Ulla Kraitz

San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts Catalog

Accession no: 2001.8 A-B Type of work: Ceramic
Artist/creator: Ulla Kraitz
Born: 1936

Artist biography: Ulla Kraitz was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1936. She attended the University College of Arts, Crafts, and Design in Stockholm. Ulla and her husband Gustav Kraitz maintain a studio in Hallandsåsen in Sweden. The two artists work both collaboratively and individually. Their work centers around natural forms that might either be geometric or figural in nature. The Kraitz’ fire their works in a kiln they have built themselves based on an ancient Chinese model. Ulla Kraitz artworks, both individual and collaborative, are included in a number of pubic and private collections, including the Museum of Ceramics in Westerwald, Germany, The National Museum of Fine Arts in Stockholm, and the National Museum in Budapest, Hungary

Title of work: Red Apple
Date of item: 2000
Dimensions: 19” h x 17” diameter (48.26 x 43.18 cm); Base 19 ¾” square x 1 ½” deep (50.165 x 3.81 cm)

Description: Ceramic sculpture of a large red apple (looks like red delicious) that sits on a separate black granite base.
Material: stoneware
Medium: ceramic
Country of origin: Sweden

Statement from Gustav Kraitz (Regarding the Couple’s Artistic Process): We – a painter and a sculptor – sought a material for our mutual creativity. We chose ceramics – ceramics with Chinese glazing. Perhaps that decision was made the time we saw a small medallion with fish in Nils Palmgrens book “Sung Sherds.” They were glazed with a thick magnificent celadon glaze. Sculpture and glazing had an interplay we had never seen before. The year was 1963. People often ask why we fire in this primitive way when there is modern technical equipment (gas-, oil- or electric kilns). The answer is simple. There is no method that produces the same beauty in the glaze as when using a large flamekiln. For thirty years we have had and tried all the possible types of kilns, and we have chosen perhaps the most difficult one – but the one which gives the best result. The kiln has approximately 280 cubic feet of usable space. This does not mean, however, that we produce that much finished material after every firing. About 20% of the result meets with our approval; we re-fire the rest two, three and even four times. After re-firing the results can be better, but they can even be completely destroyed. The degree of difficulty increases with re-firing. When a stoneware piece, which can weigh up to 220 lbs. Is heated to temperatures of 2375 degrees Fahrenheit during re-firing, it is subjected to great stress, and can crack, or in the worst case fall apart. Working with ceramics demands that you work out a system which you never abandon. Firing large-scale sculptures is something completely different from firing potter’s wheel pieces which have their given laws of physics. If you follow these rules you can, with practice, achieve an almost 100% success rate. If you fire sculptures it becomes a constantly exciting adventure. As long as you can analyze the mistakes, which occur time after time, you can go on. The possibilities are endless. We fire with wood and coal. First the kiln is prepared for  receiving the pieces to be fired. It should be approximately 140 – 175 degrees Fahrenheit when placing in the sculptures. (The Chinese had a small fire in the kiln to keep it dry). We preheat with bottled gas. When the kiln is filled with pieces and sealed, it is further heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit during the next 48 hours or so. Then the kiln is completely heated, including the air-draft system. Then we burn wood. This period of the firing is just as difficult each time. It is easy to raise the temperature up to 930 degrees Fahrenheit with three stoking holes. That can be done in a halfhour. But if the temperature rises more than 125-145 degrees an hour, the larger objects will crack. At about 1300 degrees Fahrenheit you change over to coal, where the calorie content should be 6000-7000 and the slag melting point below 2335 degrees Fahrenheit.

Why do you fire with coal, and not with wood in this phase?
It could even be done using wood, but it would require an enormous amount of work, and would not be suitable for only two people, which is our case. The discharge of hazardous material is minimal since almost everything unsafe is burned up in the kiln at these necessarily high temperatures.

Some examples: a dark cobalt-blue glaze is never ready after one firing. It has to be fired at least three times. Or consider the fact that the Sung-type of celadon glazes that we use are feldspar glazes which become lusterless at lower temperatures, but result in a lustrous surface at higher temperatures. These glazes are completely without pigment additives, but when re-firing in a reduction atmosphere, they take on a light green color from the iron which is naturally present in the clay. We use different kinds of wood when we fire. The best result is achieved using wood from apple tress or pear trees. The ashes which fly into the kiln with the flames can create the most beautiful green celadon glazes.

If you burn alder, everything in the kiln will become butter-yellow. The variation in colors also depends upon how much one pokes around in the core of the fire during the firing.

If you stir the fire, a larger amount of sparks fly into the kiln. You can even cover the pieces in such a way so that the ashes only reach a portion of the surfaces. You yourself have to test and develop your glazes. One single basic glaze can provide a great many variations by firing with different sorts of fuels. The glazes which work well in my kiln perhaps would not work well at all in a different one.

Each kiln is like an individual and requires its special handling. You could think that since there is such a great amount of research in Chinese ceramics, there would also be usable technical descriptions concerning production techniques and kilns. What doesexist are picture books based on original Chinese paintings, but here the authors have actually only stated what the reader can already guess. One example of the adventure: In the mid-1970s, I placed a large bowl far down in my kiln. The piece was so physically incorporated into the holding rack that I could not take it out until after four firings. But, when I finally took everything out, I discovered a shimmering green celadon bowl in a nuance I had never beheld earlier. It was a masterpiece of the finest Chinese Sung. I can admit it was a pure case of serendipity. Then I tried to repeat the process. I put in four pieces of the same type and with the same
glaze. I fired once, twice, three times and was close to success. I proceeded with the fourth firing. I was extremely eager to see if I had succeeded. The kiln was opened. All four pieces had been destroyed. The weather had been foggy during the firing. (That time I had not preheated the kiln.) There was quite simply no circulation, and all the smoke from the coal settled on my already lovely green bowl. Everything was brown. For many years after that I did not try to repeat the experiment. In total, I have fired about 350 times, and I was not successful again until 1992. You can experience joy in many ways. As far as I am concerned nothing can compare with the joy you feel when firing in the spring when the beech tree buds burst open. After a long firing you become tired. But, then at about 3 o’clock in the morning when the blackbirds begin their morning song in the clear air, and nature suddenly awakes, I sit myself down in the old easy chair by the kiln which is breathing heavily and rhythmically, and listen to the birds’ fantastic concert. Slowly it grows lighter in the beech forest which suddenly begins to be tinged with green. Spring has truly come. I conclude the firing.

The whole experience is like a liturgical happening. I know that the firing has gone well, but I will have to wait a week to see the results. I meet with a feeling of joy which not too many people are privileged to experience. Working in this way you experience creativity totally. That I believe is art.

Condition: Good from Condition Report, March 17, 2005
Conservation future: None required; from Acceptance Authorization, September 20, 2001

Provenance: Donated to SAMFA by the artist on September 4, 2001
Donor information: Gustav and Ulla Kraitz
History of object: Donated by artist to SAMFA. Accepted by SAMFA, September 20, 2001.

Exhibitions: “The Work of Swedish Artists Ulla and Gustav Kraitz” at the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts, October 17, 2000 through August 31, 2001
Restrictions: None

Cataloger name: Karen Zimmerly
August 8, 2005
Sources used: Museum file