Back to Basics

I spent three days wandering the Javits Center in New York this past week, taking in all the new books for fall; fiction, crafts, cooking, gardening, lots of history and politics, and children’s books for all ages.  I was, of course, particularly looking for books on ceramics but found only two:  The Ceramics Bible by Louisa Taylor, coming from Chronicle Books and the fourth edition of Fred Olsen’s classic, The Kiln Book from the University of Pennsylvania Press. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t other books in our field coming out, just that the publishers (such as University of North Carolina) were not exhibiting at Book Expo America.

I still have my first edition of The Kiln Book published in 1973 by Keramos Books. It was $8.95 in paper (the new edition is $45.00) and printed in a landscape format with a thick brown cover. How I pored over the black and white drawings, the diagrams, the charts, and the not-so-crisp black and white photos. My first serious kiln was built from Daniel Rhodes’ plans for a catenary arch, using salvaged hard firebricks and homemade pipe burners, but when it wouldn’t reach temperature, I read and reread Olsen. It seemed he knew everything.

Olsen dropped out of the University of Southern California (where he was working on his MFA under the tutelage of F. Carlton Ball and Susan Peterson) to go to Japan to study. He has built kilns of many types all over the world and sells kits for his gas fired updraft kiln.

I like looking at and reading about kilns so I look forward to this new edition. Lately, even though I am a flame girl (pyromaniac some would say), I have been wondering if an electric kiln with electricity produced by solar, wind or hydro- power would be more environmentally responsible than gas, oil or wood. There are potters using methane, but is anyone producing enough electricity to fire a kiln? I am imagining a studio with banks of photovoltaic panels on the kiln shed, or perhaps a dam and waterfall close by. Maybe Olsen will have something to say about this.

The Ceramics Bible, written by British potter Louisa Taylor, best known for her stacking porcelain tableware, was being extolled as the “new definitive guide for serious ceramics practitioners.” The copies I saw in the Chronicle booth at the show were dummies (mock ups) with blank pages. However, if heft is an indication, this book promises a lot of information. It will have 700 color photos and illustrations, “examples of contemporary work,” and “artist profiles.” I am not sure we need another a to z ceramics book, but then again, can there ever be too many books on our topic? I think not.

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