When David Harris ’79, associate professor of art, was a junior at Missouri Western, he and Robert Weidmaier ’75 built a salt kiln that was used in the old ceramics house on the east side of campus. Fast forward almost four decades, and Harris has done it again with another kiln.
This time, he and Patrick Larsen ’15 built a wood-fired kiln on the west side of campus and fired it up for the first time in November 2016.
The kiln joins a variety of kilns on campus, including two kilns donated by the City of St. Joseph this past spring. Harris explained that each type of kiln produces a different finish, and students had been saying they would like to create wood-fired pieces.
So a few years ago, the Department of Art’s student Clay Guild started “Cups for Kilns,” making and selling coffee mugs in an effort to raise money for the kiln. When they had raised half the funds, the MWSU Foundation funded the rest as a special allocation. Total cost was between $12,000 and $14,000.
“I want students to learn a variety of techniques,” Harris said. “It’s good that they can try a lot of different things.”
The kiln, boasting a stacking space approximately 4 ½ feet tall and 5 feet deep, stands on a concrete pad west of the interstate near the physical plant, where a dairy barn once stood. For the firing in November 2016 and April 2017, it held between 80 and 120 pieces.
The kiln heated up to approximately 2,500o F, which took about 12 hours to reach, stayed at that temperature for almost three hours, and then was allowed to cool down for at least two days. Each firing uses three-quarters of a cord of wood.
The first time the kiln was used, Harris said he wasn’t happy with the results, and the students were disappointed, too. But they made some changes in the spring firing, and students “were very, very pleased. I think the next one will be even better,” Harris said.
Although the ceramics created in the spring weren’t ready in time for the semi-annual student art sale, pieces from the next batch this fall will be offered in the December sale.