Behind-the-Scenes in a Clay Studio

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This is a photo of a kiln shelf. It’s a one-inch thick, 12-pound shelf made primarily of mullite high-alumina clay that will withstand the 2,350+ degrees (F) of a gas-fired kiln. The shelf holds pottery and other items that are ready for their second and final firing. In the photo, the brown “paint” is actually kiln wash that I painted onto the bare spots of about 20 kiln shelves today.  After firing, it will appear white as shown in the photo. Without this kiln wash, the glaze on the pottery would adhere to the shelf during firing and then likely chip from the pot as it is removed from the shelf after the firing. I say likely because before you set pots into the kiln, you must sponge off the excess glaze that lingers on the foots of bowls, plates, cups, vases. However, occasionally, a small drop or drip or smear of glaze escapes the sponge and necessitates applying kiln wash to the shelves.

I’m a middle school language arts teacher, but during the summers I often find myself back in my husband’s ceramic art studio, doing some of the unglamorous tasks involved with, but absolutely critical to, the making of ceramic pottery, sculpture, and the like. Many think that “making pottery” primarily involves that spinning thing (the potter’s wheel) and paint (glaze), and clay. However, the behind-the-scenes work of a potter is much more mundane, complex — and more quietly beautiful, even — than those moments that some readers may recall from the movie Ghost.

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