Tama Smith has worked as a professional potter since graduating from the University of North Dakota with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1988. When at UND she worked closely with Japanese ceramist Kesuki Ueno who strongly influenced her in the development of high-fire glazes and Cone 10 reduction kiln firing techniques. Smith then continued her ceramics studies with post-graduate work at Michigan State University.
While in Michigan she went into business as Tama Pottery. By the mid-1990’s, her work was being exhibited at major wholesale markets in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Seattle. Her pottery was featured in national mail order catalogs and carried in the gift shops of the Whitney Museum of Art, Field Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian National Museum, Disney World, Yellowstone National Park, and other venues.
In 1995 she and her husband, Jerry DeMartin, relocated their business to Beach, North Dakota where it was renamed, Prairie Fire Pottery. Today this small town pottery shop on the Montana border is a popular stop with tourists traveling across the western High Plains.
Smith's work is prized by collectors and pottery enthusiasts for its vivid and complex colors. These glaze colors are produced from original recipes, each made from scratch. She uses a variety of production techniques including wheel-throwing, hand building, extruding, and pressing. Glazes are applied with a variety of ladles and small squirt bottles. She works primarily in stoneware clay.
Smith describes herself as a “fire potter” which is to say that -- for her -- the real fun begins when she eases open the gas value, dials in just the right amount of air, then touches an open flame to the burner ports. With that, her 85 cubic foot downdraft kiln roars back to life. The firing process usually takes about 18 hours. Behind the 9-inch-thick brick walls of her handmade kiln bangs a 2400° fire ball. This is the same temperature the Space Shuttle would reach on re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere. Along the way, there are numerous decisions and precise adjustments to be made: the air-to-gas ratio, the shape and color of the flame, the amount of visible back-pressure, the aperture of the flue, the slow progression through quarts inversion, the steady per hour temperature climb, and, most importantly for the production of color, the pursuit of an ever-elusive reduction atmosphere.
This combination of original glaze recipes, a unique style of glaze application, and the painstaking precision with which she coaxes color from the firing process is what gives Prairie Fire Pottery its distinction and unique standing in the marketplace.
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