A Raw Firing & Ellen Ends The World

The  Fall Shows

The oaks in the mountains were trying to still hang on to the last of their leaves,  they sold the last jug of cider up at Jayne’s Orchard, and light snowflakes were gently falling like feathers from the cold winter snow clouds when I went out to uncover the kilns.  It was the first  Saturday in November, and I knew I would need loads of pots as I had to create work for our annual Christmas show and supply two tables at events that coincide simultaneously.  I had little time to create as the October and Christmas show were so close together.  I started with the smaller items of mugs and bowls. 

It would take about one hundred pieces to fill my shop, and then I hoped to be able to fill the small tables we had with at least thirty items. After the bowls were all created, I started on the mugs.    I made a little proofing box under a table by closing it in and placing a heater in front of it to dry out the pots faster.  It worked like a charm.  By the time I got up the next morning after a day of throwing and handling, the pots were almost completely dry and ready to be put through the bisque firing. 

I had to spend a few days working on the kilns.  One large used Olympic updraft I bought still needed to be hooked up, and a new safety valve had to be replaced. The safety valve will assist in shutting down the gas if the thermocouple does not detect a flame.  I also needed to cut a hole in the top and bottom of a used electric kiln I bought to convert it into a gas updraft.  These small things took up a lot of time and working full-time at the paper factory, I was, for sure, on a tight schedule. 

When it came to what I call  “fire week,” which is the week before the shows that I need to fire out all the work in glaze loads, I still had over half the pots to run through the bisque fire. I knew I would not have time, and after talking to some pottery friends about the raw fire tecnique, I decided to go with that type of firing.  I have always wanted to move to raw firing to save money on gas. 

The raw firing technique is skipping the bisque firing and glazing the pots when they are leather-hard or bone dry. The pots are then placed in the kiln and fired to a bisque firing schedule to the high fire temperature.  Firing the pots slower this way allows all the organic material to burn out and leave before the glaze starts to melt.  Some artists and potters who use raw firing techniques have many different firing schedules depending on their beliefs, needs, and experiences. I decided to allow the pots a three-hour warm-up to ensure things were dehydrated. 

I glazed all the pots when they were bone dry, placed them in the kiln, and set the gas to  180 degrees Fahrenheit. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best, and closed the kiln lid; it was  2:00 A.M by the time I finished loading the last pot. After ensuring the heat had leveled out, I took a nap for three hours. I started the kiln at 5 A.M Thanksgiving Day in hopes the kiln would be down by dinner with family at noon.  

It was one of the most stressful firings as about 68 mugs were in the kiln, almost half the pots for the show. I monitored the kiln the whole time, doing the check-ups and turn-ups when needed.  When the cone in the peephole bent, it was 12:15 P.M., Almost right on time. I had to hurry some and get dressed to be with family while it cooled, but I was still worried, hoping none of the pots exploded with shards of clay and glaze inside the kiln, or stuck on the other pots and shelves.  When doing a raw fire, it is essential to dry things real well. 

I cracked the kiln on Black Friday morning, day one of the Christmas show. I was thrilled to learn all was well and nothing exploded.  I still need to work on getting a better glaze coverage on some when dipping, as I was hesitant to leave the pots in the pail too long.  I placed about half the mugs on the shelves in the shop, and the blue glaze looked great.  

I am sure many who already do raw firing may find my worries silly, but we all worry a bit when we first try things out.  But as artists, we have the privilege to try and the privilege to mess up. As artists, every firing and every pot made is practice for the next.  If we are not practicing and taking chances, we might give up on our work and ourselves.  I was not the only one taking chances; other things were going on across town that could end the world. Ellen was about to buy herself a new coat. 

Ellen Ends The World

Ellen pressed her thin lips together, and her hand shook a bit as she was about to click the checkout button on her Amazon cart on Cyber Monday. She had been saving up for the nice beautiful winter dress coat she wanted.  It was burgundy, her favorite color.  Before she clicked, she remembered the last time she bought something for herself, the chicken coup burned down, losing all twenty hens that very night, and the next day, her boy Patrick stepped on a nail while helping with the cleanup.  The transmission went in her car on the way to the hospital to get the tetanus shot. She tried to call home, but her cell phone was dead. 

About that time, Rusty Clapper was on his way back from spreading manure and gave her a tow back home with the tractor. Ellen’s husband gave her all kinds of grief for spending money on a new pair of shoes when they needed the money for all the expenses that just piled quickly. Her husband, Dave, used gaslighting to make her think it was all her fault.

Ellen used the envelope method to budget the bills.  It was an old-time technique her mother used. Ellen had all the envelopes labeled, and what was left went into savings for emergencies.  Ellen had been squirreling away a small amount of money each month, and she almost had it.  The price of the coat dropped for the holiday sale. Ellen knew it because she got the alert in her email.  She went online to look.

“It’s now or never,” Ellen said out loud to herself. 

A cold bead of sweat from anxiety formed on her forehead.  She counted the money in her secret envelope stash in her sock drawer. If her husband knew, he would lose his mind. She had just enough. No money was needed for shipping because it was free. She wiped the sweat from her forehead, put the envelope back, and covered it with socks. 

” I better check the other envelopes, just to be sure.” 

Ellen checked them all, counting the money from each envelope slowly. She licked her fingers and separated the money to be sure no bills were stuck together.  There were six envelopes in all, so it took some time.  They all added up to the correct amount for all the household needs according to the budget.  Next, Ellen double-checked the Christmas club account on her banking website.  She had one more payment, but that was in the envelope. 

Ellen went back to her online shopping account and looked at the coat.  She even moused over it with the magnifying glass feature to see it up close. 

“It sure would be a great outfit to wear at the office Christmas party this year.” 

 She hovered over the coat, looking at the details. It even had pockets.  It would go great with the new shoes that burned down the chicken coup. Under the description was an image of a perfume, suggesting that others bought this item. Ellen clicked on it to see.

“No one would notice anyway if I had perfume on.” She thought.

Dave only looked at her maybe once a month or when he got the urge, but he never complimented her anymore, not since they had the boys.

It was a long time since Ellen dressed up nicely. Almost a whole year. And that was only for a wedding reception when her sister got married.  She thought she better go to the bank before it closed and pay the Christmas Club the last payment. Even though money was tight, the boys would have a nice Christmas this year.  She went out to the garage to start the car, and as she turned to open the door, she knocked an empty beer can off the counter with the edge of her purse. The can bounced off the shelf and rolled under the car.  

“Dammit,” cursed Ellen as she knelt to reach way under to fish it out. 

Dave always left his cans all over, and no matter how many times she told him to put them in the recycling, there were at least six sitting someplace falling over and rolling some place. She stood up and placed the empty beer can in the recycling bin.  The bin was filled to the top.  A slow and seething rage overcame Ellen as she brushed the dust off her knees. Her face got hot, and tears rolled down her cheeks as the realization came into focus.

“That bastard,” she said out loud.

There was a quiver in her voice from the lump of rage in her throat. It was time to do some math. Ellen became more furious than she ever had been in her life and dumped out all the cans right there on the floor and did a count. Dave’s beer came out of the grocery budget. She always got him a case while food shopping, and it never occurred to her that while Dave had her spend money on him, he would accuse her of overspending when she maybe once bought something for herself in six months.  All the cans totaled twelve cases, thats twenty-four cans times twelve.  Two hundred and eighty-eight cans times five cents each for a refund. Ellen did the math. Fourteen dollars and forty cents on top of twelve cases times $22.00. 

Tears dripped on Ellen’s phone as she did the math in the cold garage surrounded by beer cans. The total she felt she was owed would be about $264.00 plus $14.40 when she cashed them in today. $278.00 would cover the few things she had been scrounging to save for. And what Dave didn’t know he was going to give up drinking.  Ellen remembered seeing an episode on Forensic Files where a lady poisoned her husband with antifreeze in his coffee. But the boys still needed her. She put the idea of murder out of her mind as she loaded up all the cans into the minivan. 

Still hot with rage, Ellen stomped back into the house and decided to do some shopping.  She took the envelopes and withdrew from the ones that might hurt Dave the most.  $75.00 from the truck insurance.  $125.00 from the shop’s liability insurance. For the rest, she went to the sock drawer. 

Back online, Ellen smiled through the tears.  She didn’t care one bit this time if the world did end. She got the coat, added on the perfume, restocked some makeup she had been out of for a few years, and even sent herself the new Blend Jet 2 she had seen come up all because she deserved it. It seemed the world stopped when she clicked the order button. Ellen dried her tears and waited silently for a few minutes, and …nothing.

“Where you headed?” asked Dave, who was now home from work and reaching for the last beer in the frig. 

“Just to the bank. I’ll be right back.”

“Can you grab me a case of beer, babe? I’m all out.”

“Not this time,” said Ellen, taking a deep breath and heading out the door. 

There may not be a real Ellen. But there were twelve cases of twenty-four cans.  At times, we may need to care for ourselves, even if the world might end for others.  Ending worlds, taking chances, and risks may lead to better things. And no need to set yourself on fire to keep others warm all the time.   This is the story of my small town. So I will tell it how I like it.


Written By,

Al Wayman


Creek Road Pottery L.L.C.

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