Artist gets students fired up

June 19th, 2015 8:57 am

First Posted: 3/24/2014

The stars were aligned and the atmosphere ideal for firing ceramic tiles in the pit at Newton-Ransom Elementary School, Newton Township on March 18.

Wind and humidity can “make or break” a pottery firing project and patience is the key to dealing with atmospheric conditions, according to Arts Alive artist-in-residence, Kati Kameroski.

“Safety is very important to me,” said the Scranton artist, who spent the morning with her assistant, Vincent Masters, dressed in protective clothing, while firing batches of five-by-eight inch ceramic tiles in a converted electric kiln powered by propane.

Kameroski has a degree in art education from Keystone College, with a concentration in ceramics.

The 60 tiles were created by Newton-Ransom Elementary fourth-grade students as part of the Arts Alive program and supported by a grant from AEIO and You, a public non-profit 501(C)(3) corporation and an approved Educational Improvement Organization (EIO) as designated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Kameroski used a firing process known as Raku, a centuries-old art that originated in Japan. She explained when potters would visit one another, they wanted to make and fire teacups to be used in a single day.

Raku,“is a rapid firing process that blackens unglazed clay and creates beautiful metallic lusters within glazes that are employed. There is a great deal of ‘unknown’ which is accepted as part of the aesthetic within Raku work,” Kameroski said.

Other firing processes might take up to four days, making Raku an excellent process for anyone desiring fast results.

“What it really does is bring the temperature up in a controlled environment, but the exciting part is once it hits 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, you turn off the gas…,” Kameroski said.

Scorching and glowing hot pieces are then removed from the kiln and placed in a can filled with combustible organic material that helps to cushion and insulate the tiles. The material burns when it comes into contact with the sizzling tiles.

“That’s where the science comes into play,” she said. “That burning introduces carbon into the piece, reducing the oxygen in the atmosphere. When you put the lid on, it chokes out the oxygen and continues to smolder in there, trapping carbon into the piece, which is why you get this nice matte black that is so telltale of Raku. That’s very unique to it.”

Kameroski also incorporated literature, poetry and words into the visual arts portion of the Arts Alive program. Students were asked to combine their ideas regarding this year’s theme, “Space” into their tile designs. Kids collected words fitting to their fascination with space.

“Being able to integrate all of those different disciplines of education and learning it comes together in art and it’s enriching for the kids,” she said.

Fourth-grade student, Aiden Snyder, tried his hand at creating a space-themed tile.

“I like working with clay because I felt that it taught us an aspect of space through the modeling process, and if you put different types of glaze on the project it can turn different colors when you fire it…I thought that was awesome because it changed colors depending on where you put the glaze,” he said.

Snyder’s design is a spaceship with gas that made stars, with space poetry on the bottom of the tile.

“I think the theme is pretty cool even though our school has done it before,” he said. “However, I think we will have a good time trying to make ours different. I chose it because the theme for Arts Alive is space and I thought my design would fit in well.”

The tiles will be installed at the school in the hallway on the wall above the library. Arts Alive 2014 will culminate with a performance, “Cruise Through the Cosmos” by Newton-Ransom Elementary students at Abington Heights Middle School on May 30.