Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Weekend in Zombieland ... firing the kiln

When the Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill built its train kiln a few years ago, it sought out a place with open land and few neighbors. It found the old U.S. Air Force radar installation on the ocean side of Cape Cod, several miles from the main "campus" of Castle Hill. Once home to several hundred Air Force personnel charged with spotting incoming nuclear bombers, this is now a strange amalgam of slowly deteriorating, asbestos-ridden military buildings, a summer theater, a working radar installation (yes, still), a weather observation station, a parking lot for transit buses, scientific ventures, a train kiln ... and zombies.
Well, not the zombies, as far as we know, but the first thought of my visiting niece during this week's firing was, "Wow, this place looks like 'The Walking Dead.' "
It sits on what would otherwise be prime waterfront real estate. But it's owned by the U.S. Park Service and strictly regulated. The building of the train kiln by visiting potter Donovan Palmquist was very closely inspected. 
So, arriving is a little strange, but the kiln is beautifully crafted and kept clean, as is the kiln shed. Brian Taylor, a Westerner by birth, oversees the clay program at Castle Hill and he runs the loading and firing. Brian is even-tempered, does not panic at the slightest dip of the pyrometer, and works well with a crew of potter/stokers whose experience runs from a few months to more than 30 years.
It took several hours to finish glazing pots, wadding, loading and closing up the door on Saturday. Sunday morning at about 5:45, Kim Medeiros and I unlocked the gate (letting the zombies out to ravage Truro) and then Kim put the first match to paper and kindling.
We worked a six-hour shift, got the pyro to about 350F and then retired to naps and later dinner in Provincetown. (And a thank-you to Castle Hill, which let us share the school's apartment they keep for visiting faculty.) The rest of the crew took over for the next 24 hours and when we got back for our second shift at noon Monday, cone 12 was bending near the front and we were just a few hours from shutdown. Brian tried his fine-tuning of the front- and side-stoking routine to even out the kiln temperatures. It looked pretty good, so we'll find out how it went Saturday afternoon. The last wood went in about 4:15 Monday, after 34 hours of firing. We open Saturday morning at 9.

The photos: The spooky view from the kiln shed; Brian Taylor, left, and potter Matt Kemp load; Kim Medeiros puts her Bic lighter to good use, getting the firing going at dawn; camera in the firebox after a couple of hours of burning, my teabowl on the left, Kim's big bowl in the middle; cone 12 nearly over at the front, next to the neck of a Kim vase; Traci Noone side-stokes.


Kimberly Medeiros said...

I hope the zombies are guarding our pots and the kiln through this Nor'easter!!!

Hollis Engley said...

No doubt they're roasting marshmallows with the last of the heat in there, Kim. We'll go scare them off Saturday morning.