If you plan to work in clay, you better be prepared to accept the ‘slap-yourself-upside-the-head’ life lesson – “You are NOT in control.” The lesson can come at any one of the many steps you take as a potter. To get the piece that you’ve imagined in your mind, through your hands, from the wheel or work table, and into and out of the kiln to be exactly what you imagined when you began is never a given. Ever.
And really, when I think about it, this life lesson which is always with me in my studio, is life’s main lesson, one of the hardest to learn and one I end up learning over and over again not just in my studio.
That said, these days, I rarely approach an unopened kiln with anything other than enthusiastic anticipation. Will the pieces I carefully stacked the day before, come out as I envisioned? Since I am so familiar with the clays and the glazes I’m using, I’m rarely astonished. Still, there is always one brief moment when I open the lid, where I think – OK, where’s the Kiln Kiss? The Kiln Kiss is what I call the one place on a piece that is unexpected – unintended – always carrying along with it a life lesson I’m not necessarily wanting to learn. The Kiss can be a beautiful surprise, something that I wish I had done intentionally, wish I knew how to reproduce such as a soft ‘bleed’ from an interior glaze to the outside wall.
Or the Kiss can be the ‘Kiss of Death’ – a crack not seen before firing, a glob of glaze stuck to the bottom of the piece, a hard bleed that renders the entire outside an ugly drab mess. These pieces invariably end up thrown into the bottom of the garbage bin.
So when I opened the kiln the other day to see how Scarlett’s big, delicate, carefully glazed porcelain vessel had survived the fire, I literally gasped. All I could see was this most amazing floating, shimmering, sky/ocean blue – looking all the while like waves - like clouds - covering the interior. Had I planned this glaze to look exactly as it looked, it couldn’t have been more perfect. This was a Kiln Kiss extraordinaire!
But then I pulled the piece out and saw the ‘drip.’ The unintended blue drip, a drip right there where it should have been pure soft matt white. It was the not so nice, not so planned Kiln Kiss. Not the ‘Kiss of Death,’ mind you, but a Kiss I didn’t ask for and just for that moment, my heart sank a little. This wasn’t what I had envisioned – a blue drip right there. The ‘perfect’ piece was now somehow no longer 'perfect.' Here was the Kiln Kiss passing along the life lesson of acceptance, of going with what is and not with what was hoped for or planned. The larger lesson: We are not in control.
But now the worry, would this 'imperfect' pot be acceptable to its new owner, Scarlett?
When I took it out of the packing box, I was secretly hoping the drip had somehow transformed itself into a pleasing drip, a drip that could be almost intended, a drip we could all happily live with.
Scarlett’s reaction to the piece when she saw it said it all – “Breathtaking! I’m at a loss for words it’s so beautiful. And when I saw the ‘dot’ (she had already given the drip a new name – taking it on as her own),” she said almost hesitantly, “ it spoke to me and to a moment in my life which was so unexpected – but one I knew would be a part of me and I would have to accept.” She choked up and couldn’t say much more except that she loved her new piece.
Life lessons are presented to us in many guises. And maybe that old saying ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ is one to keep in mind, especially when opening a kiln, looking for a Kiss.