NC Pottery Center: Noborigama Firing #2

The last week was spent in preparation for my second firing of the Noborigama kiln at the North Carolina Pottery Center.  I considered myself fortunate to be firing with some of my ceramic idols this time around and the firing seemed to go off without a hitch! I look forward to opening the kiln in a few days. In the meantime, enjoy images of the firing process and stay tuned for the results! 

AAAS Conference Presentation

In October 2014, with the encouragement of Annie Duffy, a UAF Art Department faculty member and mentor, I presented my thesis work at the Arctic Regional Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Conference.  At the time I saw it as a great opportunity to not only practice presenting my thesis, but also present my research to a different and more diverse audience.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that this presentation would enable me to travel and present nationally!! I received the Larus Award which granted me full funding to attend and present at the National AAAS 2015 Conference in San Jose, CA.  What an honor!

The San Jose Convention Center, 2015.

The San Jose Convention Center, 2015.


The conference was six days of exciting lectures, symposia, presentations, and seminars on cutting edge research in the fields of physics, earth science, chemistry, math, and social sciences just to name a few.  As an artist/anthropologist attending the event, the topics and lectures were new and fascinating.  There were lectures about science and communication; how is science and scientific fact presented to the public, what is the dialogue between science and religion and how can they work together, what about science and the community, how can we get the community at large involved with and excited about "citizen science", how do we encourage young girls to become scientific leaders, and how can we integrate the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Program in school curriculums.  Other topics included cutting edge research and integration of GPS mapping to better understand, document, and map out endangered languages; isotopic analysis of remains in Anglo Saxon cemeteries to compare and contrast the written history of the time period to scientifically derived fact to paint a new and more accurate picture of the people; and state of the art visualization of classical masterworks of art, including face recognition, computational art history and conservation, and multiband imaging using infrared spectroscopy.  

I'm so grateful to the Annie, the University of Alaska, the Larus Award, and all the wonderful people I met at the conference.  It was a remarkable experience! I've learned a great deal more about art, science, and the potential collaborations that will further our knowledge of historic works of art, culture groups, and how we can participate in science every day!  I even learned a little bit about dark matter and our galaxy--now to incorporate that into my next body of work--now back to the studio!

The Ultimate Kiln

Arguably, the most exciting part of the clay process is firing.  Partly because it's like Christmas every time the kiln is opened, and also because I think each of us is a closet pyromaniac that gets unreasonably excited when firing atmospheric kilns.  I, for one, love the complete involvement in the firing while simultaneously giving up a large part of control to the "kiln gods", crossing your fingers and hope you're pots are "the chosen ones", blessed with beautiful surfaces.  

I've been fortunate enough, in my relatively short ceramic career thus far, to be involved in many atmospheric kiln firings.  First, at Juniata College, I participated in firing the historic wood kiln built by Jack Troy, as well as our trusty soda kiln (which quickly became my favorite).  I spent a few weeks at Watershed Center for Ceramics Arts in Newcastle, Maine and had the opportunity with fellow Juniata students to fire their salt kiln.  

               The UAF Waste oil/Soda Kiln!

Now, as a student at UAF, I've been a part of many many more atmospheric firings, which contribute to the luscious surfaces of my work.  Here, as far as atmospheric kilns go, there a lot of options; we have two gas kilns, an anagama, a fast fire wood kiln, salt kiln, and my personal favorite and newest addition, the waste oil soda kiln! 

Waste oil stacked up in front of the salt kiln. awaiting it's destiny to fuel our soda kiln!  It takes about six gallons of waste oil to fire

This kiln is killer! Not only does it give the juicy and nubile surfaces typical of a soda kiln, it's fired sustainably with veggie oil donated by the Faribanks Princess Lodge Restaurant.  The kiln has a pretty ingenious design.  

The kiln itself is designed to fire from two primary fuel sources.  First wood, to get the kiln hot enough, and then converted to waste oil, mid-firing, to get to temperature (about 2400 degrees). 

Bringing new meaning to pumping oil in Alaska! 

First, we have to screen the oil and pump it into the large yellow barrel that's located behind the stack.  The barrel is double walled, for a few reasons; including the ability to install a heater so the oil doesn't solidify and can flow easily into the kiln in October..yes that's right things are freezing up as early as October!  

Since the oil doesn't combust until the temperature reaches 621 degrees F, we have to begin the firing with wood.  It's important to wait until we get to at least to about 1200 degrees F before we pull out the grates (of course, along with the grates comes a lot of ash!) so to prevent too much heat loss we need to go above and beyond!

Now we're cooking with oil! The oil is gravity fed from the barrel behind the stack, and comes down into tubes that are inserted into holes in the side of the kiln.  The tubes are angled so that they extend into the firebox.  The oil drips down onto the plates, and once they've heated up (about ten minutes or so) the oil combusts!

Christmas! Unloading the kiln, as always is the most exciting!

We change one fire box at a time and in about an hour, we will have successfully switched to solely firing with the waste oil! There are globe valves that control the rate of oil flow.  The key is to ensure that the flow is low, slow, and steady.  (Yes, we do get the occasional french fry or spice clump, but that's why we screen!) The firing takes anywhere from 8-12 hours, but with good company, and great pizza from the pizza oven next door, time flies by!