Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Kiln Furniture for the Ages

If you’ve ever loaded a kiln of work glazes on all sides, or if you’ve worked in a clay classroom with small children and have been concerned about the glaze on their work running and sticking to kiln shelves, chances are you’ve used kiln supports produced by us here in Philadelphia. That’s right, The Ceramic Shop is more than just a supplier of your favorite studio and classroom supplies – we also have a full production set-up where we make a wide variety of kiln supports, furniture, and posts under the Roselli name. The Ceramic Shop acquired the company in 2006, and ever since then we’ve been producing stilts of all shapes and sizes.

One thing that I’ve always loved about ceramics is how anything that makes it through a firing is rendered permanent – that means that the work that you put in there, as well as the stilts or furniture that you might use to support it, both have the same chance of existing somewhere in the archaeological record down the line. Of course, the history and permanence of the material is something that gets a lot of mention in ceramics-focused art curricula; it’s often the nice stuff that students and artists get to see, though.  The stilts and the furniture survive over time, too, and even though looking at that might not pack quite the punch of, say, taking in some amazing Greek vases, it still tells us a lot about how ceramics have been made over time. I love working for a place that contributes to this side of the ceramic record -- largely unseen to many but absolutely necessary.

Last summer, I took a trip just outside of Rome, Italy. The town of Arezzo was a beautiful little place that was largely built up in medieval times, but it had been established much, much earlier – it had actually been the production center of fancy glazed tablewares in Roman days, so business there had been established in roughly the 1st century BCE -- over 2,000 years ago. There, archaeological excavations (that took place in the parking lot of a church, nonetheless!) uncovered a large-scale production studio, and you can check out all of the goodies they dug up in the town’s museum.

Much of the museum was filled with awesome, detailed press-molds that had been used to make fancy bowls and plates:

 The small press molds on the top shelf were made for handle additions; 
the bowl forms on the bottom made fancy, red-glossed tablewares.

However, a lot of the archaeological remains they found in excavations were pieces of kiln furniture – primarily, wheel-thrown donut-like spacers to separate glazed wares in a kiln, and stilts, very much like the ones produced by The Ceramic Shop today. Imagine my surprise when I looked into a display case and saw a 2,000-year-old version of a stilt we make. Here’s a picture:

Ancient tri-point stilts

Compare this to our own double-pointed stilts – it’s amazing how the design of this piece of furniture has not functionally changed in over two millennia! Here are a couple images of the stilts that we produce:

Stilts by Roselli. Unintentionally SUPER retro.

Seeing two objects made so far apart, in both time and distance, served as a very solid reminder as to just how permanent the ceramics process is.

The production studio for our modern stilts can be seen in our North Philadelphia showroom; if you’ve stopped by and never had the chance to check it out, just ask one of the employees the next time you’re in and we’ll be glad to give you a peek at production. It’s kind of cool to think that you can see a process that has been unchanged in so many ways over such a long time! Hope you enjoyed the history lesson, and I’ll leave you with one final image from my trip – a display of ancient potter’s tools, mainly made of copper, ivory, and bone.

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