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Special Spotlight Insert

UNM-Valencia instructor fires up art students
Ancient Hikidashi style explored

By Chad Perry

Ceschiat displays several of his hikidashi pieces. Photos by Chad Perry.In Japan, Michael Ceschiat wrapped wet towels around his face before pulling pots and ceramic pieces from the kiln. At UNM-Valencia, he wears a welding helmet and fireman’s suit. Even with that, the heat from a hikidashi firing (2200+ 0 F) is extreme.

Ceschiat, who received his MFA at UNM, has been exploring new methods and uses of a 16th Century Japanese kiln firing technique, hikidashi, for the past few years. He spent several years in Japan — and keeps returning — to further explore this old technique. He is one of an elite group of artists using it.

Ceschiat dons welding helmet and fireman's suit to withstand heat from a hikidashi firing kiln.“In Japan they like to take an old technique, revitalize it and make it new,” he said. He and a few friends learned the technique from a Japanese master and have been exploring its intricacies since.
Ceschiat said he keeps in constant touch, via the Internet, with his friends who are still in Japan.

Douglas Black, whom Ceschiat met as an undergraduate at the Columbus College of Art and Design, and Aaron Scythe, from New Zealand, are currently the only artists traveling to Japan to explore hikidashi.

“Our styles are so completely different and yet you can see the connection in our pieces,” Ceschiat said.

Ceschiat believes he, and a few of his students at UNM-Valencia, are the only artists working with hikidashi in the United States.

Hikidashi means “to open drawer and remove.” In 16th Century Japanese Mino kilns, the artist used to place tea bowls near the spy holes of the kilns. The bowls would be plucked out at the height of the firing to gauge if the kiln had reached the mature temperature. Hikidashi is a rapid firing process, a cone 9 (roughly 23700 F), that is followed by a rapid cooling of the ware by air or by submersion in water or rice husks.

The beauty in this glazing process is demarcations that occur because of rapid, intense heat followed by the quick cooling. The firing process can be as much as 400 degrees higher than other processes.

A full-time artist, Ceschiat is a part-time instructor at UNM-Valencia, where he has taught since graduating from UNM in 1996.

He has shown his work extensively throughout the Southwest, and has had two solo exhibits in Japan — his latest last summer.

Ceschiat and his friends are convinced that their approaches to hikidashi are innovative in the ceramics world.

“The Japanese talk of finding the imperfection within the perfection — when that happens, you have created art.”

— Michael Ceschiat

“In ceramics, it is important to merge both concept and technique,” Ceschiat explained. “It takes something like hikidashi to achieve that.”

Because of hikidashi, and some hard-working students, Ceschiat is sure that the ceramics program at UNM-Valencia will soon be known for this innovative technique and a connection to Japan.