense buildout from scratch, Byrdie’s Pottery is now fully operational, hosting classes for all skill levels and age groups as well housing the personal/shared studio space of 30 local artists. Being a part of the growth of this community has felt very much in alignment with my personal intentions for working and sharing in Louisiana.

Another project which was completed at the end of 2022 was the building of the “Pots-A-Lot-agama”. I was very excited to have the opportunity to work with Alex and Cindy Williams of New Orleans Pottery Shop, Pots-A-Lot Pottery on Magazine Street to lead the designing and building of their large “Anagama” style wood burning kiln on the north shore near the community of Husser, Louisiana. This was another project that felt totally in alignment with why I wanted to come back to work in Louisiana. My unique experiences over the past decade allowed me to contribute to the building of this kiln and community which has the potential to be in operation for many decades to come.

Can you describe the wood firing process and give us a little info about the kiln and the community that built it?
The wood-fired ceramic process is an ancient, dynamic community practice that creates completely unique surfaces on the clay objects fired. The style of wood-firing that we practice in Husser, La at the “Pots-A-Lot-agama” kiln is of a lineage that originated in China, Korea, and Japan over 2,000 years ago.

Imagine, it wasn’t very long ago, relatively, that humans harnessed the power of fossil fuels and electricity. Prior to these innovations the firing of ceramic was done predominately with wood for over 20,000 years. The wood served as a fuel source to heat the raw clay up and turn it into hard ceramic. Cultures in the far East of Asia discovered that if the fire becomes hot enough the wood ash would stick to the glowing hot ceramic wares, melt and form a glassy glaze without the need of applying glass forming materials before the firing. This decorative process is due to the fact that wood ash is predominately made up of the minerals that the tree took in from the ground over the course of its life, and most of those minerals are considered a “flux” which means that they have relatively low melting temperatures. When the wood ash begins to melt on the surface of the clay it also melts the Silica that is present in the clay body. This interface of wood ash, silica, and heat is what creates glass on the surface of the ceramics. Prior to and throughout the formation of glass during the firing, the ceramic surfaces are colored and decorated with carbon, wood ash, and oxygen. The addition of carbon can create darker color pallets of blue, gray, green, and black which we call “carbon-trapping”. While allowing oxygen to enter the ware chamber can “scrub” away carbon creating brighter colors of orange, reds, caramels, and whites all dependent on the minerals present in the clay bodies themselves. With each stoke of wood in the kiln we are adding carbon and wood ash. Towards the end of every stoking cycle (5-15 minutes generally) we can allow the kiln to clear of smoke, which then allows the oxygen and heat to burn away carbon from the ceramic surfaces. In this way we are working additively and subtractively with every addition of wood over the course of the 5 days and 5 nights of continuously stoking the kiln.

Every aspect of the wood-fired ceramic process necessitates community collaboration. In the case of our community endeavor in Husser, La there was the massive undertaking of collecting fire bricks and other materials (which took Alex, Cindy, and friends over 20 years), the designing and building of the 20 foot long by 6 foot tall by 6 foot wide kiln (which took over 1 year to complete), splitting and stacking upwards to 10 cords of wood per firing, the making of enough ceramic art to fill the kiln (over 1,000 pieces!), the meticulously thoughtful loading of the kiln with ceramic objects, and then around the clock strategic stoking the fire with wood for 5 days and nights to achieve our collective goals of temperature and atmosphere for the firing. Once our goals have been reached we allow the kiln to cool for 2 weeks, and then we will have an unloading celebration in which the broader community will be invited to attend. After the kiln is unloaded the crew will then clean and grind the kiln and other tools to prepare for the next firing. So far, in this community’s budding stages we have had up to around 25 artists, mostly from south Louisiana participating in all aspects of the firing process. We hope and anticipate that this community will continue to grow so that more artists can learn and share in this ancient, yet contemporarily relevant creative pursuit. In sharing the work of this massive endeavor we are able to accomplish goals that would not be possible by one artist alone. Together we share in the work and results, the problems and the problem solving, the exhaustion and lack of sleep, and we share in the cooking and eating of community meals, stories, individual and collective experiences, all of which foster growth and connection in our practice and lives.

How do you define the word “craft” and what does it mean to you?
As a student of Anthropology in my undergraduate days I came to think of craft as a byproduct of problem solving. The creation of objects, tools, and concepts which all came from some need or problem to be solved. Mostly, I’ve found craft to be a human manifestation, but that’s not entirely true in my opinion. Do other primates not use tools? Would you say that ants, bees, wasps, spiders, birds, and many other creatures do not “craft” their homes and utilize their instinctive creativity to solve existential problems? In this way I came to understand that art is not innately a part of human culture alone. Many other creatures create art. My definition of Craft is simply the process of creating Art, and who is to say what art is and what it is not? It is in the eyes and mind of the beholder.

How can people learn more about wood firing or your work?
There are many ways to learn more about the wood firing process in ceramics. The internet is a wealth of information on the subject. From watching videos on YouTube, to viewing pottery on Etsy or personal artists’ websites there’s a lot to learn on the subject and how it varies regionally and culturally. One of my favorite books on the subject was written by Marc Lancet and Masakazu Kusakabe, entitled “Japanese Wood-Fired Ceramics”. In this detailed book the authors cover various kiln designs, surface effects, and processes for achieving said effects. There are beautiful photographs, illustrations, and diagrams that tell a multitude of stories relating to the wood fired process. Though, the best way to develop an understanding of the process is to attend a firing. The loading, Firing, and unloading are processes rich with experience, intent, the joys of success, and the learning curve of failures. If you or someone you know would like to get involved as a participant or patron of this community endeavor, feel free to contact me, Chris Pate at or kiln owner Alex Williams at to schedule a time to come visit. You can also follow me on Instagram to follow along with my wood firing adventures @Pate2Earth or visit my website

Shop Work by Chris Pate