July 22, 2009

Kiln Guys

Today I am loading the smaller of my two outermost Cape Cod gas kilns and find myself writing about kilns in Jingdezhen. Kilns there used to be wood or coal fired, but that has changed. The town used to have hundreds of stacks putting out smoky effluent of the dirty fuels. Sickly air quality has improved since they were closed in favor of gas kilns over the past 20 years. Like every other part of the ceramic process there, the firing of kilns is the province of the master. I used two of these in my stay there. This one is close to the Jingdezhen Ceramics Institute, so it is the one most used by the students there.

The kiln is unloaded at eight a.m. Between 8 and 10 the makers arrive to collect their finished work. Once collected, we show the work to the owner, who, with a glance calculates the fees, paid in cash, change made from a fat wad from the pocket.
New works arrive, students fuss with beads on supports of high temperature Kanthal wire and clay. I failed miserably at this, asking the wire to do more that the weight of the stones I made would allow. To me, everything was an experiment worth stretching the limits, losses are lessons. By 10 a.m. the loaded cart is pushed on its rails into a steel and fiber car kiln.

Another day, another firing to 1300C. There is no room for the kind of experimentation with fire that is such an integral part of my clay life. The loading of this kiln is exactly as I learned for porcelain firing, so familiar and known. The kiln guys at this kiln don't smile. I like the guy at the other kiln. This second kiln, in the Old Sculpture Factory area is fired on an afternoon schedule. In by 3 p.m., out by 1. I made the mistake of bringing work there on the day off and by bike--oops. Generally, pots are hand carried. With enough pots to carry, a guy with a hand cart or one with two hanging racks on a shoulder pole can be hired to walk from the studio to the kiln.

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