- Associated Press - Monday, April 11, 2016

BEACH, N.D. (AP) - When you follow a dream, you never know where it will take you.

But Tama Smith, owner of Prairie Fire Pottery, always knew her dream would eventually lead her back home, the Williston Herald (https://bit.ly/1qsHVfs ) reported.

A native of Bismarck, Smith began her craft nearly 30 years ago. But she wasn’t always a potter. First, she worked in advertising. “No one encourages you to be an artist,” Smith said.

She had thought it would be a good way to stay creative and earn a living. But unsatisfied with life in advertising, she took a leap - big leap. Smith decided to continue her education in 1989 by doing graduate work at Michigan State University and eventually set up a studio in downtown Detroit.

The years to come were filled with art fairs and perfecting her craft. There was only one thing left undone for Smith. She wanted to come home.

“I knew I always wanted to come back to North Dakota,” Smith said. “I knew eventually I would come back because North Dakota is home.”


The specialty that she brought back with her to Beach, North Dakota, is high fire pottery. High fire pottery is the method of using high heat to create a durable and lasting product. “High fire is the stoneware, porcelain range,” Smith said. “Where earthen-ware is more of a low fire. The higher you fire clay the more sturdy and rocklike, and dense it gets. The higher you fire clay the more durable it gets. At 2,400 degrees it is vitrified, as opposed to porous. It will hold water even if it isn’t glazed.”

Achieving the extreme heat is no easy task. A two-inch gas line blows flame into the massive kiln. Unlike smaller electrical kilns, the type generally used in schools and art classes, this kiln requires special zoning. It also differs from its electric counterpart by allowing the artist control the flow of oxygen.

The careful dance between heat and oxygen is one that Smith negotiates with skill and grace. Too much oxygen can cause coloration issues with the potter, and too little oxygen will starve the flame needed to produce the pottery.


The glazes Smith uses are made by her own hand and literally come from the ground up. She starts with ground rocks which make a very fine powder. Smith then mixes the different rock materials with water and applies it to the pottery.

At 1,800 degrees she will begin to starve her kiln of oxygen to begin the process of bringing out the vibrant and deep reds.

“I use copper to get the reds in high fire,” Smith said. “If you wear a copper bracelet on your skin, it will turn your skin green. Because copper in an oxygen rich atmosphere will turn green. But in an oxygen-reduced atmosphere it will be red.”


Twenty-one years ago, Smith and her husband began renovating a large building built in 1909 to function as a studio in Beach, North Dakota. Formerly a hardware store, grocery store, and even a church, it now serves the purpose of housing her workspace and high fire kiln. She brought her sense of frugality, which was also honed in Detroit, and found her current space affordable as well as structurally comparable. “As an artist, since you don’t have a steady paycheck, you have to be more creative in your living situation,” Smith said. “These big, old buildings, they were built to last.”

The kitchen area of the former church is now where she makes her own glazes.

Because she has a studio, and a showroom, it isn’t often that Smith will do a gallery showing. But she has made an exception. Her work can be viewed at the MonDak Hertiage Center in Sidney, Montana, until April 30.

“For this show I’ve been developing some new glazes,” Smith said. “I’ll also have some sculptural pieces, like garden pieces. There kind of like garden totems. They’re ornamental but they’re stacked up and two-and a-half feet to five feet tall. I’ll have 5 of those set up. I have some larges vases that will be there as well as some functional pottery like bowls and plates.”


Information from: Williston Herald, https://www.willistonherald.com

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