UPDATED: Life Lesson #2 from the Kiln: Surrender

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

UPDATE at the Bottom of this post . . .


I love Fall, and I’ll never understand why we don’t capitalize the seasons, but we do so for the days of the week. (Just the English teacher in me coming out—sorry.) Here in Colorado, this season’s over all too soon for me. The aspen leaves, which we commonly call “Colorado gold,” can change anytime from the middle of September to the third week of October. The air gets that crisp feel, and then . . . we usually get our first snow and/or bitter cold snap by Halloween. You can almost set a clock by it.

A few weeks back, I bought a texture tile in anticipation of doing some Fall leaves. I prepped it the way I do all the other texture tiles I’ve used, with four coats of ZYP and then visually double-checked that all the minute spaces had been liberally covered. Looked good.

I laid out about a dozen different colors of frit, both fine and powder, to begin sifting into each leaf form—first the veins, and then the leaves proper. I then cleaned up the overspill carefully, sweeping off the spaces between each leaf, though I intentionally didn’t get every last speck. Again, things looked good to go.

I arranged the kiln posts, carefully set the filled mold onto them, and then meticulously cleaned a piece of Clear and a piece of Clear//White Wispy OGT 96 and placed them carefully on top of the frit-filled texture tile. I closed the lid and programmed the kiln. Since I couldn’t find any dedicated instructions for this texture tile, I used the same program I have used for a similarly complex tile, “Lady of the Woods.” Seemed good to me.

The next day, when I opened the kiln, the leaves looked gorgeous—just like I had hoped they would. But a couple of seconds later, I saw something else: things were not good. In fact, short of glass exploding all over the kiln, I can’t really think of a more screwed up project. The glass, as you can see below, is cracked in multiple places (about a dozen, though this photo doesn’t show them all).


Because I am used to trying lots of things to fix projects that went wrong—devitrification, bubbles, migrating glass designs, reactions I hadn’t planned for—my first thought was, Well, I can fix this, too. All I need to do is reassemble the pieces and fire them again into one homogenous piece.

Then I started trying to remove them.


A few came off readily, but some were stuck. After about a half hour coaxing some of those off, I was down to three pieces that were SO stuck that I was afraid I would destroy the mold trying to remove them. I tried reheating the glass, freezing the mold, and lots of delicate prying. But I felt I was forced to surrender. Whatever happened in this project had beaten me.

I was so discouraged—and angry, even—that I just had to walk away from the disaster and not look at it for a couple of weeks. Now, the glorious, leafy-gold explosion of my favorite season is well underway. In about 2-3 weeks, it will be over. I’ve had to surrender to that reality, too, which happens every year: Summer surrenders to Fall, Fall to Winter, Winter to Spring, and Spring to Summer, and, as Kurt Vonnegut once wrote over and over in Slaughterhouse Five, “So it goes.”


More than once, I thought about tossing all this glass filled with fractured fall leaves and that mold with stuck glass on it into the trash. After all, I’ve done all I know to do, right? It will be a relief to put this failure behind me and quit investing my time, resources, and emotion into it. There’s lots of other glass that needs working.


Then, a few days ago, my friend Evelyn Gottschall Baker reminded me of one more thing I could try: fire the piece with the glass upside down, so that gravity may coax the molten glass off the mold. I knew about this trick, but I had forgotten it; my firing to fix previously was just right-side up. I knew I couldn’t use whatever glass might pool below the texture tile on the shelf, but I might be able to save the mold. Then I could try again, if not this Fall, then next.


So I fired the mold a couple of days ago, and all but one ¾-inch by 1-inch triangular piece dripped off. I re-fired the texture tile again yesterday. If that last piece doesn’t come off, I have to stare surrender in the face again.


Coincidentally, Evelyn is also re-firing a piece that fell over during coldworking and now has an internal crack. While my results take a few days, hers will take 14 days, and there’s a lot more at stake for her: if her piece cannot be fixed, she will have to surrender her planned entry into the Coors Western Art Exhibit and Sale and wait for next year. And, of course, there's a huge amount of time lost.

It has certainly occurred to me how “surrender” is one of the hardest life-lessons to learn. It means that I’ve tried my best to make something turn out, and despite all my careful prep, meticulous application, careful research and planning (and hope), the end result is not at all what I’d planned. And time is running out. That’s hard to take. And we all know that life is full of instances where surrender is the only thing left to do: a romance falls apart, a long-standing friendship dissolves over politics, kids disappoint parents, loved ones die suddenly.


But just as Evelyn reminded me of this other possibility, another person can come along and offer a forgotten idea or new perspective in any of these other life instances if we're open to hearing it: what if the two of you just gave each other even more space? Maybe mending that friendship is possible with more empathy, less pride. What if you renewed a commitment to keep loving a child who has grown to hate you as a mom or dad? Here’s another way to remember and honor that person you loved so much who is now gone.


So, here in a little while, I’m going to open the kiln and see if that last piece dripped off so that I can save the texture tile and try again. I’ll update this blog post with the results, and I’ll tell you how Evelyn’s piece turned out in a few days, as well. For now, full surrender for either of us is a few hours or days away. So there’s still hope.


UPDATE 11-19-21: That stubborn piece of glass is still hanging on (see below)--and this after a 10-minute firing at 1350 degrees F. Who knew? I'm going to fire it AGAIN, this third time to 1400, which is nearing the mold's tolerance for heat. The glass should have already dripped off, and I'm a bit shocked that it hasn't after two firings. If it's still there when I get done, the mold is going into the trash. Lesson learned.

And the leaves tile? I let it lay for even a few more weeks on the workbench. A couple of days ago, after staring it it long enough, I decided to begin the cleanup process for each tortured piece. But I gave up within five minutes--there's just too much mold material stuck to it, and I have no confidence that even if I re-fired it onto, say, white glass, the results would be worth looking at. So I chucked the whole thing into the trash, as I threatened to. It hurt a little, but mostly it was a relief. Now I can move on.


Evelyn's piece cracked again after her firing, and so what started as a two-hand part of her original piece of art ended up being a one-handed version (she cast her own hand for the piece instead of her husband's two hands, which held some crystal bullets.) So her piece worked out well even with this new revision. If you want to follow her process, follow this link to her post of the revision and you can backtrack from there.


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