“And just like that she’s gone,” my husband said, his sooty hands clutching both sides of the frame of the open French door as he leaned in to the living room to talk to me. “Are you gonna come take a photo?”
“I am! I am!” I exclaimed, twisting this way and that, looking for my phone. “I was on the landline when Sabrina’s message came in and couldn’t just…”
But he was already headed back up to the kiln shed, eager to have this part of the process documented.
I spied my phone on top of a kitchen table and snatched it up before trotting across the living room to catch up with him.
The kiln was gone, I thought, as I followed the path in the grass up towards the garden. I sighed; after all those pots she fired for us.
Of course, I probably shouldn’t say “she” because this large, double chambered, norborigama was not a person and had no gender. But since it was productive, unpredictable, required a certain amount of learning to get it to peak temperature, and birthed countless pots on our behalf, it feels right for me to embrace it into the sisterhood. In fact, when I brought customers up to see the kiln, as part of the “tour” of the pottery, I would joke that the difference between firing pots in a wood-firing kiln and firing them in an electric kiln, was like the difference between natural childbirth and being knocked out for the experience. My husband would be out there, six times a year, sweating it out with the old gal, hoping that if he gave her what she needed, she’d give him the colors he preferred on his pottery.
Sometimes she did. It’s always hard to go by the potter’s evaluation because he’s the harshest critic of his own work, but all the pots found homes over the years. Even if sometimes home was the ‘street of broken dreams’ outside the kiln shed, where shards get trodden back into the earth, maybe to be discovered by future archaeologists. Yes, there really was culture in the technocene era.
I went past the garden and rounded the corner towards the kiln shed to see my husband, our business associate, Reed, and our erstwhile studio assistant, Sabrina, looking like they’d just danced with Mary Poppins and Bert on the rooftops of London. They were all pretty sooty.
I took their photograph and said, “so where…?”
My husband pointed to the chunks of castable refractory that used to be the arches of the kiln, sitting on a tarp under a roof close by. It looked like broken peppermint candy, except more gray than white. It was all there to be ground down and recycled into the new kiln. When we built the old kiln, 30 years ago, my husband hoped for 15 years out of her. She gave us 30. I’d say that’s good juju to put into the new one.
And the old kiln needed to come down. She had a serious sag in one side of the second chamber, which could have been disastrous had it collapsed at the height of a firing.
From a practical standpoint I didn’t have trouble letting go of the kiln. It was all the memories we’d accumulated around her which made me ache inside at the thought of her being gone.
How many times in all the years of that kiln had my husband let her cool down for two days before walking open those big doors, the sound of gentle tinkling accompanying his footsteps as the warm surfaces of the pots met the cold outside air? How many people had stood in front of those open doors, their eyes growing larger and larger as they realized just how much work went into making a piece of pottery?
Our children grew up taking dinner up to their dad as he sat with the kiln, stoking it every 3-5 minutes.
Then they’d visit him 12 hours later, before they got on the morning school bus, and see the flame coming out of the chimney.
And what about the friends that we loved and lost during the lifespan of that kiln. Robert, who designed and built the frames for the doors.
Donal, who helped fund the kiln.
And Waldo, who isn’t in this photograph but who took this photograph and many more of our pottery business.
To name a few.
None of which references the legacy of pots that came out of that big, wood-fired furnace.
Too many to show in photographs here but which you can find, in abundance, on our Facebook page. Once, when our son was a teenager, he sat with his dad during a firing and calculated how many pots this kiln had made over the years. I think the number at that time exceeded 30,000. That’s a lot of pots.
And we got to see the happy faces of the people who received those pots.
And now the old kiln’s gone and my husband is hard at work building another one, which will give me more stories to tell. But before we forget the old kiln completely, I wanted to say farewell. And thanks for the memories.
14 thoughts on “Eulogy for a Kiln.”
Having stood on the hearth of this grand kiln, I here honor it too. Thanks for this touching eulogy, Nicola.
Ah, thank you, Carole. And Waldo too, for the photos which we treasure.
Such sweet memories. We shall be forever grateful to the ole gal for every lovely piece she gifted her energy for us to enjoy. And to those who brought her to life. I shall honour and remember every time we use them. Thank you for sharing . ~ cheers
Thank you for reading. Glad you share the memories.
Nicola, I have wonderful memories of being with you and Steven at the kiln. You were part of my “best of times” at the Skagit.
Thank you, Gerry. I can still remember the first time you visited us at the pottery. It was a “best of times” for us too.
Bittersweet…I have so many memories associated with that kiln as evidenced by the many pieces I have and treasure. Lucky I took them all!
We feel lucky you took them all too, Cheryl. Hope you’re having a good summer.
We’re to have, and use often, sone pots from this kiln. Looking forward to new work from a new kiln!
We are too, Tatsuo. I’ll be sure to post when it’s up and running.
Goodby gorgeous old kiln; hello beautiful new one to be. Sorrow of ending and joy of anticipation. Thank you old girl. And new girl, give us more great pots, please.
We’re hopeful. I’ll let you know when she’s up and running. xoxo
Thanks for the history of Sauk Mountain pottery and it’s kiln, along with all the great pictures. Also glad to hear you have another book out. I’ll have to put it on my list. Doing a book study right now on another book that’s fascinating. it’s taking all my reading energy for now. Look forward to Fall entertainment from you. Much love to you, Betsy
Great to hear from you, Betsy!! I’ve been thinking about you a lot recently, wondering how things were going for you. We’re way overdue to catch up. Yes, let’s see what we can put together in the fall. Love and hugs, Nicola