Earth, Fire and Vegetable Oil

One of the paradoxes of artisan craft such as pottery is that its practice (on the one hand a life-affirming antidote against mass production, the consumption of natural resources and the Walmartification of global culture) itself is sometimes environmentally unfriendly. It takes quite a bit of fuel and energy, for example, to blow glass or fire a kiln. But some artisans across the disciplines are developing many inventive sustainable means of producing craft. Having written before about art and the environment, I was eager to observe Michigan’s (US) ceramist Aaron Cole’s kiln on its maiden launch. No ordinary kiln, it runs on waste vegetable oil from the Spring Arbor University dining commons, and there is an abundance of it. Enticingly, it is all free. Oil has admittedly been experimented with as kiln fuel since the 1970s, but Cole’s kiln presents interesting possibilities for an inexpensive firing process that is more affordable and sustainable than traditional firing methods.

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