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New kiln on campus

November 16, 2012

Photo courtesy of Connor Shields - Senior Connor Shields and Junior George Burnette stand by the kiln that the constructed. More changes need to be made before it is fully ready.

Keeping in line with the theme of sustainability, the Garden House recently erected a firing kiln entirely by hand with mud, water, organic straw and clay harvested from the garden behind the house. The kiln took George Burnette, Dan Carlson and Connor Shields a total of 45 hours to construct. The trio relied primarily on materials, techniques, processes, and tools that would have been around when people around the world first started firing pottery, about 3000-4000 years ago.

Currently, the kiln, which has a four foot diameter and is big enough for a small person to stand is, has only been fired once. It is currently wood-fired, but there are plans to experiment with cow and horse patties, which produce higher thermal temperatures than wood.

Several wheelthrown pieces were created using clay dug out of the spot on which the kiln sits. Thus far, the kiln has not yet drastically altered life in the Garden House, but it is a positive step towards the sustainability of a variety of different pottery-based items.

“As of now, we have not been able to get the kiln to a hot enough temperature to produce functional pottery (usable bowls, cups, etc.),” said Shields. “All of the pottery so far is decorative, and not food-safe. However, we are in the process of making revisions and reinforcements to the kiln, as well as finding new sources of fuel, and those adjustments will hopefully enable us to reach a temperature where we can produce food-safe wares.”

Before the next firing of the kiln, which is set for December, prior to Christmas Break, the Garden House members are seeking new ways to restructure the kiln to allow for higher temperatures.

“In our first firing, we included bowls, cups, and a variety of decorative and experimental pieces to test how the kiln worked. So far, we have not produced anything that can be put to functional use, although several pieces have made for very interesting pieces of visual art,” said Shields. “We are currently revising the structure of the kiln to contain more thermal mass, which means the pottery will vitrify to a level where it is no longer porous. That temperature would make our pottery food-safe, which means it would be functional for eating and drinking.”

Matt Dutton
Contributing Writer

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