Monday, May 23, 2005

Atlanta Bound

Long ago and far away, before I met my wife, I lived in Glendale, California, and I worked as a software engineer for a major defense contractor. I wasn't allowed to talk about what I did outside of work.

I was very, very good at what I did. I lived, slept, and breathed for work, taking time out to read lots of science fiction books, and attend the occasional convention. At one time I was writing accounting software on the side for the entertainment business. I was pretty shy and geeky.

One day, I decided that my life was a cerebral hell, and that I needed to pick up a hobby that produced something real in the world. I had taken a few pottery classes at an art center while in college, and decided to pick it up again. I attended classes at the Youth House in La Canada-Flintridge California, under the instruction of Helen Jean Taylor. I made a lot of good friends, and learned to throw consistantly, as well as learning to throw large. I could drop a twenty-five pound bag of clay on the wheel, and throw it into a large bowl.

I branched out into building Rose Parade Floats at this time, as a welder and shaper, learning to 'bend steel with my bare hands'. That is a tale for another day, for today we sing pottery.

I ended up moving to Marietta, Georgia in pursuit of career advancement. I lived a couple of miles from The Big Chicken.

After a few months of software insanity, I started looking for another art center to throw at. I looked in the phone book, and started driving around the city of Atlanta to scope out the different places. At one of the places, I encountered a very helpful potter, who gave me a rundown of all of the centers in the area, and what the pluses and minuses were of each. One in particular he didn't like, because he said that the instructor and her students spent most of the time chatting and drinking wine, and how he was more serious than that. I made sure to get detailed instructions on how to find the place.

I started throwing at what became the Spruill Center in Dunwoody, GA, and took classes with Vicki Paulet. I became one of the lab assistants, mixing glazes and loading kilns. I also developed a fondness for raku, which involves pulling pieces out of a kiln while they are orange hot, and putting them in sealed containers with combustable materials. The burning materials blacken any unglazed surfaces, and oxygen is pulled out of the glazes to turn them metallic or multicolored. Vicki would assign a class project each quarter, and we would have a pot-luck at someone's house at the end of session, and we would talk about our pieces. I made a lot of big bowls, but also significantly branched out into more sculptural pieces and lidded jars, including my Flash Gordon style raku rockets. Other works included "Love Potion #9", "Mauschwitz", and "Things are Looking Up".

Vicki and I became good friends, and I was close to almost everyone in my ceramics classes. I tended to cook a lot more back then, and would make desserts or truffles to bring to class.

I also started selling my work when in Georgia. The last bowl I had thrown in California sold at auction through the art center for four hundred dollars, and I sold two lidded jars for three hundred apiece through a shady art dealer who withheld the sales from me until I asked for the pieces back. If they had told me, I would have made more of the types of pieces that sold, and we all could have made more money.

Eventually, I tired of my job, and moved on to Phoenix, Arizona. I was sad to leave all of my new pottery friends. One of my friends gave me a bottle of wine as a going away gift.

While in Marietta, I started to play Dactyl Nightmare on the Virtuality 1000, a virtual reality game built by W Industries, at a local Dave and Buster's. I ended up becoming the Atlanta regional champion for the last year that I was in the city, which I only mention because it is directly tied to the story about meeting my wife, Julie, in Phoenix. The bottle of wine ties in too, but that is another story for another day.

I met Julie a little over ten years ago. We had a daughter together, and she has a son from a previous marriage. We've moved twice together, and she has grown as a potter while my skills have languished.

Now we have a kiln.

In about a month, we are going to be heading down to Atlanta, so Julie can meet all of my pottery friends, and so Vicki can meet my family for the first time. Maybe I can make a few rockets, and bisque them in the new kiln before we go, and raku them while I'm visiting.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Awaiting the Kiln Gods

About two years ago, my wife, Julie, and I bought an electric kiln on eBay. Its an L&L Industries K230 Econo model. I named it "Figaro".

Julie was a ceramics instructor at a day camp, and I had been doing pottery on and off for the last twenty years. She leans more towards hand building, and I towards throwing on the wheel. We have a small studio in our basement that hasn't really seen much use, since we had to rely on either the kilns at camp or having me take a class. A home kiln makes a lot of sense for us.

At the time we bought it, we drove down to Virginia to pick it up. When we rebuilt our master bath that year, and had to have additional circuits run through the house for the jacuzzi tub and heater we installed, we also put in a fifty amp circuit from the breakerbox to the garage. The wires were pulled, but the breaker and outlet were never installed. The kiln sat in the garage, near "Monstro", a never-used, 22 cubic foot, gas fired kiln that has followed us through four moves in the last ten years, and "Bubbles", a small test kiln that a former co-worker donated to the cause.

There were a few issues with the kiln when we bought it. The plug at the end of the electrtical cord was fused and melted. Some previous owner had installed a 30 amp clothes dryer cord, which couldn't stand the load. I finally ordered a new cord from L&L at the beginning of May, and a couple of peep hole plugs. Once the cord was ordered, we knew what kind of outlet needed (NEMA 50-6, two hot wires plus ground, no neutral) to be installed, so the parts were purchased, and the wiring was completed.

On the fourteenth of May, I plugged it in for the first time, and tested the circuit and the kiln. Figuro has three rotary switches to control the three banks of elements. Each switch has four settings, OFF, LOW, MEDIUM, and HIGH. I jury rigged the kiln sitter with a piece of wood (when firing, I'd use a pyrometric cone), and threw all of the switches to LOW.

The top two banks functioned fine, glowing orange, but the bottom bank remained cool. Turning off all but the bottom bank, then fiddling with the switch, I discovered that the switch had been rotated ninety degrees by a previous owner, so the element bank was off when I thought it was LOW. I unplugged the kiln, popped the switch housing off, loosened the cord, rotated the switch, then reinstalled everything.

The kiln is fully wired and functional. We bought some kiln shelves this last weekend, and we have kiln furniture that I had purchased for Monstro, years ago.

Now we need to fill it for the first firing. One of the traditions of a first firing it to bisque a clay 'kiln god', which will then watch over the kiln for as long as it used.