If I had a dime for every time somebody said sarcastically, “you sure picked a nice day to fire”, I’d be rich.
I had asked Patrick the week before if he was interested in firing the salt kiln and he said, “not especially”… so I decided I was going to fire it myself. Paddy ended up putting half a dozen mugs in, and some of the advanced students had a few pieces in as well, but it ended up being mostly my ewers and teapots.
Of course, being a pretty nice guy, Patrick rolled up his sleeves and helped out anyway. I made wadding with wood shavings, and he made the cone packs. He helped me load and we bricked up the door, and headed to sidetrack to get something to eat. We were amazed to learn that it was almost midnight by the time we got there, and we had to order fast before the kitchen closed. We mostly talked about the upcoming mid program reviews, which have had us both pretty tense.
By the time I showered and crashed it was two, so six in the morning rolled around pretty quickly. Patrick had left the burners on Diana’s kitchen table after showing me how they worked, so I headed out and set them up; it was a struggle to light them in the cold wind, but I made windbreaks with kiln shelves and wooden pallets to keep the burners from blowing back/out. I had a few pieces in there that I had raw glazed, so I wanted to heat it gradually.
Lee came by around 7 to check things out, and I said he would ask his advanced students to come and watch the kiln from 2 to 4 so I could go to a workshop on writing artist’s statements. He left, and I settled in for a long day.
At one point a big university truck pulled up to the dumpsters with some wooden things that looked like loose pallets, but they were crates for air handlers. I ran over and asked if I could have them; they were nice pine 1X4s and 2X4s without a lot of nails, and I wanted them for the wood kiln. I helped him unload the truck, and then spent some time pulling apart what I could with my hands. The sculpture building was still closed, and I had no tools, so I started breaking boards by propping them on a metal light post lying behind the kiln site, and jumping up and down on them until they split.
That worked for a while, until I slipped and whacked an elbow on the post hard enough that I had to sit down for a bit and take deep breaths. My first thought was, “thank goodness nobody saw me do such a clumsy thing”… so of course now I am telling all about it on my blog. (lol)
It began to rain, and then snow, and for the rest of the day it went back and forth between the two. I went from standing staring at the burners, to huddling in my van nearby with the window down so I could listen to them.
Honestly, I missed the interaction of the wood firing. There’s really nothing to do but turn up the burners once in a while, and look at the pyrometer. If the weather had been nice I could have worked on the woodpile, tidied up the kiln yard, or made some pots at the cable-spool table out there. As it was, I did some reading and worked on my artist’s statement for friday while huddled under some extra coats in my van.
Lee brought me some fast food around noon, and a student showed up in time for me to head to the workshop. There were three ceramics students at the workshop, and Patrick agreed to go kiln sit until 5 so I could go to my printmaking class.
Then he hung out with me anyway. I was happy for the company. We turned up burners and began hauling buckets of hot water from the sculpture building to dump on the tanks, which were now beginning to freeze up. The kiln had a nice glow going.
We went back and forth from hanging around the kiln in the rain to sitting in the van, warming up.
I don’t love the propane burners the way I love the wood fire. They are loud and a little scary, smell like cabbage, and the ceaseless noise is like a vacuum cleaner. It’s background but annoying, and loud enough to have to shout over it to be heard.
I don’t love watching the pyrometer. Damper in, out? Going up, down? Reducing, stalling, how’s the tank? More hot water, try this, try that, try to gain another few degrees. Bend those cones. But there isn’t the rhythm and usefulness of stoking wood, just waiting and fiddling.
JoAnne came by with hot coffee, umbrellas and encouragement, which was lovely. It’s amazing how drinking something warm can undo a day-long, wet-through-your-clothes chill.
When ^7 was finally over flat, it was later than we had guessed. We were finally starting to get excited, after the long boring wait. The sculpture students had locked up and gone home. Lee had brought four 3 pound boxes of kosher salt earlier in the day, and instead of rolling paper burritos, the plan was to use two long pieces of angle iron — fill them with salt, put them into the salt ports, and then tip them over like giant spoons.
We closed the damper, salted, waited, opened, waited, salted again. We went from being really excited, to standing in silence watching the big cloud (is it really chlorine gas?) roll out of the kiln, up over the sculpture building, across the parking lot, the lawn, the street, and envelop the apartment building and ball park across the way. It was freezing cold and raining, but we were being so careful not to breathe it, that we felt kind of guilty about the cloud, and expressed our gratitude that it wasn’t the middle of a sunny afternoon, with kids in the park and people outside.. or windows open..
We pulled draw rings, and when cone 9 started to go, I’d had enough and we shut it down.
Overall, between the crappy weather, the idle burner-sitting and the environmental guilt, we both expressed no great rush to fire the thing again any time soon. We both kind of hoped we wouldn’t like the results, and agreed that the wood kiln (as long as it took) was much more rewarding to fire. I drove home about 12:30, wishing there was somebody I coould call and chat with that late, to make the rainy drive go faster.. and I remembered that my friend Stephani Stephenson in California was four hours behind Michigan/Ohio time! I called and we chatted until we lost the connection, and I was soaking in a hot bathtub and in bed by 2am.
You should see my elbow ;0) Purple, green, red and yellow halfway to my hand. It looked like a knee, for a while.