I 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.