In the cramped basement of Hopkins Hall, monstrous kilns bake soft, pliable clay into permanent ceramic works. Students of the newly reinstated ART 5102 course will soon learn how these machines function from the ground up.
Kiln Building, a required course for ceramics students, is being offered again for the first time in three years. The class is being taught by instructional lab supervisor and building coordinator Paul Simon, who has taught the course at Ohio State for 23 years.
“I’m excited to do it. I like teaching students. It’s one of those things — when you see that little light bulb go off — it’s like, ‘Oh!’” Simon said. “But it’s also a lot of work trying to figure everything out when I haven’t done it in three years.”
Simon said the course will primarily focus on how kilns function, are built and are maintained. As building manager, Simon is responsible for kiln repair and maintenance.
Building a kiln from scratch is an expensive process, one that Simon said can cost between $1,000 and $8,000. He said he is unsure if the class will receive the funding to build a kiln this semester, but he hopes to. In any case, he said the intimate knowledge the course offers of a ceramicist’s most-used tool is indispensable.
Addie Zeller, a third-year in ceramics, said she and most of her peers have little knowledge of kilns beyond how to operate them. She said the course offers her a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore a technical aspect of her profession that may come in handy if she ever works in a studio with kilns.
“There are tons of power tools we are gonna be getting to use. And I’m excited. Like, if I ever have a kiln some day, then I mean, potentially I would be able to build one,” she said.
Zeller said technical skills and precise measurements are essential in the field. The hands-on, multidisciplinary nature of ceramics is what Zeller said she enjoys most about her craft.
“That’s one of the things that I like most about ceramics is how technical it is in a lot of ways, but still creative at the same time,” she said. “And also just how many different sorts of fields are encompassed in ceramics. So chemistry is huge. Geology is actually really important to understanding ceramics, too.”
Simon said the course will teach students about various types of kilns, such as electric, updrafts, downdrafts, crossdrafts, salt, soda and more. Years ago, the class was able to construct a one-time firing wood kiln, something Simon said the class is usually unable to do because of the amount of smoke produced. He said he would like to try something similar again.
Zeller said she appreciates the breadth of knowledge the ceramics program offers to its students to prepare them for their career.
“I think our ceramics department does a really good job of making sure that you have all this really specific knowledge so that you know literally everything there is to know about ceramics instead of just, like, ‘I can go into the studio and make something good, but that’s about it,’” Zeller said.