The Five Stages of Unloading a Kiln

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Lo these many years that I have been working with clay, teaching it, learning about it, making all kinds of stuff, I still can’t get over how many emotions come up when I am firing a kiln.  It’s not unlike the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

First I imagine that this kiln load will be different from every other one: nothing will crack or craze, all the glaze will be smooth, colors will be harmonious.  Then I crack the lid and try to peek in when it’s really too hot to open which singes my eyebrows and makes me kind of irritated.  I should know better but it’s so hard to wait to open the kiln.  Then I start thinking about the commissioned platter on the second shelf.  Is it good to imagine it broken and already have accepted that disappointment before I lift off the top shelf?  Or is it bad karma to imagine it perfect and gorgeous before I get a chance to check it out?  In each firing there are several disappointments, often involving the one piece in the kiln which I do not want to re-do.

This leads to questioning as to why I continue to endlessly fool around with this medium that drives me nuts.  It’s unpredictable and labor-intensive and involves a lot of heavy lifting and ceramic pieces don’t command the respect they deserve in the art world.  Yet I still love the look and feel of colorful ceramic pieces.  Over the years I have rolled out slabs to make big tile murals, I have created large-scale platters with a terrific teacher Jeanee Redmond and I have worked with coils, pinch pots, and raku firing.  It is one medium I keep coming back to because it is so versatile and fascinating.

So I face the pile of the stuff from this firing that has small flaws and I’m doing triage: which ones can be repaired and re-fired? Maybe I can add a little underglaze to the spot where it came out a little thin if I can just remember which of the fourteen blue shades I am currently using will match this piece.  Of course the colors and textures will change in the kiln, and sometimes the accidents will be happy ones. Then I start loading the kiln again while the shelves are still a bit too hot to handle.  It’s like gambling-I can’t help it, I keep thinking there is such a thing as a perfect firing.  So I set the timer and try not to feel like a complete idiot as my hopes return again.

36" X 36" ceramic tile mural
Mountainous Acre, 36″ X 36″ ceramic tile mural commission in Boston, MA
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