Potters ready to use rebuilt Chesco kiln

Feat of clay: Potters (from left) Heidi Brett, Eileen McMonagle, and Jessica Greet with the new wood-burning community kiln at Historic Yellow Springs in Chester Springs. The kiln will be used for the first time Friday.
Feat of clay: Potters (from left) Heidi Brett, Eileen McMonagle, and Jessica Greet with the new wood-burning community kiln at Historic Yellow Springs in Chester Springs. The kiln will be used for the first time Friday. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 22, 2014

Anticipation. Excitement. A little bit of fear.

These emotions run through Heidi Brett each time she puts her clay art pieces into a wood kiln. There's no way to control patterns the flames and ash make as they brush against the artwork inside. All Brett can do is hope for the best when the kiln's door opens.

"And then it's Christmas," said Brett, arts program manager at the nonprofit Historic Yellow Springs in Chester Springs.

The West Chester resident sometimes travels to Baltimore to use a community wood kiln there. Now, the professional potter has a closer alternative.

Last week, about a dozen people in the clay community came together from Chester Springs, Lancaster County, Virginia, Baltimore, and Chicago to rebuild a wood kiln out of brick for Historic Yellow Springs. The kiln will turn the art of local professionals and students into ready-to-use ceramic pieces.

This oven for pottery is one of only a few community kilns fueled by wood in the area.

Starting Friday afternoon, the potters turned builders will assemble again to load and fire the kiln for the first time. They will close the 51/2- by 17-foot kiln by building up a wall of brick. They will take turns throwing in stacks of wood and monitoring the kiln's temperature, which will reach 2,370 degrees Fahrenheit.

And they will come with food and conversation while they work to collectively finish their ceramic pieces during the next 30 hours.

"Every firing is like a happening," said Jim Dugan, a resident artist at Baltimore Clayworks.

Dugan, who has built more than a dozen kilns, ran the 10-day workshop to replace the dilapidated kiln at Historic Yellow Springs' Chester County Studio. He grew up in West Chester.

"I expect this kiln to really invigorate the clay community here and in the surrounding area," Dugan said. "It's the type of tool and resource that's just not available everywhere."

Potters drive as long as five hours to put their work into the Baltimore Clayworks wood kiln.

"You make the form and you surrender the form to the process," said Steve Moran, 57, of Downingtown, who helped lay the 3,500 bricks used to build the kiln in Chester Springs. "That's what's really attractive about wood firing."

Over the last year and a half, Historic Yellow Springs raised and surpassed the $18,000 it needed to build its new kiln. The old one, built in 1989, was falling apart and could only handle firing a few times per year.

The new kiln is safer to operate and can fire more often. It can hold about 300 pots, depending on their size and shape.

On Wednesday, the potters at Chester Springs Studio will unwrap the temporary kiln door brick by brick to reveal how the fires transformed the more than 200 pieces inside.


mbond@philly.com

610-313-8207 @MichaelleBond

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