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Pop-up sale will take place at the Lakewood Center for the Arts in Lake Oswego on Sept. 24

PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL HELLE - Lakeridge ceramics teacher Michael Helle and students show off their newly wood-fired ceramics pieces during a recent visit to the East Creek kiln in Willamina.REVIEW PHOTO: CLAIRE HOLLEY - Lakeridge ceramics teacher Michael Helle examines student Nick Bowermaster's tall vase on the pottery wheel during a ceramics class at the school this week.In the hills outside of Willamina, Oregon, sits a 32-year-old wood-fire kiln, nestled in the woods on a property that Lakeridge High School ceramics teacher Michael Helle refers to as "an artist's mecca."

When it was built, the East Creek Anagama kiln was only the second of its kind in the United States, and the first one west of the Mississippi.

"You just didn't see any wood-fire kilns being built at the time," says Helle. "This style of kiln originates from Korea and Japan, and it was extremely unique in that all of the heat comes exclusively from the wood fire."

The kiln was built by now-renowned ceramics artists Frank Boyden, Tom Coleman and Nils Lou on a piece of land owned by Lou. For 30 years, it was used by a variety of artists in and around the community. But a few years ago, the kiln faced an uncertain future because of Lou's death and the sale of the property to an out-of-state buyer.

REVIEW PHOTO: CLAIRE HOLLEY - Lakeridge ceramics student Cory Taylor adds texture to a vase on the pottery wheel during a class at the school this week.Fortunately, the kiln fell back into artist hands when a former student of Helle's named Joe Robinson purchased the property with the help of his father, Rick. A nonprofit called Friends of East Creek was formed to protect and restore the historic kiln, and thanks to grants and fundraising, it is being gradually restored to its former glory.

The kiln is now used purely for educational purposes, according to Helle, who biannually takes students on educational firings. The kiln is used not only by students at Lakeridge, but also students at Lake Oswego High School, Wilson High School, George Fox University and Linfield College, as well as Mount Hood and Chemeketa community colleges.

"I always stand in awe for a moment, just admiring everything in the peaceful setting deep within the forest where the kiln is set," says Elijah Pilkington, a former Lakeridge ceramics student who graduated last spring. Pilkington says he often has trouble putting his experiences at East Creek into words.

"Silly as it may sound," says Pilkington, "East Creek is something I look forward to more than my birthday."

PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHAEL HELLE - Visitors to the East Creek wood-fire kiln in Willamina admire the wide variety of work produced there. The kiln is now used as an educational tool for students in high schools and colleges throughout Oregon..REVIEW PHOTO: CLAIRE HOLLEY - Various ceramics pieces made in the East Creek wood-fire kiln sit on teacher Michael Helle's desk at Lakeridge High School.Helle understands the feeling, and he can't help but smile as he talks about the experience of taking students to the kiln for educational firings.

"We take them out three consecutive weekends, so they can be a part of the entire process," he explains. "First they chop the wood, which is a first for many students. Then the next weekend we load the kiln, and then comes the firing."

Although the kiln is currently fully functional, there are still a lot of renovations slated to take place. Upcoming projects include paving the walkway leading up to the kiln for easier loading and accessibility, reinforcing and replacing the arch of the kiln entrance, and replacing the roof covering the kiln space.

In order to help fund these projects and keep the kiln up and running, Friends of East Creek will hold a pop-up ceramics sale from noon-5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 24, at the Lakewood Center for the Arts (368 S. State St., Lake Oswego). The sale will feature all-clay work from 35 professional artists, as well as plenty of work by Helle's students. Profits will be split 50/50 between the artists and the nonprofit.

The sale will feature a remarkable variety of work, according to Helle. Not all of the artists use the kiln they're raising money for, but he says there is an understanding of the kiln's importance throughout the artistic community.

Even if students don't go on to pursue ceramics in the future, he says, the experience provides them with principles that can be used throughout their life.

"It's just such an amazing, collaborative experience," he says.

To learn more about the kiln and the Friends of East Creek, go to http://www.friendsofeastcreek.org.

Contact Lake Oswego Review reporter Claire Holley at 503-636-1281 ext. 109 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

IF YOU GO

What: Ceramics Pop-Up Sale to benefit the Friends of East Creek's efforts to renovate and restore their wood-fire kiln

When: Sunday, Sept. 24, from 12-5 p.m.

Where: Lakewood Center for the Arts, 368 State St., Lake Oswego

More information: Go to http://www.friendsofeastcreek.org

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