Ceramics Is the Pits-And They Love It Class Fires Up Enthusiasm for Pottery and History, Too

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Fifteen ceramics students here took pottery back to its prehistoric roots last weekend.

As students in Sarah Stecher's ceramics class at St. Charles County Community College, they visited the home of artist Virginia Dragschutz in Harvester to fire their clay pieces in a pit.

Their method mimicked the technique associated with the earliest findings of pottery, pieces that date back to 10,000 B.C. in ancient Japan. In that period, in-ground firing or baking, often referred to as pit firing, was used to harden and preserve the clay. Stecher encouraged all kinds of experimentation in Sunday's project. Cedar chips and pine needles were filled into and tied onto pieces. Copper carbonate was applied to add maroon and blue-green hues. Students sprinkled salt on their work to fire in golden tones. When heated, sodium oxidizes and produces yellow colors, and the magnesium in the salt creates red hues, says Christopher Andren, a chemist who was a guest on the outing. "Just think of the fireworks on the Fourth of July," he said. Andren attended the firing with his wife, Barb, a chemical engineer who is a student in the class. "I take out my frustrations on the clay," Barb Andren said. She added that her husband "wants me to take a second course." The diversity of the students in Stecher's class is almost as diverse as the art they create. One of Stecher's students, Kevin Patton, worked as a lion tamer for the St. Louis Zoo when he was an undergraduate. Appropriately, he created a lion's head to be fired. Patton now teaches biology, human anatomy and physiology at the community college. …