The East 40 Community Garden is home to a wood-fired kiln used by the college’s ceramics program.
Wood kilns have been used since the beginnings of pottery history, from prehistoric bonfire kilns used to fire cookware and storage vessels to modern forms of food preservation, serviceware, and cultural expression. Vapor and ash from the wood fly through the kiln and land on the pots. When the ash is hot enough it will flux with the silica and alumina in the clay to form a natural glaze.
Wood firing is a labor-intensive process. The wood needs to be cut and stacked, pots need to be wadded and loaded, cone packs need to be made, the door needs to be bricked up and the kiln needs to be tended during the entire firing process, which takes at least 24 hours. Students need to work together and depend on each other in order to be successful. This is a great exercise in team work and dependability, and a wonderful way to get to know fellow artists.
A new kiln - able to accommodate gas firings as well as wood firings - is now under construction on the East 40 property. The installation will also include a pavilion and wood storage area. Funding for this project, which is expected to be completed by spring, comes from a $15, 000 grant from the Weiler Family Foundation.
The new kiln is a wood fired “sprung arch” Olsen fast fire type kiln that can also accommodate propane gas firings. Fast firing techniques save fuel, space, and labor. The quality of products obtained by fast firing has been observed to be equal to or even better than that of the conventional fired ware.
Another feature of NCC’s program is that a high quality clay usable for pottery is available on the East 40 property - meaning the clay can be harvested at the same site as it will be created and fired. This set-up/opportunity is only available at a handful of sites around the world.
The kiln will be the newest addition to NCC’s comprehensive ceramics facility, designed to maximize exposure to a wide variety of firing techniques for the ceramics program and community at NCC, the East 40 Community Garden, and throughout the region. It will offer opportunities for community firings, special workshops with visiting artists, and ongoing classes related to wood fired ceramics.
High-fire kilns offer a unique educational experience for students, community members, and members of the wider art community. In addition to the theories and practice within the field of visual arts and craft, the process of making pottery, mixing glazes, and firing in a wood or gas environment exposes learners to knowledge and techniques related to engineering, physics, chemistry, geology, and ecology.