I just got home from a 2 week residency at Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts in Newcastle, Maine.  Once again, I was reminded of the importance of getting out of my own studio and seeing things with new eyes and being being surrounded by an excellent group artists who are thinking and talking about their work and pushing forward.

A view across the studio.

My plan before arriving was to work on some serving dish ideas based on the cross vault arch form. I soon realized that the focus of my time would be more about material than a specific form. We dug and mixed clay from a mound that had been delivered in the early 70’s to be made into bricks in the factory that is now Watershed’s studio building. The brick clay is very coarse with pebbles and not nearly as plastic as the commercially mixed clay that I’m accustomed to using. Stepping out of my comfort zone was obviously what I needed and learning how to  work with this clay and have its character come across in the finished piece became my challenge.

Recycled Kiln - built from pulverized and reformed soft brick.

One of my fantasies in going to Watershed was to fire earthenware in a soda kiln – using sodium vapor as the exterior glaze. This has been an interest for several years but I haven’t had the opportunity until now. Most of the group fired the kiln together and we were excited with the results. The red clay darkened to range from deep terra cottoa to dark brown and where a light terra sigillata had been applied, the surface remained light or flashed for a nice contrast with the dark clay. Below is a glimpse from the unloading. I’ll add more pictures when I have them.

4 thoughts on “Watershed

  1. Nate,
    Thanks. We used 3 pounds of soda partially dissolved in hot water and soaked into sawdust. This concoction was rolled in burritos. We also used about a pound of salt. Borax would be a good thing to try as well as spraying the soda. The results were definitely nice, especially for the first attempt, I hope to do more of low soda.

  2. Hello,
    I’m just curious as to what density of soda ash you used? I have fired previously with propane and light soda ash to cone 10 and I have just finished building a little temporary wood fired soda kiln that I plan to fire to cone 6 with the addition of borax to lower the firing temp. I unfortunately just have dense soda ash one hand (2.0) and am concerned that it won’t vaporize as efficiently. Never the less, I’ll find out soon enough.
    Thank you,
    Bridget Fairbank

  3. Bridget,
    I must confess that I wasn’t paying attention to the density of the soda ash. I would speculate that once it is dissolved in water, it won’t make much difference. We only used burritos because the sprayer wasn’t working at the time. In my experience with high temp soda, using enough water to dissolve all of the soda and using a garden is the best way to vaporize the soda. The borax will be worth a try.

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