Tama

Tama Smith has worked as a professional potter since graduating from

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. Tama 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-1990s, 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.

Her 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. Tama uses a variety of production techniques

included 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.

Tama 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 degree 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 decision 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 her pottery its distinction and unique

standing in the marketplace.

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