Cooking with the Kiln Krew

Tracy Olson and kiln

Tracy Olson and kiln

Rick Harwell

When was the last time you set your oven to 2200°F? The Happy Potters Kiln Krew does it on a regular basis. The Creative Arts Technical Center (CATC) has three Olympic kilns that are shared by the Happy Potters and Kiln Krafters for their clay and ceramic firings. A kiln is a thermally insulated chamber, like an oven, that hardens clay into pottery by heating it at very high temperatures. These kilns are loaded from the front like a refrigerator. As pottery pieces are loaded into the kiln, the krew adds posts and shelves from the bottom up depending on the size of the pieces until the kiln is full. The kilns can fire as high as 2350°F but the kiln fires greenware into bisque at 1947°F and glazed bisque fires higher at 2232°F. The kilns can take up to 11 hours to fire to the desired temperature and then need a 48-hour cooldown before unloading. The kilns are very reliable and have several automatic safety features that will shut down the system if errors are detected.

Kiln operation is a key component in the pottery and ceramic process at the CATC. The Happy Potters Kiln Krew is led by Tracy Olson, the Kiln Krew committee chair. She also is a Kiln Captain along with Charlotte McGovern, Nancy Lussier, and Marlene Womack. The kiln krew assists the captains and consists of Bev Anderson, Linda Becker, Pat Bender, Leslie Christian, Jackie Graham, Liz Katz, Mimi Mancuso, Cindy Parker, Rebecca Persons, Judie Smothers, and Carol Stoltz. Tracy Olson said, “Without the kiln krew, we can’t make pottery. Each kiln krew member makes a significant time commitment to support the Happy Potters. I really appreciate what they do and know the rest of the Happy Potters also recognize and appreciate their efforts.”

Tracy Olson coordinates the kiln firing schedule for bisque and glaze and works with the Kiln Krafters to share time with the ceramics group. She is responsible for maintaining the system to train all members, document each project, and identify the specific duties of the captains and kiln helpers. She also coordinates kiln maintenance with Robson Ranch maintenance personnel and the Kiln Krafters. The kiln captains take turns on the firing schedule, monitor kiln room supplies and equipment, provide training for their krew, and ensure the kiln room is washed and cleaned.

Being on the Kiln Krew is a lot of work but it also has some inherent benefits. They get to attain firsthand knowledge about glazing combinations, awareness of the properties of different types of clay when fired at different temperatures and are the first to see the successes and occasional failures of pottery projects as they unload the kilns. A kiln opening can be a bit like Christmas. The Happy Potters invest many hours in their pottery and the anticipation and excitement of the final firing culminates as the kiln doors are opened for unloading. For the last few months, the CATC has been closed and the kilns are cold. The Happy Potters cannot wait for the go ahead to open the facility and let the Kiln Krew start cooking!