Sixth annual Pit Fire Festival: Ignite your creative sparkBy Tate Rich
and Sarah Grear
DOUGLAS — Ceramic pit firing is the oldest traditional method of firing clay wares, dating back to the Mesopotamian era. Cochise County’s ancient roots can be traced through pottery shards found in archaeological digs surrounding the Douglas campus.
As scores of participants converge for the Douglas campus Pit Fire in November, the ancient dialogue of firing pots in the ground will once again engage our ties to the history of our ancestors.
The sixth annual Cochise College Pit Fire Festival, produced by the Douglas campus art department, is inviting the public to discover a myriad of ceramics, sounds, tastes, and visual and performing artists from 5 to 9 p.m. Nov. 29. Alongside the large-scale firing of more than 1,000 ceramic works, the college transforms the ceramics studio and the surrounding area into a celebration of creative collaboration with local sounds, flavors and talented performers united to form a beautiful scene of culture and diversity.
This event promotes participation that sparks creative genius and ignites the array of artistic talents in our community, according to Tate Rich, Cochise College ceramics instructor and co-founder of the event.
“This unique pit fire event will be a dazzling public spectacle,” Rich said. “As we commemorate the best of education, we will be enriched by the passions of our community.”
While nurturing all types of visual and performing arts, the Cochise College art department will celebrate the largest pit fire event held in Southern Arizona. The event held each fall semester draws participants from New Mexico, Mexico, northern Arizona and California, just to name a few.
Cochise College’s mission is to provide accessible educational opportunities that are responsive to a diverse population and lead to constructive citizenship, meaningful careers and lifelong learning.
Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. The evening will be full of non-stop movement and camaraderie that will ripple out into the community.
This year, the Cochise College Center for Lifelong Learning is offering a special non-credit class spanning four Saturdays, where students will immerse themselves in designing and building their own piece of pottery or clay sculpture, and their final work will be included in this year’s pit fire.
The classes are scheduled for Nov. 3, 10, 17 and Dec. 1, with instruction from Jennifer Hollingshead from 9 a.m. to noon and open studio until 5 p.m. in the art building on the Douglas campus. For more information about enrolling in the class, visit www.cochise.edu/cll, call (520) 515-5492 or email email@example.com.
The day of the event, artists will line a 200-foot trench with their ceramic artworks on the north side of the Douglas campus. Later in the evening, Flam Chen pyrotechnic theatre troupe will ignite the ceremonial pit fire as part of their performance. The following morning, all of the signature ceramic works will be cleaned and exhibited in a public gallery show in Bisbee as an extension of the educational aspect of pit firing.
Attendees should arrive early to ensure plenty of time to participate in booth activities, browse the artwork in the silent auction, and dance to the sounds of lively performances. There will be three Raku kilns producing glowing red pots that will be scorched in water, and the finished works will be displayed throughout the night.
Participants can also become a “Friend” of the Cochise College Art Department for only a $10 donation. With this donation comes a handmade bowl made by Cochise College ceramic instructor Ian Carbajal. Proceeds from the bowl sales will benefit the Cochise College Foundation Art Fund’s programs for future scholarships, materials, equipment and workshops. Each bowl will be filled with complimentary soup made by Ken
Loresch’s talented team of culinary art students.
“This year the clam chowder will be brought back by popular demand,” said Loresch. “We will also feature southwestern style chili, mulligatawny, green chili and corn bisque, and roasted tomato soup.”
The Cochise College Pit Fire started in 2005 as a collaboration between Cochise College instructors Tate Rich, Mike Garino, and potters invited to the college from Mata Ortiz, a small village in Mexico known for its pottery. At the inaugural event, these skilled artisans presented their daily practices and shared their pit firing methods with the Cochise community.
From there, the pit fire evolved into a large-scale festival. Each year, this communal event rejuvenates ties from previous years while bonding individuals through a commitment in creativity. Rich said the hard work surrounding the event is a gratifying process — a yearlong journey that culminates in the building of an artistic community centered on clay.
“We believe in creating a platform for transformation, whether in the individual or society,” he said. “And it occurs through collaboration, commitment and deeply personal participation.”
Keep up with the Cochise College ceramics department and Pit Fire Festival by searching Facebook for "Cochise College Pit Fire Festival" and liking the page. The art department is always seeking volunteers to assist in making the Pit Fire a success each year by helping with stage production, security, pit stacking and clean-up. Call (520) 417-4025 with questions or to volunteer at the event.
Anyone needing an accommodation in order to attend should contact the Disability Services Office, (520) 515-5337 or (520) 417-4023, at least 72 hours in advance.