Asheville artists Joey Sheehan, Rachel Wilder and I got a grant to build a fire sculpture for the regional Burning Man festival called Transformus. Our vision was to make a larger than life-size figure out of clay, wood fire it from the inside out, and then reveal it glowing hot over 2000 degrees. We would bring the sculpture to the festival unfired and transform it into ceramic in front of everybody. It was a big experiment. A lot of things could go wrong. We had never done anything like it before and we didn't know what to expect.
The experience transformed us.

Below are some pictures I took of our process. There are still some gaps as we wait for missing photos to manifest. A huge thank you to everyone who took pictures and got them to me. If you have any pics of the sculpture please email me at

The drawings we submitted with the grant. The sculpture sits on top of a firebox. The wood goes in the openings in the front.

Drawing of cross section of kiln. The wood goes in the front and then through the sculpture.

Starting the sculpture. Joey operating the weed burner.

Our maquette sitting next to the big sculpture.

The first seam. We built the sculpture in sections so we could lift it. The seam has a flange to keep the section lined up.

View of the back. Rachel working on the hands.

Top of the second section almost done with some perspective.

We built the sculpture with big coils. We put plastic over the seams to keep the clay from sticking to itself.

Rachel operating the weed burner. Bandit looking concerned

The finished head before we drilled the holes.

The crew.

And here's the first big gap. The journey from the studio to the festival was the most intimidating part. We took the sculpture apart in four sections and transported them on thick foam in a caravan of several cars and trucks with two trailers of wood 20 miles to the site. It went pretty smoothly.
The crew assembled in front of the sculpture on the burn field.

The effigy burn the night before. We candled the kiln the day and night with a propane burner to try and purge the moisture out of the clay.

We wrapped the sculpture in high temperature fiber blanket to insulate the heat and help us get it up past 2000 degrees. You can see where some of the moisture exploded part of the chest. Things had been going pretty smooth until the sculpture started cracking and exploding. We were afraid it might fall over at some point, hopefully not on us when we unwrapped it. At this point we were really riding by the seat of our pants.

Wrapping the fiber over the shoulders.

Samurai mummy

The sculpture glowing underneath the fiber.
Many thanks to all the people who were there taking pictures, especially Carter Smith, who took the above photo and some others below

Unwrapping the fiber (thanks Weasel for the photos!!)

The sculpture revealed glowing hot. There was a struggle to remove the fiber. By the time the bottom was uncovered the head had cooled some.

We didnt know what the fire was going to do with the small holes we drilled. Maybe it would flicker upwards? Flames wound up coming out from every hole.
photo: Carter Smith

We weren't sure if fire was going to come out of the pots in the hands at all when we made it. Every time we stoked it flames shot out several feet.

A beautiful shot of the crew with special celebrity appearance by Alex Greenwood who helped tremendously with the transportation and firing. Thanks dudebro!!! photo: Carter Smith

Our friends kept the kiln burning all night.

Personally, it is going to take a while to really process what we saw.

The sculpture in the morning. A combination of moisture exploding in the walls, shrinkage, and thermal shock shattered the sculpture into a million pieces.

The firebox was still over 600 degrees in the morning but we had to start breaking down to leave the festival that afternoon.

The top section removed. It came apart in several pieces.

Taking the next section down in pieces.

The firebricks and sculpture fragments cooling off around the floor of the firebox.

Some of the fragments

The site cleared.
Pack it in, pack it out.
(those aren't our chairs)


*b said...

I just want to tell you all that your sculpture was, without a doubt, the highlight of my burn. It literally took my breath away. And I'm so grateful to you, for creating such a stunning piece of art for our community, and for allowing us -- allowing me -- to experience everything it made me feel. I needed it. I think many of us did.

I think that most of us come to burns to be transformed, in some way ... to use the transformative power of fire as a catalyst for whatever change we want to feel, whatever process within ourselves we want to engage, move through, experience in its fullest expression. I practice anusara yoga, and in our practice we discuss that idea a lot -- the idea that by engaging in the fullest possible expression of a pose, we are using our internal fires to move and transform our bodies and our spirits. One of my teachers tells us often to express a pose so fully that it feels, literally, as if the tops of our heads are on fire. So when I saw your sculpture explode into flame from within herself, pour that flame out as an offering to us all, from her palms, her feet, the top of her head, from every meridian point in her body ... I was watching the act to which I aspire, every day. She sat in perfect peace and allowed the fire inside her to burn out for us, bright and beautiful and breathtaking. She offered it to us, and asked nothing in return. She did what I pray I may do in this world, myself ... become an instrument of grace, and of light. Become an offering to this world, that it may see the light inside me, and by that light better know its own.

Thank you so very, very much for what you gave to us this year. It was priceless. Utterly beautiful, in every way. She was an incarnation, I think. And I'm so grateful to have been able to experience her enormous, glorious light.

Many, many thanks. I very much hope to see you all on the mountain next year -- you and all the vast light you have to give.


Carter said...

this sculpture was beyond beautiful. i was the photographer that was on your side of the caution tape, and would love to share my photos of it with you.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Seeing the sculpture day and night really helped my spiritual connection to the burn, and the gorgeous firing of zie was truly inspiring.

_ Lizifer vonFunshine

Celebration Of Life said...

It was interesting prior to the inferno. While alight it was truly awe inspiring and breathtaking. Thank you for your contribution; to the true essence of what this is all about!

parksquare said...

Being able to revisit this incredible period of an amazing weekend has brought tears to my eyes. Thank you so much for providing the most powerful of moments during the most powerful of weekends. Art has truly returned to transformus.
-tom g

Allison said...

Fantastic, fantastic job. I was one of the die-hards who sat and watched it burn for hours. That beatific smile...

Kurt said...

I agree with everything that has been said already. Communing with your statue and watching her be unwrapped for the community was the apex of what turned out to be a very spiritual, very intimate, very special burn for me. She moved me to tears then, and reliving it tonight has moved me again. Many many thanks to everyone who helped bring this amazing gift to the mountain.

clay tiles said...

Great job!!I love seeing the many combinations on the results.Keep it up!!!

Unknown said...

As the past two years have passed I have thought of your kiln often and with great awe of how it's conception was continued through to reality. It had to be a huge effort to plan, create, transport, and assemble. There are very few pieces of art or events at Transforms that everyone can remember, I believe your kiln is one of those few.
I would love for your group to return to Mysteria and bring yet another piece of pure magic for everyone to remember.

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