In the Art Room

Kiln Nightmare Update: Facts and Theories

 PhotoGrid_1428067578224I feel like the mom who, in a search of solidarity, posted a statement about her child not sleeping through the night, and in return received a lot of unsolicited advice and responses about what she was doing wrong.

Yesterday I posted a pic of a kiln disaster. It happens. Maybe not to everyone, and good for you, but nonetheless, it happens to the best of us. I imagine it happens to the worst of us as well. Well, my Facebook page has been blowing up with advice and suggestions, and while I know your intentions are good, I can’t help but think you all believe me to be incompetent. I know, I know, that wasn’t your intention, but still…

The truth is, we can sit here and debate all day and night about what went wrong, but ultimately, we will never know. Why? Because we cannot replicate the conditions and test our theories. And there are a lot of theories. Before we look at my theories, let’s take a look at some facts:

Fact 1: 10 out of 26 bobbleheads survived in their entirety.

Fact 2: One of the bobbleheads that did not survive was my own sample.

Fact 3: All of the heads survived.

Fact 4: We have had problems with our electric kiln’s programming in the past, resulting in misfiring.

I have developed a few theories based on my experience and what I know about this particular situation.

Theory 1: The clay pieces were not dry enough.

This is my leading theory for what went wrong. I give my thicker pieces about two weeks to dry out, sometimes more. I don’t allow my students to make their pieces any thicker than two fingers (their fingers). I check the thickness of all pieces while they’re working. With thin slab pieces, I give them about a week. I’ve been doing this for years, and I haven’t had any problems. Except for this one time. So what makes this time different? I think it was where I let the pieces dry. Usually, all finished clay pieces are placed on shelves in the kiln room to dry. This time around, I left them in my classroom. Not only did I leave them in my classroom to dry, I left them in a plastic container. A plastic container with no lid, but a plastic container nonetheless. While the container was open and the pieces exposed to the air, I suspect that the container hindered air flow and didn’t allow the bottoms to dry thoroughly. I never do this, but this time I did. Why? Because the shelves in the kiln room were full? Because I didn’t feel like hauling them upstairs to the kiln room? Because I forgot about them? All of the above? I don’t know. If I could go back and ask myself, I would.

Theory 2: The kiln misfired.

This has happened in the past. Our kiln is electric and is preprogrammed. We have had the programs go wonky before and fire all elements at once and too quickly. I have had to reprogram the kiln before. I am aware that our kiln misfiring is always a possibility, and yet, when I fired the kiln that day, I did not check the program first. I should have, but I was in a hurry. I’m at this school one day a week, I had a lot to do that day, and I wanted to get the pieces in the kiln and fired. I was rushed. I was careless. I should have checked. On that particular day, I only stayed long enough to hear the kiln fire up and to take note of the lights to tell me it was firing. My memory is telling me that had I taken the time to really notice the lights, I would have seen that all three lights were lit, meaning all three elements were firing. I am now convinced that this is what happened and while it may not have caused the disaster, it certainly contributed to it. My visual memory has me seeing three lights. Maybe it’s lying to me. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ll be reviewing the programs when I get back there next week.

Theory 3: Student error.

It’s possible they overworked the clay, creating small air bubbles. It’s possible they accidentally sealed up the bottom of their pinch pots. It’s possible, but not very likely, in my opinion.

I’ll never know what actually happened. I know that I made a couple of poor decisions that I don’t normally make that most likely contributed to the disaster. I made a couple of mistakes, and I am well aware of what they were. It can happen to anyone. Let’s move on now, okay?

For those of you wondering, my students took it pretty well. They were a little bummed at first, but I think it helped that all of the heads survived. The bodies are pretty easy to make, so I plan to remake the pinch pot bodies myself and have my students add the finishing touches (feet, details, textures). They were really cool about it. I’ll be sure to post a pic of the finished pieces.

Until then, thank you for your comments and advice, but really guys, I got this.


6 thoughts on “Kiln Nightmare Update: Facts and Theories

  1. Stephanie says:

    It absolutely DOES happen to everyone. I have about 130 rattle rocks that are going to the kiln next week and I’m not 100% confident that they will all survive. Last year we had no casualties, this year, who knows? This is a great lesson for my students in releasing control. Sometimes we work hard and things happen. And it’s a great lesson for art teachers to show our students that mistakes can be made by anyone at anytime along the way. The way we handle it shows them how to handle it. One of the great life lessons learned in an art classroom. Good luck with the next batch!


  2. Amyh says:

    Each year I make a large tile mural with my 6th class … I have 4 under my belt , all were fired with out mishaps. However this year when I fired them to 04 bisque… 10 of the 18 … 8×8 tiles blew up … Hours of work gone …. After much discussion I decided to candle fire the next batch. All went well and the mural is ready to be grouted . The explosion reminded me we never stop learning … After I stopped crying !!


  3. Oh lawd. This ain’t nuthin, sistah. I melted down a kiln once. Ya hear me? MELTED IT DOOOOOWN. I opened the lid and the kids’ projects looked like melted marshmallows. I immediately became physically ill, had a panic attack and was sent home. All in a day’s work! We should each post a pic of our most epic kiln disaster because we each have a one 🙂


    • Amyh says:

      No way … U win!!! that’s crazy ! Why did it happen misfire ? Crap I bet that was horrible ! I wish I would have taken a picture!


  4. Artsystate says:

    One time I dropped a box full of student artwork… The pieces were bone dry… My other students saw me run out of the room so I could swear in private.

    When I told the class what happened, I was honest, said I slipped and the pieces went tumbling- but we’d make them again.

    They were excited that they got to make another project, and one kid said “don’t worry- it wasn’t your fault, it was the paper (in my unbelievably cluttered storage closet) that I slipped on’s fault.

    I had another class help the students make the easy part of the project so then they could add details to them.

    Gotta love the resiliency and teamwork of kids. And yes, getting into my storage closet still is like climbing a mountain


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