A few weeks ago, Portland Community College celebrated the opening of their new kiln yard designed by THA. The ceramics faculty, PCC staff, Pacificmark Construction, and members of the community gathered together at the newly minted arts facility.
The Kiln Yard project marks an exciting step forward for the college’s Visual Arts Program. The new structure, which is located directly adjacent to the ceramic studios, provides a covered shelter that unites the kilns and workspaces that were previously scattered amongst an open gravel yard. Students now have access to all new kilns, including a wood-fired and a soda gas kiln which will be built by students, as well as a Bailey downdraft kiln and an Olympic Raku kiln.
To celebrate the opening, Charles Washburn, the head ceramics professor at the college, led the group in an inaugural firing of the new Raku kiln. Everyone was encouraged to glaze his or her own clay pot, a souvenir to remember the event. Everyone loaded their objects into the kiln, and as the kiln cover was lowered, the transformation process began.
As the kiln heated up, people waited in anticipation (rather close to the warm kiln, as it was a fairly cold day!). After twenty minutes, the temperature had risen to almost 2000 degrees, and the pots were ready for the next phase. As the cover rose, gasps from the crowd emerged as the glowing stoneware was revealed.
This was game time. Charles and his several assistants rapidly transported the pots to the sand pit within the reduction chamber. Each person had a task. As two people would place pots down, another would lay paper on top of the pile, while yet another swiftly followed by covering the stack with a can. In a matter of what felt like a single minute, 40 or so pots were transported to the chamber where they would reduce in heat for about 10 minutes, undergoing a reaction between the glaze, heat, and oxygen.
Lastly, the doors were opened, the cans were removed, and the pots were sifted out from ashes to be placed in water, which cleaned and cooled the pots so they could be handled. The result was an incredible array of deep metallic reds and iridescent greens and blues. Each person walked away an artist that day, even our contractor!
In Japanese, the word Raku holds a meaning of “relief” or “comfort.” As a designer, it was extremely relieving and gratifying to observe everyone making something unique and beautiful in a space I helped create. This next term, I am excited to see the new facility get put to use and see what this talented community creates within it.