[Clayart] wow and visual experiences

Hank Murrow hmurrow at efn.org
Sat Apr 1 17:43:47 UTC 2023

> On Apr 1, 2023, at 8:22 AM, mel jacobson <melpots at mail.com> wrote:
>  how did you start making clay objects?

I was in my third year of College and studying Architecture at the University of Oregon in Eugene, when
I decided to take a beginning ceramics course from my Basic Design teacher, Bob James. He gave a talk 
during the first meeting which laid out the geology and the formation of ceramic materials, and described 
the rules for firing the kilns, in which a person who never had fired a kiln had the first priority for doing 
that, followed by art majors, ceramics majors, grad students, and finally, faculty. This was a rule in 
reverse of that followed by most programs at the time. The one with no experience had the highest priority 
for use of the tool!

Our second meeting was a class clay mix, in which a long sturdy table was covered with canvas and the 
class opened bags of fireclay, ball clay, silica, and feldspar; making a ridge of materials down the ten foot 
length of the table with a sort of trough down the middle which was filled with reclaimed slip from the 
recycle barrels. Then we twenty-four students began to mix the goop together with the dry materials to 
feel it begin to form plastic clay. I remember feeling that “Hey, you could make things with this stuff!” 

I also remembered a long-forgotten time when I was about eight or nine years old and used to go down 
to the curb which ran around our home in Los Angeles, and with borrowed dirt from the vacant lot next 
door, and water from a can, I made little houses and animals and people, and waited for the gardeners up 
the street to begin watering the lawns, creating a flood along the curb which washed away my 'village' in 
minutes; only to be rebuilt he next time I worked at the curb.

Fast forward twelve or so years later, and six weeks into that first term of ceramics, I was working on one 
of the German-style kick wheels, when Bob came and sat at the empty wheel facing me and watched me 
working the clay, and said,“There is a lot of work building up on the carts in the kiln room, would you 
like to do a glaze fire in the Alpine kiln?”I said yes, and agreed to meet with him after lunch, to be instructed
in loading the kiln, etc. once I had the kiln ready to fire, he came around and looked through the spy hole 
and agreed that it was ready to fire. I lit the kiln and turned it up on a schedule he wrote out on the blackboard, 
and did the first reduction for the body before dinner. Around 9 o'clock in the evening, the janitor came to 
lock the doors, so I propped the transom window near the entry so I could get in, and continued the firing, 
I began to worry when I could no longer see the cones, and about that time David Stannard, a local potter 
came around and called to let him in. He studied the kiln and said it looked hot, and that I should draw 
what it looked liked inside when I closed up the kiln before firing. Then he left with no further advice. I 
drew with chalk on the blackboard what it looked like before I lit the kiln, and figured I had overfired the 
kiln, so I turned it off and went back to my room to get some sleep.

Coming into the studio the next day around noon, I came in through the kiln room and a student there said 
Bob is looking for you. So I went to his office in the studio and he said,“It got pretty hot in that kiln” So 
I told him about David's advice, and showed him the drawing, and he pulled out his pocketwatch, asking if 
I had any classes that afternoon. I replied“No”, and he said he thought I could replace the broken shelves 
and put new radiants in the kiln and do a second fire the next day. Relieved, I did that, and kept samples of 
the class clay which had melted, to take to the Geology dept, which could fire fresh samples of the class clay 
to find out how hot it had gotten in my first firing. Cone 18 was the verdict! And two thousdand firings 
later, I have never overfired again. Once, mis-reading the cones, I did underfire by a cone.

Now, at 84, and having slowed down, I am beginning to finish up my 64 year career as a potter, and 
will try to complete my“Potters Primer" to sum up what I consider important for young potters to consider; 
and continue with watercolor and ink drawing to study the questions which still come to me. I will pass my 
kiln on to a younger potter, as it has possibly two thousand or so additional fires to do if it is treated well.

That is my interim report, Hank in Eugene

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