Allegheny College Acquires New Kiln Through $21,000 Grant

By: Rebecca Pechmann

Those who visit Allegheny College’s Henderson Campus Center, even on a daily basis, may not know that the building recently gained an exciting new addition: a state-of-the-art, high-efficiency kiln that broadens the opportunities available to ceramics students.

Allegheny received a $21,375 grant from the Windgate Foundation to support the purchase of this kiln, which replaces a 48-year-old alpine-gas kiln.

Assistant Professor of Art Ian Thomas, whose work focuses on ceramics, says the new kiln is an impactful investment in our Allegheny community. Interest in ceramics has grown in recent years, he says, with the ceramics department serving about 15% of Allegheny’s student population, either through classes or through Allegheny’s ceramics club, the Clay Club.

“The new kiln will open up many opportunities to ceramics students,” says Thomas. “It is more technical than the kiln it is replacing. It also has more options, like reduction firings, which change the chemical composition of the clay and glaze and, in turn, change the appearance of the ceramics. The biggest difference, however, is in size — its large size enables it to fit larger pieces, which gives students more options, and therefore gives them more room for creativity with their projects.”

Last semester, Raina Semenick ’23, a chemistry major and art minor, demonstrated the unique projects students can create when given creative license and the appropriate resources. She combined her academic interests, exploring the connections between science and art, and researched and developed a new type of glaze that creates stunning crystal formations beneath the surface. “I’ve definitely brought the science aspect into the studio,” says Semenick. “Allegheny gives students the flexibility to show their creativity in that way.”

In addition to having access to the new kiln and the ability to create unique pieces, advanced ceramics students also learn how to fire the kiln, which is an important lesson. “Knowing how to fire a gas kiln is a usable skill, especially if students go on to work in another studio,” says Thomas. “It will also increase students’ confidence; it is empowering to be a young maker and know that you can use this large equipment. It demystifies it.”

The new kiln also helps the Art Department align more closely with Allegheny’s campus-wide values and philosophies, namely our commitment to sustainability. “This kiln is much more energy-efficient than the kiln it is replacing,” says Thomos. “This helps the college lower its carbon footprint.”

To learn more about Allegheny’s art program, visit the department’s website.