Montana Trip: My First Kiln

It’s been about 6 years since I was last in Montana.  So last weekend Jeff and I went for a drive up to Bozeman and then to Helena.  I received my MFA from Montana State University in 2006 and when I left I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Graduate school...  What can I say?  It’s a loaded which I was teetering on the verge of quitting, of exhaustion, or of having a break down.  I had a surge of these overwhelming feelings when we first pulled up to the “Pig Barn.”  (The graduate studios were built on the old pig barn at the agricultural campus.)  Before going into the building I took a moment to walk around outside, take in the beautiful scenery, and to spend time with my first kiln.

My first semester at MSU was spent building a salt kiln.  When I started this project gas kilns seemed like these magical boxes where you put pots in and they would come out glassy, iridescent, and luscious.  My days would always start with shoveling snow off the kiln pad.  I felt like it snowed almost everyday.  Then I would need to sand and sort the brick.  We received 5 or 6 pallets of used brick and they were almost all covered with mortar.  On top of that some of the bricks could not be used because they would melt if exposed to high temperatures.  Not good for kiln use!  My instructor, Irish Flynn, would come out to the studios every week to instruct me on kiln building and check on my progress.  Each week I would build a couple of feet up and he would say tear it down and start again.  It was incredibly frustrating but very rewarding when it was all completed and I was finally able to fire it.  Then like many graduate school experiences I completely changed my work, switched to low fire sculpture, and didn’t need my salt kiln as much.

It looks like this kiln has been well used over the last 9 years.  The arch is starting to collapse, the exterior is deteriorating, the bag wall has fallen over, and it is quite crusty on the inside.  It was nice to see this kiln again and to remember all the blood, sweat, and tears that went into its construction.

Continued on the next post.

WordsDara HartmanComment