UNLOADING

by Louis Katz

I see my work as primarily educational, particularly the kilns built while a graduate student. It seems to me that all art is educational. This work gives me the opportunity to expose aspects of functional pottery making that are usually only observed by pottery makers. The sense of anticipation potters feel while a kiln is cooling and waiting to be unloaded is missed by the public. Many people don't realize that most kilns are made from clay. They tend not to understand that, like a teabowl, a kiln is a functional object and can have the same kinds of admirable qualities.

Because of the scale and nature of this work, it was necessary to overcome several practical and technical problems. The largest of these kilns weighed nearly 1000 pounds. Built indoors on wheeled carts, they had to be tough enough to withstand some bumps and rough handling when rolled outside to be fired. Besides being strong, the kiln body had to be able to survive the stress of being hot on the inside and cold on the outside. And perhaps most important, with so much material involved, it had to be inexpensive.

To meet these requirements, a mixture of floor sweepings from the clay studio, plaster-contaminated clay, scrap glaze, broken softbrick and straw (for tensile strength) was used. Although the body these ingredients produced had a look and feel similar to unrefined clays, most had at one time been refined commercial products.

At times I find myself looking at glaze recipes and judging their quality solely on the cumulative "integrity" of their constituents. It seems to me that when using relatively unrefined ingredients like Albany slip, one has a greater chance of producing a rich glaze than when mixing pure oxides and trying to imitate nature. During these times when it seems that I believe in macrobiotic pottery, I feel that if a glaze is made out of "respectable" ingredients and I don't enjoy the way it looks, then the fault is within me, not the glaze.

After applying an insulation layer of wet clay and sawdust to the surface, the kiln was loaded (sometimes packing the pots with straw for stability) and moved outdoors. Firing was with gas, usually to Cone 04, though one salt kiln was taken to Cone 10. When cooled, the insulation layer was removed to reveal the colors of the fired kiln.

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