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Michael Flaherty harnesses the sun for his pottery

Michael Flaherty.
Michael Flaherty.

Michael Flaherty of the Clarenville/Shoal Harbour area has built a solar-powered kiln to create tiny pieces of pottery and sculptures of various planets.

One of the planets - this is an asteroid type as you can tell by the colour and the craters.

“Because I’m using the energy from a star as the energy source, I thought it was appropriate to make planets,” Flaherty said during a phone interview on Aug. 8.
The planets he’s creating come in a variety of themes, he said.
“Some of them are gas giant planets so they have swirl-looking glazes on them that look like Jupiter. Some of them are asteroids so they have little craters all over their surface. And some of them are more earth-like and have buildings or technology on their surface to make them look like they are inhabited.”
The kiln uses a mirror – which he also made himself from clay and ceramic glazes - to focus light, he said.
“(The mirror) is made on a pottery wheel just like you’d make a dish or a plate. It has a very specific curve that focuses the light. And the surface is glazed with a shiny gold lustre glaze,” Flaherty said.
The mirror is mounted and pointed at the sun and reflects all the light to one point, he said.
The piece of pottery or sculpture is placed at the focal point of the kiln, he said.
“The sun moves across the sky about 15 degrees per hour. So I have to slowly rotate the kiln to follow the sun... the temperature gets up to about 800 degrees Celsius.”

A small vase inside the heat-retaining chamber of the solar-powered kiln.

Flaherty has a Diploma in Visual Arts from the College of the North Atlantic in Stephenville, a bachelor of fine arts from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) and a master’s of fine arts from the University of Regina.
He taught ceramics and sculpture at the University of Regina before moving back to this province in 2014.
He lives in Catalina where he operates a pottery studio – Wild Cove Ceramics.
Flaherty has also made a wood-burning kiln. He spends a lot of time outdoors - digging clay, cutting wood and collecting glaze materials for use in his studio.
“I make and sell pottery that’s functional and can be used every day... cups and bowls and teapots and mugs,” he said.

Another planet, a detail shot of one of the sculptures from the Burlington, Ontario show. This planet has artificial structures on it.

Flaherty said making the kiln is a project he had on the back burner for a long time.
“I was motivated to complete (the kiln) by the fact that it’s going to be in big art exhibition that’s going to be happening here (the Bonavista Biennale).”
The Bonavista Biennale is a national exhibition of contemporary Canadian art.
Flaherty’s work, as part of the exhibition, will be displayed at the old Union Electric Building in Port Union. The exhibit runs until Sept. 17.
His work will also be on exhibit at the Canadian Craft Biennale at the Art Gallery of Burlington in Ontario. The Biennale runs from Aug. 19-Oct. 29.
Flaherty is currently working on making a bigger solar-powered kiln that can fire larger sculptures and reach hotter temperatures.
It’s a complicated project, he said.
“Instead of one mirror there will be seven big mirrors... there are a lot of technical hurdles to get over.”
Flaherty is excited about the current movement on the Bonavista Peninsula to welcome creative entrepreneurs.
“It’s a good community here right now... to be an artist you have to be involved in a discussion with other artists to stay current. And it’s amazing that the Bonavista Biennale will be bringing all these people to this out-of-the-way place,” he said.

Four Arts-related Events happening on the Bonavista Peninsula this month
•    Bonavista Biennale - A national exhibition of contemporary Canadian art by artists from across the country. Opening day was Aug. 19, with multiple events taking place and most artists in attendance. Taking place at various locations across the peninsula, often within architectural or historically significant sites.
•    Cultural Craft Festival – Aug. 26 and 27 on Main Street in Port Union. More than 25 craft vendors, traditional and contemporary food, beer by Port Rexton Brewing, live music by Matthew Hornell. Also, live craft demonstrations including: wood-fired pottery, glass blowing, sealskin apparel, home brewing, and the construction of a traditional Newfoundland dory by the Wooden Boat Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador.
•    “Narrative Structure” at 2 Rooms Contemporary Art Projects in Duntara, an exhibition by Angela Shackel and Braden Labonte. Narrative Structure is a sound installation using specially commissioned narratives in a purpose-built skeletal fishing hut. Ongoing through August.
•    “Grass in the Sky” Pepa Chan, Kailey Bryan & Mimi Stockland a pop-up exhibition by Pepa Chan, Mimi Stockland, and Kailey Bryan in Port Union. “Grass in the Sky explores the hardships of domestic relationships, as well as narratives of abandonment, loss, and resettlement in rural Newfoundland.” Aug. 17 to Sept. 17.

A functional mug fired in Flaherty’s wood-burning kiln

Source: Michael Flaherty Facebook Page

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