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
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.