By Brendan Foster
After years without one, Juniata College Ceramic Studio students are finally building a new wood-fired kiln, opening up new possibilities and challenges for their art.
The kiln, located behind BAC, started as an idea in 2013 after the previous kiln was torn down to make room for Nathan Hall, according to Art Professor Bethany Benson. Since then, a lot of interest in building a new one came from students who used the old one while it was still up. “There was this constant chatter about the wood kiln,” she said.
It was not until last year that plans for it were made, though. Benson first had to buy materials and settle on a design. She eventually found a retailer willing to sell the bricks at a cheap price, and chose a design an old professor of hers had posted on Facebook.
The new kiln is more well-suited to the students, according to Benson, since the old design was crafted for someone with a high output like its builder, wood-firing pioneer Jack Troy. Loading took two days, and managing it when it was firing was extremely labor-intensive.
“Sometimes people would be working 12 hours in a row,” Benson said.
This new design is much smaller, so loading will not take as long to load as Troy’s. It also has two differently shaped chambers which can be fired separately, granting students more control and variability in how their pieces turn out.
That variability is part of the appeal for Junior Liam Odle. “You don’t always know what you’re going to get,” he said.
Many factors influence how a piece will eventually look, and using a wood kiln adds even more than a gas or electric kiln: wood type, the shape of the chamber, clay type, placement and position of the piece all contribute to the final look of the piece.
“There’s definitely a lot of different things you can do,” Odle said. Part of the beauty of ceramics to him is that he’s not entirely in control, and has to experiment with different techniques and methods to find what he likes.
The kiln, according to Benson, is ultimately a student-driven project. Students made up most of the labor force, and she could not have asked for a better group of workers.
“They all did it with a smile on their face,” she said.
Photo credit to Juniata College Ceramic Studio