The bottom shelves of ‘Wee Bear’, the smaller of two soda kilns at Maze Hill Pottery. This our last kiln load of work for Ceramic Art London, mostly the functional standard ware with a few scattered one-offs by Lisa Hammond. We’re always short on mugs, we never seem to have enough so these packs mean we can really cram them in. I’ve been packing the kilns mostly alone recently, with the help of interns. I’ve sort of figured it out, where certain pots go, where they shouldn’t, how the soda flows and how to direct it. It isn’t an exact science and things don’t always seem to work—the firing itself seems to play an equal part in their outcome, but the two are very much involved. The way the kiln is packed has a direct affect on the ease, and way the pots fire.
For someone who hasn’t soda fired or wood fired before, the sight of a packed kiln of this sort can look very peculiar. Each pot must be raised upon three feet, called wadding, made from highly refractory alumina and china clay. They act as a barrier, like the batt-wash brushed on the shelves, they stop the vapourised sodium from flowing around the pot and sticking them firmly on the shelf.
The props are large, the shelves are thick and heavy, it’s quite a laborious process, fitting it all through the tight, narrow doorway. Lifting the shelves into place, with care not to hit already stacked pots. The soda torn ceiling flakes and catches, falling into pots which must be removed. The time of year plays an important role too, or the weather, these past few packs have been lovely, with the sun shining on my back as I work. Loading the kiln in winter is a horrible contrast, it’s dark, cold and having to pack on a showery, muddy day is truly the pits. Wee Bear will fire on low pilots overnight, before being cranked up in the early morning and sprayed with soda in the evening.