Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rebirth of a Studio Companion






In October of 2007 I was doing one of the last firings in my Paragon Kiln for the upcoming Open Studios Show. The kiln was full of glazed bas-relief tiles and I because the glazes that I had been experimenting with were more interesting at higher temperatures, I decided to let the kiln "soak" after it reached my customary temperature. (A soak is when you hold the kiln at a certain temperature without going higher so that the glazes or clay have an increased vitrification.) I maintained a temperature of 2200 degrees f. for twenty minutes.
The next day when I opened the lid, to my horror, I looked in at kiln shelves that had bent and sagged into each other. There were blobs of what were suppose to be tiles that looked like lava rocks full of bubbles. After removing the shelves and the contents, I checked for further damage to the kiln. Four of the five elements would not turn on because they had broken.
I bought the Paragon Kiln in 1972 and had used continually for 35 years. There was always a quality of the work that came out of this kiln that I could never seem to duplicate from the other two kilns that I had additionally acquired during that time.


During part of those 35 years, became known for my ceramic, cobalt glazed purple and white cows and I had fired so many of them in that kiln that the inside has developed a blue patina. From this kiln came 90% the artifacts for my Artifact Project.
I have three kilns and so I decided to use the other two and try to get new elements at some point for the Paragon Kiln later. I had also transitioned into producing bronze sculpture a few years before and was doing less ceramic sculpture.

Recently, I decided it was time to revive the Paragon Kiln and while checking the internet for element prices and repair, I came across a technique that someone described in which you heat the broken element with a butane torch and then while hot, twist the ends together. The elements become very brittle after years of use and the heat makes them flexible.

Well, I thought that it was worth a try and I repaired all four elements, testing them as I went. They all seemed to heat up fine. Yesterday was the true test as I decided to fire six artifacts. I opened the kiln this morning and there they were with that very particular cobalt blue that I can not seem to get in the other two kilns. I did some calculations and I also realized that the kiln had sat dormant for a little over 1000 days. So I welcome my special life-long studio companion back. I am sure that I will have to replace the elements soon, but for now, I get the predictable results that I have for so long depended upon.