Many of you have attended state art-education conferences through the years. They are great places to meet with fellow art teachers and see firsthand new and different art projects that you can use/adapt in your classroom.
I’ve presented many hands-on clay projects and kiln lectures at these conferences in an attempt to assuage any fears one might have in working with clay and firing kilns. Questions have always been welcome and varied— from the simple to the quite complex.
Often in my workshops, or while in the Skutt booth at these conferences, I have been asked, “Do you have any of those clay plugs for the kiln? Mine are missing (or broken). Do I need really them?” For more than a decade now, I have been able to reply with my own question: “Do you know about our Peep Show? No, no … not that kind …”
Then, before their minds stray too far, I quickly tell them about how they can have their students create their own peephole plugs. Art teachers who do a lot of clay with their students and have experience firing kilns get it quickly and always start to smile.
ORIGIN OF THE PEEP SHOW
The “Peep Show” was created to feature small ceramic pieces created by students and artists in the Skutt booth at the annual National Art Education Association (NAEA) and National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) conventions. There is also a traveling show, which displays over 100 Peeps from artists of all ages, which is held in various galleries, distributors’ show rooms, and other venues around the U.S. So, every spring, when the NAEA and NCECA conventions roll around, we know that we will see Peeps that make us smile, perhaps even chuckle.
This year, NAEA will be in Boston March 14–16 and NCECA will be in Minneapolis March 27–30.
CREATING FUNCTIONING (AND FUN) plugs that fit into the peephole on a kiln is a small ceramic project students will enjoy. Not only will they be using their imaginations, they will be exercising their math skills in factoring the percentage of the wet clay’s shrinkage that will take place during drying and firing. The goal is to make a finished plug that will fit nicely into the peepholes of kilns.
You may be wondering what the function of a peephole is. Well, the peephole and its plug play an important part in the firing of your kiln. The peephole has a few functions:
1. It allows moisture that is driven off by the heat to escape the kiln.
2. It also allows oxygen into the kiln, which helps burn out organic material during the slow bisque. This is important because if the organic materials are not all burnt off, they will again burn off during the glaze fire, producing gas that can cause glaze defects.
3. The hole provides a way to look into the kiln at different levels (always use eye protection) to see well-placed pyrometric cones that measure the “heat work” (time and temperature) that has occurred.
WISDOM OF THE CONE
Pyrometric cones have been around since late 1896. They are formulated from many ceramic materials and are designed to bend at certain temperatures. Pyrometric cones candeliver accurate readings on the heat work created in a kiln, measuring the relationship of both time and temperature absorbed by the ceramic ware.
These cones are accurate and provide useful information that allows you to make adjustments to your kiln sitters and firing schedules, and check the accuracy of your controllers to help you create more consistent and accurate firings. Remember that the mass of the load and how it is arranged in the kiln can affect firing times and how even the kiln fires from top to bottom (see above for more about cones).
HOW TO MAKE A PEEPHOLE PLUG
click here for instructions
PEEP THEMES AND IDEAS run the gamut—from baseball gloves, animals, and lips, to faces, flowers and spaceships. We have seen flying pigs and, yes, even those Peeps we see at Eastertime. All have been highly creative and all of them have been successful.
We hope you’ll join the Peep Show this year. Peeps of the world, unite!
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For over 30 years, David L. Gamble has been involved with ceramic arts, businesses and education. He continues to make clay art and teaches throughout the U.S. and abroad.
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