Artist and Instructor Angelique Byrne—On Fire to Foster Community through Art, Part 1

The word fire carries many connotations, including light, heat, danger, destruction, passion, inspiration, Johnny Cash (“Ring of Fire”), roasted hot dogs, marshmallows, camping, and forty verses of “Down By The Bay.” 

But for artist and instructor Angelique Byrne, fire also means Art and Community.

Previous guest artists and/or teachers I’ve hosted include elementary art teacher Laura Fesser; painter Marie Scottcreator of fairy dwellings, Rita Trickel; and educator Mollie Gruennert.

Angelique, too, is an artist, combining teaching and administrative duties at charter school Pathways High in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She brought fifteen years of classroom experience along with her. 

Some of that experience—as part of a group effort—was facilitating the launch of the public charter school, Kettle Moraine School for Arts and Performance (KM Perform). There she taught interdisciplinary seminars and mentored art students for seven years, while also teaching art for Kettle Moraine High School. 

A brief history of Angelique . . .

  • graduated with B.S. in art education from Carroll College, 2003
  • received masters in visual studies at Cardinal Stitch University, 2010
  • taught 3 years at Messmer High School
  • taught 12 years in the Kettle Moraine School District
  • received her National Board Certification, 2018
  • is in her second year at Pathways High
  • is a member of Milwaukee Area Teachers Association, the Wisconsin Art Teachers Association, and the National Art Education Association

Fire plays a huge role in Angelique’s life—from the clay pots she loves to make to the passion she brings to her students. She cares deeply about healthy living, the environment, social justice, and being part of the local community. Part of which is our neighborhood book group, where I met her.

These all inspire her primary passion: teaching life skills through personalized, interdisciplinary learning opportunities for her students.

And if you’re unfamiliar with clay, kilns, and the firing process, after hearing from Angelique, I dare say you’ll see the making of ceramics in a whole new light.

Angelique Byrne; all photos courtesy of Angelique

What is your role at school?

Angelique: In my current role, I am teaching interdisciplinary seminars, on the leadership team doing some administrative work (while working on my administration license for Principal and Director of Instruction) and working a lot on aligning curriculum to standards, the mastery model and working with our students and staff to pilot the first-ever Mastery Transcript along with 8 other schools across the globe.

My passion really lies in building schools that have an interdisciplinary, competency-based approach that intertwines future-readiness, and career skills. 

What do you love to create?

Angelique: My favorite way to create is with clay. When I was in college I took my first ceramics class and fell in love with the material and the processes. I love both wheelwork and hand-building but what really intrigued me was the process of glazing and firing the pots. 

In college, we were lucky enough to have a large Cone 10, gas fire kiln. For the non-potters out there, Cone 10 kilns fire to about 2300 degrees and the firing is a reduction firing, so the gas creates fire and sicks out the oxygen in the kiln. 

This is very different than a low fire, electric firing, which most people did in high school or at a pot glazing company that hosts birthday parties and fun family events. 

Reduction fires are amazing. In the firing, the fire might lick your pot and create amazing glows and colors you never thought would come out of the kiln.  

Every time we opened the kiln it was like Christmas morning. 
I couldn’t wait until I could try another glaze combination, 
or see if I could get the result again 
if the pot was in the “right” place in the kiln.  

I started making my own glazes, learning about the glaze chemistry that was necessary to make glazes that work. There is so much science involved in the process. I didn’t even know I liked science so much!  

This experience led me to investigate other types of glazing in college to add unique finishes to my pots. When I started teaching, time was limited. I didn’t have a studio, I didn’t have a kiln, and life was busy. I was teaching ceramics so I got to keep my hands in the game.  

Years went on and I did clay less due to teaching, children, life . . . I kept creative through example projects for my students. 

I was able to start teaching classes that I was interested in 
such as fashion design, industrial design, 
and all types of interdisciplinary seminars 
that integrated art and academic areas. 
I took the love for an interdisciplinary approach 
with ceramics into my classroom. 

As time went on I missed making things out of clay. I missed the glazing/firing process and knew I needed to get back into it. I decided to get involved with people who were firing a large anagama kiln.

An anagama kiln is a large wood fire kiln. It is a reduction kiln similar in a way to the gas fire cone 10, but it gets even hotter and needs to be stoked with wood for 24 hours a day for 5 days straight.  

Stoking the wood kiln

Again, the results were amazing! Once again, it was Christmas morning. I love the community it takes to fire the kiln. We sign up for shifts, bring food, share stories, and make things by the fire out of clay. It takes many weeks of preparing wood, preparing shelves, loading the kiln (big enough to park a few small cars inside).  

After the firing is done, we let the kiln cool for a week. Then we all come back together to unload, share our results, and clean up from the firing. 

What I enjoy most about creating with clay 
is that it is often a community experience. 
I loved the community studio in college, 
preparing for the wood fire, and the experience 
of preparing, firing, and unloading the anagama kiln. 

These objects are mostly from the anagama kiln. One was from a raku kiln.  The pieces were made in the last three years. 

When I don’t have time to make things out of clay, I like to quilt, especially in the winter.  It allows me to escape the cold, craziness of the school year and relax while designing my own patterns, designing the color palette, and doing the repetitive process of quilting.  Just like working with clay, there is a relaxing quality to making with a process. 

Quilts made by Angelique

Where do you get your ideas? 

Angelique: I get my ideas all over the place. I’m inspired by others I know, artists online, the natural world around me, and all types of design in our world.  I am lucky enough to be able to take this inspiration not only into my artwork but into ideas for new seminars for my students. 

There are so many beautiful and amazing things in our world 
that I can’t help but be inspired all the time. 
My bigger problem is how to narrow down 
which things to bring forward 
into my art or school ideas. 

It’s hard to leave some of the inspiration for later. It’s fun to be inspired by my co-workers and artist friends. Unpredictable inspiration is best.  See my image below of casting my face in snow!  Spontaneous idea from a colleague. 


Making mask molds out of packing snow with colleagues
when teaching at KM Perform

Join me next time for more about Angelique as both artist and instructor.

Which artistic experiences and/or community events have you found helpful or inspirational? 

I’d love to hear from you!

Ever musing,

Laura

9 thoughts on “Artist and Instructor Angelique Byrne—On Fire to Foster Community through Art, Part 1

  1. Wow. Definitely more to this all than I realized! My nieces and nephew have made amazing original ceramic creations and I’ve been blessed to receive some as gifts. They’ve described the kiln process, but I’ve never seen it in action. And that anagama kiln is astounding!

    While I haven’t been involved in many community/artistic experiences, for over 2 decades now I’ve enjoyed the little 4-H fair my sister’s children are involved in. It’s so fun to see the quilts, afghans, ceramics, sewing projects and so much more. Such a great little fair and there is definitely a sense of community!

    1. I was amazed to learn about reduction fires and anagama kilns, too!

      Yes, 4-H is a great way for kids to pursue interests and be involved in a multitude of projects within the community.

  2. 40 verses of “Down by the Bay”–hilarious 🙂

    Oh, goodness, I want to try the reduction firing. We’ve loved making what I guess Angelique called low-fire electric firing, painting those muted colors and seeing the vibrant glazes that magically show up 24 hours later. So I can’t imagine the incredible outcome of the ones she’s describing with the gas. Especially being able to watch! Makes me want to see if there are any anagama kiln clubs in my area!

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