Dorise in New Zealand
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By Gretchen Abendschein

Dorise Kowelewski recently returned to Acworth after spending six months in New Zealand building bake ovens. She traveled halfway around the globe with sourdough packed in her bag ready to teach New Zealanders how to build ovens and bake bread.

About seven years ago Dorise began traveling to other lands to share her knowledge of constructing bake ovens. Her handmade ovens can now be found in New Zealand, Tasmania and Australia as well as the islands of Martinique, Bequia, Turks and Caicos. She has also traveled to the Dominican Republic where she helped indigenous people build a huge community oven.

Dorise said that given the materials and help needed she can construct an oven as small as a mailbox, although such a size would be suitable for only a tiny baguette, or an oven the size of a small house. She discovered early on in her endeavors that clay ovens should be properly filled in order to work well, allowing for efficient use of the oven and optimum baking conditions. This means building an oven that’s just the right size for one’s needs.

Dorise originally learned how to construct ovens  when  she  worked  with  Peter  Schumann at the Bread and Puppet Theater in northern Vermont. She learned techniques for making clay ovens as well as instant ovens constructed of bricks that can be dismantled and moved.

One thing Dorise has learned during her travels is to be inventive. It can be a challenge to find the materials she needs. For example, straw is difficult to find in New Zealand so she had to use bamboo fiber in her clay mixture.

While in New Zealand Dorise met and worked with Brent Sumner, a sculptor and oven maker who has developed an architectural sculpting compound called darjit made of 95% recycled materials. The material is very versatile and can be embedded with mosaics, impressed patterns or textured finishes. In working together they combined techniques and Dorise’s ovens, which have always been artfully made, became even more magnificent sculptural works of art.

Dorise has lived in Acworth for about twenty-five years now, although she grew up in Alsace on the eastern border of France near the west bank of the Upper Rhine. She met her future husband, John Tuthill, in the summer thirty years ago when they were both working in a vineyard in France picking grapes. They lived as gypsies for several years, traveling back and forth to this country and Europe working as caretakers until settling in East Acworth, in John’s home state of New Hampshire.

Dorise is a true asset to our community as anyone who has ever tasted her bread or pastries can attest. For years she used a barter system, trading bread for other goods or services. She still gets firewood to fuel her bake oven from Ralph Balla, who provides Dorise with scrap wood from his sawmill in exchange for loaves of her freshly baked bread.

Dorise delivers her bread and pastries to the Village Store in South Acworth on Saturday mornings. Her baked goods always disappear quickly – a testament to the quality of her skill.

To see more pictures visit an online photo album of Dorise’s trip to New Zealand.

Slideshow of Dorise in New Zealand
weaving, sculpting and building ovens