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Articles and books about Nina Hole's firesculptures and other sculptures

Nina Hole’s Fire Sculpture in North Carolina
                                                                                                                                           By Judith Duff
An eager crowd has gathered on the campus of Appalachian State University in western North Carolina.  It is just after sunset on September 23, 2006 and they are waiting for Danish ceramic sculptor Nina Hole to unveil her glowing fire sculpture. The twelve foot high sculpture has reached its peak temperature of Over1100 degrees Centigrade following thre days of firing.  Encircled by mountains, Nina Hole pulls off the refractory fabric cover and exposes the glowing form. The crowd, numbering over a thousand, gasps as red-gold flames light up the sculpture from within and illuminate the surroundings. Marc Lancet, professor of art at Solano Community College in California writes of Nina’s work in a catalog essay entitled Sculpting an Experience of Awe: “Hole's medium is not ceramic or even fire. With these sculptures, her medium, her focus and her message is the human experience of awe.” 
               Nina Hole’s residency was sponsored by The Center for Craft Creativity & Design.   She and her assistant, Ann-Charlotte Ohlsson, worked with faculty and students selected from  five area educational institutions, Appalachian State University, UNC Asheville, Western Carolina University, Haywood Community College, and the Penland School of Crafts.  
               In only seventeen days, working with three alternating teams, she and the students built and fired this ceramic structure.Nina says, “I wanted to bring part of Denmark to this place, not a foreign element really, different, but much in common.”
                The Center for Craft Creativity and Design sponsors an international artist residency every three years.  In 2003 the first visiting artist was Welsh wood sculptor David Nash.  Dian Magie, director of CCCD said: “in selecting a second visiting artist, board members sought to replicate the Nash residency with an artist who would mentor students and involve the community – someone internationally recognized and having an unique approach to materials that would stretch both faculty and students involved.”  Nina Hole’s approach of involving the community in creating her fire sculptures made her a perfect fit. 
               Nina visited western North Carolina in November 2005 before starting the sculpture. After assessing locations at all five institutions, she chose a hill site on the Appalachian State University campus.  She also traveled around the area looking at landscape and buildings for images that could be incorporated into her design.  The town of Boone, where Appalachian State is located, nestles in a valley ringed by the blue-grey Appalachian Mountains.  Much of the land nearby remains rural with weathered barns, silos, frame churches, swift creeks and rocky pastures. It was important that the sculpture reflect the scale and architecture of the locale. Hole has observed how few sculptures fit the geography around them and this became a vital goal for her designs.  After returning to Denmark, Nina incorporated these visual images into her sketches and designed the site-specific sculpture. A small scale-model of the sculpture was constructed and architectural drawings made that were taken to the work site as references. The design of the sculpture echoes that of several of the nearby campus buildings.
               The breathtaking fire sculpture called Two Taarn (taarn is the Danish word for tower) is located in front of Wey Hall, Appalachian State University’s Art Department.  It will remain a permanent part of the university’s legacy.
                In addition to the sponsorship of the CCCD, the residency received support from the North Carolina Arts Council, an agency funded by the State of North Carolina and the National Endowment for the Arts, and the American-Scandinavian Foundation.  Appalachian State University has also provided generous support for the project and Highwater Clays of Asheville, N.C. donated 3000 = 3 ton kilograms of clay.
I meet  my husband in Denmark and , he was the one to sugest to studdy in US  .
About the Artist:

               Danish born Nina Hole lives in Skaelskor, Denmark with her husband, an American Arcitect/designer she met  In Denmark before studying at Fredonia State College (now SUNY Fredonia) in New York. Nina began her art career as a painter, but she has been a ceramic artist for the past 35 years.  She explains that when she tried to get into a ceramic school in Denmark as a young student, they told her she was “too immature.”  “They did not like my ideas,” she says.  Therefore she attended a graphic art and painting school.  She loved drawing, which she considers “the most important part of the design for her sculpture” but she longed to work three dimensionally. 
When she began working with clay, the world of ceramic art in Denmark was too structured for Nina’s adventurous spirit. There were rules about what was acceptable in terms of firing and forms. Nina’s passion was to push her work as far as she could and restrictive thinking did not allow sufficient freedom. Excited about experiencing new cultures, she came to America in the 70’s and was amazed at the open-mindedness of the American ceramic scene. She discovered that experimentation with forms and firing methods was encouraged.  In America, she felt she could be more expressive and she sought to challenge herself continually. 
After being in America for 10 years she began to think more about her own country and the deep memories she had for its landscapes and images, especially some of the ancient architecture of her homeplace. She was particularly intrigued by tower structures such as those found on the old churches.  Even the transformers for electricity resembled towers. These architectural structures have led to the imagery in many of her fire sculptures.  
When Nina first started with clay, she worked on small-scale pieces that explored interior and exterior spaces and could be viewed from all angles. She felt more focused when working with clay and she knew she had to learn more about it.
Starting in 1994 Nina began experimenting with new construction techniques and materials made possible by the space program.  An example is the soft high-temperature refractory fabric, which she uses as a “blanket” to envelop the completed sculpture as it is being fired. In effect a “soft kiln” is constructed to surround the piece. Her goal was to be able to travel to different countries to build and fire monumental ceramic sculptures within a short time.  She constantly explored techniques, which might allow her to create larger-scale sculptural pieces.  Eventually she had the idea of incorporating both kiln and sculpture into a single structure by building a firebox beneath as a kind of pedestal and using a “space blanket” to enclose the entire construction and hold in the heat.  
Her first fire sculpture, The House of the Rising Sun, was built on Janet Mansfield’s farm in Gulgong, Australia.  This sculpture was an arch form and contained no baffles to direct the heat so that the temperature did not remain even during the firing.  As with all her sculptures, she learned something new and baffles became a part of future constructions.

While building the fire sculpture in September, Nina was asked if there was any association between her connected towers and the events of September 11, 2001.  “There is no correlation” Nina replied, “ in fact it is the total opposite. I am creating, not destroying. My sculpture is about space, architecture and form.  I joined the two towers to fit the space”.   She is intrigued with how architectural forms offer insights into human interactions.  For instance, she began thinking about the concepts of male and female, the roles they play.  In the past she has created “a tower and a house joined together.”   She explained: “Towers are more male and houses are more female.” 
When asked what she would change in her lifework if she could, she said:  “I would like to be much smarter and braver.  I have dreams of making running sculptures, new forms like walls or hearts, new angles, nothing permanent.”  In other words, her work will never stand still. It will always be pushing the limits and always be inviting us in, inviting us to see the world in a new way.
Nina and her assistant, Ann-Charlotte worked long hours for seventeen days with the tireless teams and faculty. Ann-Charlotte, from Sweden, is active in every part of the building and firing and the two make an energetic and compatible team. When problem solving during the construction, Nina and Ann-Charlotte would often speak each in their own language creating a delightful banter of Danish and Swedish! Throughout the residency Hole was easygoing and soft-spoken.  She worked wonderfully with the students and would take time to examine their work and discuss their inspiration for design and construction.  She invited ideas from students on constructing the sculpture and maintained her good humor throughout.  Each group of students presented a slide show of their work and Nina would offer constructive criticism when asked.  She also involved the students in the naming of the sculpture. They chose to use the Danish word for “tower” and called it “Two Taarn.”  This newest structure is reminiscent of ancient Danish towers as well as modern ones and represents the hope that emerges when two cultures come together to create art.
Nina Hole has taught many workshops throughout the world.  She likes to experience different cultures and the creation of a fire sculpture becomes a community event (she has built them in Hungary, Australia, Portugal, Greece, Taiwan as well as in the U.S. and Denmark).  As was clear in North Carolina, the building and unveiling of the sculpture is as much a performance act as an art form.  Hole loves the performance part of it and how it affects people. The site is transformed into a new environment and a new spatial experience. Audience becomes a part of its flow and it involves them on all levels. 
Marc Lancet sums up Nina’s process: “Slowly and steadily the sculpture takes form. It is a form you have seen before - perhaps in turning the inner stairs of a gothic cathedral's spire, or perhaps moving under the stone arch of an old bridge, or trough a narrow stone passage of a Japanese castle. Nina's forms are reminiscent of ancient, even primordial architecture. The forms feel familiar but you have never seen them like this before.”   Nina’s Fire Sculptures involve form, color, and texture that embody concepts that are intriguing, mystical, and radiate a presence.
Or as poet Paul Valery writes: “To see is to forget the name of the thing one sees.”
Preparation for this event involved many hours of planning by the faculty from the institutions and board members of CCCD. Brick for the firebox, fiber for the kiln, scaffolding, and special clay for the structure were ordered well in advance. Approximately three cords of wood were cut to length and stacked to dry. Participating students were chosen from the different institutions and their working schedules planned. Lodging and meals for the different participants were arranged. The designs that were used for T-shirts, logos, and posters were the results of a collaboration of an Exhibitions Practicum class and a Graphic Design class at ASU. Throughout the semester the class provided feedback and critiques for the designers.  The residency committee reviewed the designs and top choices were emailed to Nina for her to select the one she preferred.  Appalachian State University student Paul Tuorto, who is currently studying in Italy, had the winning design.
Construction began on the 7th of September using the small model and architectural drawings. In preparation for the building of the sculpture, an existing concrete slab at the site was covered with sand. The first row of firebrick, forming the shape of the firebox, had to perfectly match the shape of the sculpture. The height of the firebox was eight layers of brick with four stoking holes incorporated at the base, two on each side.  Two layers of flat slabs of clay covered by slick paper (advertisement brochures) were placed on the top row of bricks. The paper was important because the slick coating contained a high level of kaolin that allowed the clay to move as it dried and shrank.
The sculpture was built with clay slabs 35 cm x 10 cm x 2 cm. The clay was a raku clay formula with a wide firing range. Additions of thirty-five percent grog plus paper fibers were added to the clay body. These additions added strength to the clay and the fibers helped control cracking during drying and firing. We began by trying to extrude these slabs using a special metal template but, because of the fiber additives, it was impossible to extrude these tiles without the sides tearing.  A more effective method was to roll out slabs and cut the tiles by hand. The tiles were formed into the shape of the letter “J” and stacked on a table ready to use. Clay slip and paddles were used to connect the tiles to each other. The tiles were placed in rows, stacked on their sides and connected using a loop system alternating the direction of the “J’s” on each level. This loop system created small windows on the inside and outside of the sculpture that allowed the flame to flow around the sculpture during the firing. The visual aspects of the “windows” were vital to Hole; she wanted them small and lined up in rows. Several times during construction, the building crew made certain that the structure was level and that the walls were vertical. Baffles, made from refractory fiberboard, were installed on the inside walls of the sculpture at various levels. Because this sculpture acts like an updraft kiln, their purpose was to circulate and direct some of the heat and flames down during firing.  
The strength of the clay tiles and the weight that could be supported was amazing and I asked Nina how she developed this method. She remarked, “Oh, it is so simple, and I am surprised that it had not been thought of before!” Looking from the top, down to the base, through the rows of stacked tiles, one could see a series of perfect circles formed by the placement of the tiles that gave the structure strength.
Four to six rows could be added each day depending on the weather and the dampness of the clay. During the building process, wet towels were draped over the upper sections to ensure they did not dry too quickly. Walls were also constructed on the inside of the structure to create fireboxes and to stabilize the outside walls.
Wind, rain, and humidity play a major role in the building schedule. These were critical elements that had to be constantly dealt with to control the drying of the clay, especially with the high humidity found in the mountains of western North Carolina. At night candles were placed in the four fireboxes to slowly dry out the bottom layers of the sculpture, and tarps were wrapped around the structure to keep it dry if rain occurred.  Fortunately, there were only two occasions when rain was a concern.
As the form grew taller, students began standing on bricks and planking and eventually scaffolding to reach the top.  When the walls were completed, the slanted rooftop of the sculpture was begun.  The same technique used on the walls continued, but each layer of slabs was slightly corbelled in. An opening was left at the top of each of the towers.  
During the building Nina took time to experiment with some terra sigillata slip tests that were bisque fired to cone 3.  She was searching for red and white sigillata ( using ball clay and red art clay) whose color would echo the surrounding architecture and the bricks used in the firebox section of the sculpture.

                 After the structure was completed, the workers began to refine the surface in preparation for the terra sigillata to be applied.  This was sprayed on in two layers, first the red and then the white.  The sculpture was ready for firing.
The 4 firebox openings were extended with firebrick to form the channels for stoking areas.  The kiln was wrapped with fiber and wires were used to lace the fiber together in tiers all the way to the top.  Openings were left at the top for flames to escape.  Ends of some of the wires were covered with wads of clay making them visible and easy to cut to remove the fiber from the structure at the unveiling. To keep the fiber blanket from touching the sculpture, twelve-inch nails protruded from some of the windows and perforated angle irons were placed in the ground at the corners of the structure. Those working with the fiber wore protective clothing and respirators.
When the kiln around the sculpture was completed, the scaffolding was removed and the firing began.  The temperature was monitored by two digital pyrometers inserted half way up the sculpture walls on opposite sides. The firing began using one firebox at a time.  Eventually, all four fireboxes were burning. For the first six hours the temperature was kept to 75degrees C allowing the sculpture to slowly dry. Stokers worked around the clock in shifts for three days, gradually increasing the temperature every six hours. Approximately three cords of wood were consumed. By the third day, you could see the interior heat through the fiber blanket.  At dusk on the 23rd over a thousand people gathered to witness the magnificent unveiling.  The wires securing the fiber kiln were cut and the glowing fiber was pulled away to reveal the fiery sculpture. 
The circle of students and participants (those that worked on the project wearing Nina Hole commemorative t-shirts) baptized the sculpture by throwing sawdust onto its glowing surface creating spectacular fireworks display. With this ceremonial initiation, the terra sigilatta surface was pigmented by the sawdust and created a flame painting. The public was enchanted with the flashes of combustion on the surface of the sculpture. 
Nina was thrilled with the form, color, and surface and considers it her best sculpture to date.  It was another stunning drama for Nina Hole, another moment of bringing people alive to the architecture and landscape around them.
The day after the firing, the area was cleaned up and the fiber removed along with all the tools and equipment. A rainstorm obligingly finished the surface cleaning of the sculpture, a creation that remains a testament to the power of art to alert us, help us become aware of things we had never noticed, though perhaps we knew somehow they were there all along.


The Center for Craft Creativity and Design is a regional center of the University of North Carolina.  The mission of the regional CCCD is to support and advance craft, creativity and design in education and research and, through community collaborations, to demonstrate ways that craft and design provide creative solutions for community issues.


In conjunction with the residency of Nina Hole, western North Carolina ceramic artist Judith Duff curated an exhibition called “Architectural Echoes in Clay”.  This exhibition of architecturally inspired, wood fired vessels was on display in two western North Carolina venues – the Center for Craft, Creativity and Design in Hendersonville, NC and at the Appalachian State University Katherine Smith Gallery in Boone, NC.  Included were works of thirteen internationally recognized potters from the U.S. and Canada. This exhibition also included Hole’s smaller, more intimate wood fired sculptures.