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Fired up

Posted 9:16 a.m. Friday, May 5, 2023

Ceramics Assistant Professor Jarred Pfeiffer with the new kiln that was installed in April, replacing a 20-year-old salt kiln that was unsafe and in complete disrepair.

New kiln on campus blasts ceramics options

A new kiln on campus is firing up students interested in pottery.

Installed in April, the new kiln replaces a 20-year-old salt kiln that was unsafe and in complete disrepair, according to Ceramics Assistant Professor Jarred Pfeiffer.

Pfeiffer says the new kiln provides an entirely new firing process: soda firing. It’s a type of atmospheric firing in which the work is fired in a gas kiln to cone 6 (2,250 F) or cone 10 (2,380 F).

“Once the temperature is achieved, we spray in a solution of soda ash, baking soda and borax,” Pfeiffer explains. “With the extreme temperature in the kiln, the solution volatilizes and some of the sodium molecule bonds to the carbonate are broken.”

Pfeiffer says the sodium molecules fly throughout the kiln and fuse with the silica in the clay, forming a glaze.

“This means that you can put work into the kiln without a glaze,” he says, “and they will come out with a glazed surface.”  


The new kiln provides an entirely new firing process: soda firing. It’s a type of atmospheric firing in which the work is fired in a gas kiln to cone 6 (2,250 F) or cone 10 (2,380 F). During the process, the sodium molecules fly throughout the kiln and fuse with the silica in the clay, forming a glaze.

Plans are to fire the kiln two or three times a semester. Pfeiffer oversees at least three ceramics classes each semester, which include a total of around 50 students. Students typically sell some of their works to the public at the end of each term.

Pfeiffer, a native of Hartland, Wisconsin, says he was literally born into clay, with his father being a high school ceramics teacher. His dad, Joel Pfeiffer, graduated from UWL with an art education degree in 1972. The younger Pfeiffer earned a bachelor’s degree from UW-Madison and a Master of Fine Arts from Kansas State University.

Pfeiffer teaches an array of ceramics classes on campus, ranging from introduction to advanced. He makes both functional and sculptural work that he shows in national and international juried exhibitions.


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