Old Barn Pottery
I had the chance to have a studio in British Columbia for a few years in the early 90s. I bought a few pieces of equipment used, including a kick wheel that was so big the studio had to be built around it because it wouldn’t go through any door. But I bought a new kiln and, with it, a brand new technology called a “controller” that seemed like magic. I hadn’t really learned much about firing in school, so the controller seemed like a way to get started with a little less anxiety. I loved it! Of course, it was a Bartlett, and it turns out it must have been one of the first. It had a little metal toggle switch to turn it off and on. I had a production business for a few years until my personal life needed me to move back to Toronto. I had to get a job again, and spent the next 20 years as a corporate IT management consultant, moving house quite often, but always taking my studio with me.
My kiln and its controller moved with me many times, packed up and waiting for…what? I didn’t know, but I knew I wanted to have a production studio again. Fast forward to 2017, and I had that chance. We hooked up the kiln and controller, and…nothing happened. That little metal toggle switch had broken in one of my moves, and the circuit board wouldn’t work. My amazing sweetheart found someone who could repair it, and we were off again, on our pottery adventure. The board worked, just like it had never had a 20 year sleep, and I started firing almost every other day. Last year was a huge year for the pottery, getting started, seeing if I could still throw, testing glazes and firing programs, developing a body of work.
I knew a time would come when I would need to repair the controller, so I went to a kiln repair workshop by Tuckers Pottery Supply in Dartmouth, NS, in which Michael Leonard explained all the things I never knew I didn’t know about kilns, elements, relays, controllers and more. It was a good thing I went to that workshop, as I needed to apply what I’d learned a few times that year. The relays were getting old, and the spades kept shorting out. My sweetie kept repairing bits and we’d be back in business. But the great thing was the controller gave me error messages that helped me diagnose the problem. Then finally the inevitable happened and one of the relays died. I tried to find replacements and discovered they don’t make them any more! I realized the old controller, who had been so good to me all these years, and had kept watch over so many firings, was just ready for retirement.
We decided to use a recent windfall to purchase a new controller for the old kiln, and a new kiln with the same controller. And the very best thing was the new Bartlett Genesis controller had been released just a few months earlier. I had heard about it at Michael’s workshop, and it sounded like a great leap forward in technology. So, while we lost out on the Christmas sales season because we couldn’t fire, I now had two kilns and the ability to fire using the Genesis controller in both kilns. It was pretty nice to go from the first Bartlett classic controller to the Genesis in one leap.
I love the Genesis for several reasons:
1: I can monitor the firings remotely from my phone, so when I’m doing deliveries of ware or at markets and shows, I can keep an eye on the firing status;
2. the interface gives me amazing detail about the kiln and firings, including the health of the relays, cost of firing, firing log, and so much more. I use the data every day to understand how the firings have been different, and analyze what may have changed from one firing to the next;
3. I can keep multiple custom programs in memory, see their status while firing, and see a log/graph of the actual firing outcomes.
While I appreciate the variety of novice firings included in the controller’s memory, and they would have been perfect for me if I were starting fresh as I did in the 90s, I never use them now. It is in the ability to create and save many different versions of a custom firing program and refer back to the graphs and log to compare them that I am most pleased with. I do cone 6 firings with a series of soaks to fully develop the glaze. When I break the pieces, the glazes have a good fit, few flaws, and beautiful flow. I’m developing new glazes this year, and having the controller be so useful and the data so transparent means I don’t have to worry that the firing might introduce variables I can’t see.
So, that’s my Bartlett story - from the first Bartlett to the most recent in one leap. I am really happy with the Genesis controllers and look forward to many years of glaze experiments and thousands of mugs and bowls!