Fired Earth began in 1997 as an empty set of rooms in the heart of downtown Appleton. He has since built or installed furnishings – tables, workbenches, shelves, kilns, and tools that McKinney himself created.
In 2003, McKinney started a company, MKM Pottery Tools, to sell these tools. MKM got its start with Decorating Disks, a guide for measuring and creating even facets on slab pots; the store also offers small, wooden, machine-carved rollers and stamps. These tools allow potters to simply and easily create, in his words, “an active, dynamic surface not achievable any other way.” McKinney now sells these and many other tools to potters worldwide.
Each eight-week pottery course culminates in a kiln-opening potluck, which is a time for Appleton’s clay community to come together. Before the potluck, “all the students load their stuff into a massive, gas-fired kiln that takes up its own room,” McKinney says. “Hundreds of [unfinished works] are piled up.” The kiln then fires up, and “15-20 hours later it’s done. The whole kiln is…full of shiny, beautiful objects guaranteed to last for 5,000 years.”
According to McKinney, the act of making pottery is more than creating something tangible; it also has significance. “History is a negotiated place,” McKinney said. “What I like about clay is that it’s much simpler. You create the piece, take it to the market and sell it. The work is beautiful, functional and permanent.”