This project grew out of previous collaborations between
California artist and
kiln-builder Fred Olsen and large-scale sculpture artist Nina Hole of Denmark. The plan was
to create a sixteen-foot long kiln/sculpture using a double-walled clay
construction method. The sculpture was constructed on-site in the form of a
twin-fire, downdraft kiln, to be later re-assembled as two eight-foot high
standing sculptures. This is the first time such a kiln has been constructed,
and the first time Fred has fired a kiln-load of work within one of his
The project began by leveling the site, laying the firebrick foundation and
digging the ash pits and trough for the downdraft chimneys. Fred designed
caternary arch forms for the kiln sections, and construction was started with
the center two sections.
The slab construction method used provides a double-walled structure with openings and channels throughout,
to aid in drying and firing evenly. This was accomplished by forming
6" slabs 10"-12" long into a "J" shape, and
stacking them on edge along the length of each section. After completion
of one row, the following row is stacked in the opposite direction so that
an open cylindrical channel is created to run the span of the arch.
Volunteers enthusiastically built the sides of
each section, but as the two walls reached their meeting point a silent
changing of the guard took place, and it was Fred and Nina who built the
top section of each arch. At times it seemed they were hand-making
twisted, convoluted pieces to repair an incomplete puzzle.
As the two center sections were being built on
the ground, the fireboxes were being built on nearby tables. These needed
to be built as early as possible to allow them to dry completely before
the firing. As this structure would be fired green, slow steady drying was
As each section was completed, the templates were
removed, and the inside glaze was applied. Two cone five glazes were
sprayed and splattered on the inside of the kiln, to provide a finish for
the sculptural context of the piece once it was fired and re-assembled.
After the glaze application, students began stacking the work inside the
kiln, continuing to glaze and stack each section until complete.
The kiln was candled with a tiny fire just
outside each firebox overnight to aid drying, and in the morning the
entire kiln was wrapped in ceramic fiber. The kiln was stoked slowly
throughout the day, still keeping the fire mostly within the fireboxes. By
early afternoon, stoking was increased in amount and interval, and the
kiln was brought up to temperature.
While we were heading for cone 5-10, poor cone
placement and a poorly timed, intrusive photo shoot caused an erroneous
judgement of temperature and over-stoking, leading to a stalled firing
before reaching temperature. Of course, all this is hindsight, as all
looked like it was going well at the time.
As the kiln was opened 2 days later, oohs and
aahs abounded at the colors and textures achieved, both in the kiln and on
it. While work near the center of the kiln did not mature, both ends
produced several very nice pieces, about 1/3 of the way into the kiln on
both ends. All in all it was a wonderful experience, an exciting
experiment, and a pleasure to work alongside Fred and Nina as they created
this fascinating kiln from start to finish. It was unanimous among the
students that we'd all love to do this again next year.
Facts of the project are as follows:
2 1/2 tons of clay extruded, scored, slipped and sealed into place.
Over 50 volunteers from the Saddleback College ceramics department
students and faculty, plus several visiting artists, students and faculty
from neighboring colleges and universities.
Number of people on site during initial lighting: 4
Number of people on site as the kiln breathed fire the following night: