Friday, May 8, 2009


May 8, 2009
We finished firing the anagama on May 2. We get to unload tomorrow. It was a wonderful and yet stressful firing. Since we started the wood kiln research project, the firings have always been challenging. This time we wanted to do our opacity tests again. We recorded the smoke coming off the stack every 15 seconds for six minutes every hour. This gave us 24 consecutive readings each hour and since we did the test for 24 hours we are able to see that we have been able to keep our air quality good throughout the firing. We did the testing from the time we started seriously raising temperature to our highest temperature. That was the time we were adding the most wood and stoking almost constantly. The challenge was getting good reduction without a lot of smoke. We had a few times that the smoke was so black and thick that we exceeded the desired opacity, but it cleared quickly and looking at all of the readings, the testing shows we are well within the 20% opacity range.

On top of that, the pots look fantastic. We haven't unloaded but I have peeked in and we have the best reduction we have gotten out of this kiln. We have wonderful color, yellows, oranges, greens and very little gray. It is rewarding to see that we can change the way we fire without losing the surface that we want.

We have also just finished gathering information to compare a gas bisque to and electric bisque for our carbon footpring calculator. Mike has the information and he will make the necessary calculations over the week end. Hopefully I can post more on the carbon footprint calculator early next week.

I will let you know all about the unloading. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Wood kiln database


This is just a quick hit, but I wanted to publish this here before I forget.  I just read over at another pottery blog that Simon Levin and Josh Harmony have been working on a worldwide wood kiln database and map.  This isn't strictly under our topic here, but it is definitely an interesting community project.  Check it out here.

Friday, April 17, 2009


April 17, 2009
As we get ready for our next anagama firing, I can't help thinking about the past 3 years. It's hard to believe I started our wood kiln project back in 2006. It has been a journey worth taking but it has also been challenging. 
I've been wanting to make my first post on this site for some time. It is a little intimidating, but I'm committed to keeping a dialog open on the subject of our pottery practices and the environment. Everyday I am reminded of how lucky I am to be a potter and what an enormous responsibility it is to pass on good information to the young potters just starting out. 
We have learned so much during the past 3 years and yet I feel like we are just getting started. We will be weighing everything that goes in and out of the anagama for this firing, including shelves, posts wood, pots and wadding. This will help Michael (our helpful graduate student from CU) fine tune our carbon foot print calculator. We will put the calculator up on this site once we have gathered just a little more information. All of us at the Pottery Lab in Boulder are currently gathering information from our gas and electric kilns to use as a comparison.  As I look deeper into "Best Practices" I begin to realize that firing is just one small part of what we can improve.
Last night at class, I talked about the power of making pots that come from inside us. Our own work, work that tells our story and expresses who we are in the world. Being present and aware of not only the work we produce, but the way we approach our work makes a strong statement about who we are. Will it matter in the end? I believe it matters now and in the end. Each choice we make, whether it is agonizing over moving your handle up or down a quarter of an inch or making the decision to recycle your clay, reminds us of our core values and keeps us in touch with who we really are. I'm thankful for all the different approaches and the way potters find their own meaning and balance their studio practices and work.
We fire from April 29 to May 2. I will post throughout the firing and let you know what we are learning.  
Wish us luck!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Link love


I noticed on my blogroll today that we are getting a few referrals to "Green Ceramics" from other blogs because of Nancy's talk.  While I have your attention, I'm going to point you to some pertinent information about green ceramics on the internet.  This post is also an enormous "thank you" to those of you who have laid down the foundations of this discussion;  go look at these blogs, leave a comment, and spread the love.  Here's the list:

One Black Bird's guest post by Laura Zindel on the topic of green ceramics is an essential starting point for anyone wishing to learn more about greening their practice.  What starts out as a question from a gallery owner about marketing pottery as "environmentally friendly, socially responsible" art turns into a reason for Zindel to get to the very bottom of what it means to be green.   It is also worth reading through the comment thread in the post, since many of the comments are also very informative.  

Also check out Emily Murphy's  and Webb Pottery Blog's Blog Action Day posts from October 2007.  Both have some more concrete, practical suggestions on nurturing a greener practice.  Their suggestions are also generally accessible on a tighter budget (some suggestions take the approach of saving energy by using timers, for instance, or by eliminating waste by reusing packaging materials).  Small changes like these add up, though, and it is worth identifying even the smallest places where one might be wasteful.  These two blogs do a great job of identifying where and when these changes can be made.

Mary Anne Davis of davistudio has a post on going carbon neutral by buying carbon offsets.  This is a good option for those of you who must fire using electric kilns or who are worried about your electricity consumption in other parts of your studio.  When I linked to Davis before from my personal blog, she was kind enough to drop me a comment with a URL identifying her own studio's manifesto for going green.  

Soderstrom Pottery Blog also has a post on going carbon neutral by buying wind energy offsets.  While Windsource is a Minnesota-specific program, you may be able to buy carbon offsets from your local energy company.  My husband and I are able to offset our car's energy consumption by buying offsets here in Colorado, so ask around and see what's out there in terms of offset options.  

Also take a look at a University ceramics department's foray into "green kiln" technology.  The Blaauw kiln is pretty sophisticated, and the cost of such a kiln would likely be prohibitively expensive, but I think it is worth knowing that it is out there.  

The pottery department at Saint John's University, run by Richard Bresnahan, is known for being very progressive in terms of ecological sustainability.  The pottery provides an incredibly ambitious model for a teaching facility trying to make its way into greener practices.  I'm not exaggerating when I say that literally every stage of pottery making has been reworked to be as ecologically mindful as possible at St. John's.  I'm planning to discuss St. John's in more depth in a later post, but it is worth poking around the website to see what they are up to (and I see that they were recently featured in the Chronicle of Higher Education).  The practices at this pottery may be out of reach for most, but Bresnahan's work there is no less inspiring.

This should keep you busy for a little while.  Hope all is well!

Saturday, March 14, 2009



Welcome to the Green Ceramics Blog.  This website is the result of the combined efforts of Nancy Utterback, a professional studio potter and Director of the Boulder Pottery Lab in Boulder, Colorado, and Melissa Oliveira, a freelance writer, researcher, and Pottery Lab student.  This blog seeks to open up to the wider community a conversation about the relationship between environmental sustainability and studio ceramics. This conversation has been going on informally in the ceramics community for quite some time, but in our research we’ve found that there is no single site that is serving as a depository of information on the subject.  Therefore, we hope that this website will in time become a solid source for information on “greening” the practices of both studio potters and pottery teaching facilities. We also hope that a community of sorts will develop around this site which will offer other voices, opinions, and information about the process of making ceramic art while being mindful of sustainable practices.

So much for introductions!  If you stop by Green Ceramics, be sure to drop us a line in the comments section.  We'd love to know who you are, why you are interested in the topic of green ceramics, and if there are some specific areas you'd like to see covered in the coming weeks.  And, for those of you who are already registered at the 22nd North Carolina Potters Conference in Asheboro, be sure to see Nancy speak on the topic of ceramics and environmental sustainability on March 15!