Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Potters and friends work through the chilly night

We never had better weather to fire the wood-burning kiln. Rain would have canceled the event because wet wood doesn’t burn well. Wind could have delayed it. Nov. 27, 1999, was just right. On Friday, Grieg Thompson stacked the ceramic pieces made by eight potters and two budding sculptors — Amy Power and Peter Gerard — into the 25-cubic-foot firing chamber. At about dark, Walt Gerard placed two layers of bricks close the kiln’s opening. Wyn Painter kept a low fire overnight, warming the kiln bricks and pots and then started a hotter fire.

Several truckloads of long cedar slabs have "decorated" my yard for two years, and these had to be cut into 2-foot pieces and split lengthwise to about 2-by-2-inch sticks. Fellows with chain saws cut and burned waste wood at first. Then Mike Russell and Joel Haden arrived with a tractor-mounted cut-off saw borrowed from Carson Russell. Several others arrived in time to help cut and stack all of that cedar! It was as if a miracle had happened in my yard in half an hour. The men beamed with pride as they wiped sweat and admired those two beautiful stacks.

Sam Russell drove his yellow Corvair "sixties" truck near and opened its side ramp to display my life-size ceramic cowboy. Wyn Painter also displayed his glass case of ancient, handmade potter’s tools there. The dogs barked as Therion and Judy Hinshaw arrived by tractor and two-wheel cart with six relatives from Michigan. I gave them a tour of the workshop and quickly made a pot on the wheel; that was new to the younger ones. Others guests arrived so fast that I never got back to complete the exhibit on Sam’s truck.

Ella Mae Meyers and Jim, my brother, kept a supply of food available. Cheryl Riley, a pottery student and friend from Jefferson City brought a huge kettle of chili and her husband, Jim Cooper, made his special casserole. Their three guests from Mattoon, Ill., came to watch all three days. Bonnie Gordon brought barbecued brisket to add to the brisket I previously had cooked and frozen for Saturday’s supper. John Tsikalas, the potter who originated June "Clay Days" in Mexico, Mo., and his wife, Laurie, came to experience their first such event. Marian Beebe and Virginia Norris came to take back a report for Eris Lytle, 95, who built this kiln in 1982.

After dark, the crowd thinned to the crew and a dozen diehards, including Nikki Simmons and 11-month-old Malone. The hand on the temperature pyrometer climbed to 1750 degrees, but our goal was 2291 degrees. Walt cleaned the connections of wires to meter posts, and it soon registered 1950 degrees. After midnight we began to scatter coarse stock salt on the roaring fires, two pounds per salting, to produce the vapor that attaches to the silica of the pots. After about 12 pounds, Walt removed a yellow-hot test ring and dropped it into cold water. We continued to add salt, stoke the fireboxes and pull draw rings. After 1 a.m. we were pleased with the salt buildup, so the weary workers went home and Wyn and I kept stoking the fires for another hour before closing it up.

By 9 a.m. Debra Thompson and son Neil had served bagels and we were bringing out the first hot pots, examining them and covering them with jackets and blankets to protect them from the chilly wind. In spite of a few mishaps, we were happy with the results. Wyn had made small commemorative jugs stamped, "Wood Firing #21, Sue Gerard, November 26-28, ’99, Columbia, Mo."

I went to bed happy and slept 11 hours!

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