Archive for December, 2010

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Leftover Clay – kiln god


kiln god - Leif the Guardian of MugPhlutes & HornsThis is what happens when there is leftover saggar clay and I’m sitting around over the holidays watching too many movies.  Due to the groggy composition of this particular clay, it isn’t the sort of medium that would find its way into a ceramic musical instrument, so, this lump became my first, stand alone,  kiln god.  And yes, there are similarities to the busts that top the lids of my latest saggar projects (shocking, eh?).

Leif,  Guardian of MugPhlutes and Ceramic Musical Instruments, will take his place above the door of the gas kiln next month after a bisque firing.  The tradition of kiln gods among potters is probably a hold over from an early civilization that believed in animism and polytheistic worship…not so for me, this is just a(nother) touch of whimsy.  Leif began as an anatomically correct Nordic nude wearing nothing but his horned helmet.  Since December has had its snowy-cold days, Leif sprouted some semblance of cover.  We couldn’t have Leif’s parts freezing (or burning) off, now could we!?

Leif’s story?: Prized horns of victory, like the one he clutches here, deserve attention and protection during their construction and firing.  Leif has wrapped himself around a cauldron of fire, passing his spiritual powers on the instrument before placing it into the tempering flames.  (That’s the best I can do on short notice).

Leif stands (or sits in this instance) roughly 8″ in height.  The larger portions of the head, body, and legs are hollowed out. The caldron (urn) between Leif’s legs is a 3″ tall pinch-pot.

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Saggar Construction


This is a bit off-topic for my normal ceramic musical instrument theme, but some of my newer ocarinas are destined to find a place in a newly constructed saggar.   Saggars have been around since the Chinese used them to protect wares from ashes in a wood firing  that would otherwise land on a piece and alter the intended look of the glaze.  Oddly enough, saggars today are used primarily to create unusual firing atmospheres within a kiln to protect the kiln and the other wares from being altered by the vapors created within a saggar. Go figure.

Saggar - Approximately 10 in. clear on the interiorThose who know me won’t be shocked that my saggar creations include a touch of whimsy.  Each new saggar is topped with my own version of a kiln god… generally (in my style) a Nordic-looking dude with a menacing facial expression.  It is a tradition among potters to set kiln gods of varying creatures atop a kiln during the firing process to appease the immensely powerful flames within the kiln to be kind and produce beautiful works.  Don’t go all fundamentalist on me with the kiln god references…it is just me having some fun with a new (to me) clay used for saggar construction.  I am seeing some potential for future sculptural projects that may be born from the saggar womb of  Sagar the Glazinator.

saggar kiln god saggar kiln godsaggar kiln god

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Bottom Knocker


A Twitter acquaintance, @sherylcoleman*,  responded to a question of mine and used an infrequently used title, Bottom Knocker, as part of her response.  Take heart.  A bottom knocker is nothing kinky, not related to corporal punishment, nor is it a reference to sagging anatomical parts… it is a term used in earlier centuries for an apprentice who worked in the ceramics shop who was responsible for pounding out the clay bases used in the making of saggars.  OK. That is a lot to absorb for my non-ceramic friends.  A saggar is a lidded container used within a glaze firing kiln to hold bisque fired pieces for out-of-the-ordinary glaze firings.  By placing a bisque piece into a saggar, the artist is able to achieve unusual and often unpredictable results in surface coloration due to the controlled atmosphere and chemicals/minerals within the saggar container.

I am constructing several saggars at the moment for experiments with ceramic musical instruments….probably ocarinas, rattles, and small drums.  The clay mix for a saggar is generally about 50% fire clay and 50% grog.   The grog is necessary to handle the extremes in thermal shock from high temperature firings when the saggar is re-used in multiple firings.  Several have advised me not to attempt wheel-throwing  saggar clay because the coarseness from the grog makes it feel like you are throwing sandpaper.  I may give it a try on a small piece.  We’ll see if I have any fingerprints left afterward.   If only that coarseness could be used to grind off the season additions of my bottom…I wouldn’t knock that 🙂

*Sheryl is also the author of a fiber arts and flute blog with a very cool name, Crunchy Banana.