Out On My Own

The Second Jump

          I worked at San Antonio College for a little over a year and I had no intention of cutting the cord even though it was a thin cord.  In that year, I learned a great deal.  I realized that I don’t fit all that well into highly structured hierarchical institutions, which may not surprise many of you that know me personally. 

Early in the school year, the associate dean’s wife came and asked me to fire some slip cast pieces that a group made for sale at the school Halloween Carnival.  I told her that I would be happy to, but I needed the work there a month in advance to fit them into the kiln along with the work of the students so that I could fill the kiln correctly.  For some reason, she did not think that I had shown her the proper deference.  Soon after that conversation, her husband, the associate dean called me to his office and fired me.  He said that he was concerned about how much the gas usage had gone up since I arrived.  I tried to put things into perspective for him, but he would not listen to my argument.  The previous year with no pottery instruction, the instructor fired the kiln one time per semester.  That spring, I had fired the kiln four times.  There was indeed a fourfold increase in gas use, which may sound like a great deal.  Let me give you a comparison.  Today, I fire my kiln once a month.  My kiln is over three times the size of the kiln at San Antonio College.  The average cost of firing my kiln today is about $130 to $150 a firing.  I estimate the firing cost per kiln load at about $20 a firing or about $100 worth of gas for the semester. 

The Help of Friends

         I was panicked and knew I needed to figure something out and quickly.  I talked to several people about a location to set up a studio, but I finally decided to set up a studio in the one-car garage attached to our house.  A friend, Walt Glass, a potter, agreed to glaze fire my pots if I would cut the firewood for his home.  He lived about 40 miles from where I lived, so I would glaze a kiln load of pots, place them carefully in the back of my van, cover them with a blanket to keep them from moving around, and drive out to his house and load the kiln. Another friend purchased the fire brick for my first kiln.    

          This arrangement gave me time to organize the studio and build the kiln. To do that, I went around to my neighbors and asked if they would be ok if I built a kiln in my backyard.  Surprisingly, everyone agreed, even though they probably did not have a clue what a kiln was.  I researched and came up with a design, but I needed more gas volume and pressure.  I called the local public utility and told them that I needed a larger gas meter.  They promptly came out and installed one.  I told the man that installed the gas meter how many cubic feet of gas I needed, and he told me how to adjust the pressure so I could change it after he left.  He added this warning with his instructions, “as you adjust the pressure, check your pilots on the stove and in your wall heater. They should not go over an inch in height, or you might set the house on fire.”

          You could not do this now because the city would not let you put a kiln in your back yard in the city limits. City Public Service would not come and install a larger meter without having a licensed plumber pulling a permit. 

Lessons Learned

          I think that God moved me out of that position at San Antonio College.  I did not realize it, but it was time to move on, and with the help of friends, I was able to do that.  I learned a great deal about myself there.  I learned that I did not care for Art Departments’ thought process on college campuses which denigrated some types of art work and elevated others.  It was a way to justify their existence.  If I had stayed on in the hierarchical structure on the campus, it would have become oppressive to me.  That year at San Antonio College allowed me time to define the type of pottery I wanted to produce and establish my business. 

          As of this writing, I am working in my 6th studio.  This one is the  3rd one that I built on the same property where I live.  With my second studio on my property, I had the good fortune of being around my children as they grew up which was a blessing most men do not have.  It gave me some freedom to make decisions about my life that many people do not have.  For all of that, I am grateful.

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