Its kick-off year in 2016, ironically, was marked by torrential rains. But the Midwest Fire Fest is back, bringing with it a fiery determination to entertain and enlighten visitors this year with more hands-on activities, live music, fire-cooked food — and hopefully, a lot less rain — this Saturday and Sunday.

Set in Cambridge, a town with a legacy of pottery and ceramics artistry, the Midwest Fire Fest this year will include many live artist demonstrations “of all things created with fire, heat and smoke,” its organizers say, “including, but not limited to, clay, metal arts, welding, forging, hot glass, food and performance.”

This year’s free Midwest Fire Fest runs 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday (with art for sale by area artists until 6 p.m.), and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Food “produced with fire” will be available for purchase throughout the festival.

A ticketed Fire Fest dinner is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The $100 ticket price includes a six-course meal created by Chef Noah Przybylski of Cambridge Winery, paired with wines from Cambridge Winery. Each guest also takes home a handmade ceramic dinner plate and ice cream bowl crafted by a member of the Cambridge Clay Collective, and will have the chance to purchase a handmade vase or serving platter used during the meal.

Other events at the festival are free. The schedule includes performances by fire dancers, a pottery pit firing, hands-on experiences at the Upper Midwest Blacksmith Association teaching trailer, demonstrations by the Madison West High Clay Club, and more. Live music runs from 3 to 11 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Twenty-five artists will be exhibiting their work. A full schedule of events and artists is online at

Ed Klein, the Johnson Creek artist behind the giant dragon clay sculpture that was unveiled at the outdoor festival last year, has this year made a colossal figure based on characters from the Maurice Sendak book “Where the Wild Things Are.”

The sculpture, measuring eight feet tall and made from 1,200 pounds of clay, has spent the past week under fire in a giant kiln built on site. It will emerge — hopefully from picture-perfect flames — during an unveiling at 9 p.m. Saturday called the “Big BonFiring reveal.”

Like the weather forecast, just how well a clay artwork will emerge from a kiln is not always predictable, said Mark Skudlarek, a potter who has organized art fairs for decades, and brought the idea of a fire festival to Cambridge.

No one could have predicted that last year’s fest would be deluged by thunderstorms, high winds and oppressive heat. Organizers of the inaugural Midwest Fire Fest picked the July weekend they did because that’s typically a weekend with great weather, said Laurie Struss, president of the Cambridge Arts Council and co-chair of the Midwest Fire Festival with Skudlarek.

But even with last year’s bad weather, “The incredible thing about it is that people still showed up,” Skudlarek said.

“Throughout the afternoon, there was wave after wave of rain. That put people into shops and restaurants in Cambridge,” he said. “But in the evening it cleared from about 5 to 7 p.m. for the dinner. And we served 100 people under the tent.

“It was comical because people were showing up dressed to the nines, but when you got down (to the tables) you had to take off your shoes because people were ankle-deep in mud,” he said. “Still, they enjoyed the dinner. It was memorable — very memorable.”

The rain even made sparks fly during an iron pour demonstration, a spectacular sight, Skudlarek said.

“And when we unveiled the sculpture, there were hundreds of people in the park,” he said. “And that’s what this event is all about. It’s about an experience. Rather than going to your standard art fair, where you’re looking at finished work, work is being made before your eyes.”


Gayle Worland is an arts and features reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.