Report submitted by Hunter Stamps
In 2010, School of Art and Visual Studies professor Hunter Stamps received a $157,000 grant from the Windgate Foundation to construct a wood-burning kiln on the University of Kentucky campus. Professor Robert Shay (former Dean of the College of Fine Arts) worked with Scott Smith (former Dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment) to locate a site for the kiln at Coldstream Research Park. The kiln was built during a class taught by Stamps and senior lecturer Jeremey Colbert in the summer of 2012. The wood kiln offered a unique student experience and promoted student recruitment efforts. Faculty from more than seven Kentucky universities brought students to participate in the firings for more than a decade. In the summer of 2022, the land from the Coldstream Research Park was transferred to the City of Lexington, therefore the wood kiln had to be removed from the property.
Demolition of kiln
College of Fine Arts Dean Mark Shanda, former SA/VS director Rob Jensen, and Stamps worked closely with several College of Arts & Sciences administrators, and in particular biology professor David Westneat, director of the Ecological Research and Education Center (EREC) to identify a site on the Center’s property for a new wood kiln site to be constructed. Construction of the new kiln site began in 2021, funded by the UK Provost’s office and coordinated by Mary Vosevich, Vice President for Facilities Management and Chief Facilities Officer. The construction of the chain-link fence, transportation and reconstruction of the kiln shelter, pouring of the concrete pad, and the ordering of new kiln brick/materials was managed by facilities project managers Tim Armstrong and Mark Wiggam.
Over the past two years, Stamps has worked to dismantle the old wood kiln, consisting of over 20,000 pounds of refractory brick, and rebuild the new wood kiln with the help of students.
Over 400 pieces of ceramic sculpture and pottery were fired in the inaugural 3-day firing, that took place November 7-10, 2023. The kiln requires constant stoking around the clock to reach the target temperature of 2,350 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point the accumulated wood ash melts and fuses to the silica in the clay to create a natural wood ash glaze. The ceramic surfaces achieved are unlike anything that can be achieved with modern day gas and electric kilns, making it a revered firing technique throughout the world.
Faculty, alumni and student work from UK and the following universities were included in the firing: Centre College, Indiana University-Bloomington, Texas Tech University, Indiana University-Southeast, and Ohio University. The firing was a great success. The next firing is scheduled for March 2024.
The SA/VS wood kiln operation at the EREC opens a wide range of collaborative research and educational opportunities between the College of Arts & Sciences, the College of Fine Arts and the Commonwealth at large. Stamps is in discussion with Westneat to coordinate educational ceramic workshops in conjunction with the Red Oaks Forest School’s Taking Flight – Next Level (TFNL) Program, an award-winning program aimed at teaching science, technology, engineering, math, and art (STEAM) to high school students. The program was co-founded by Westneat, Tina Kraska, director of Red Oaks Forest School, and David Laurenvil and Jaria Gorden, directors of KidsMakeIt.
Student working on kiln construction
Solely scrap wood is used to fire the kiln and no trees are harvested. Most of the wood comes from Arlington Tree Service in Lexington, wood that would otherwise be sent to the city dump or burned in a dump pile. Working in collaboration with Shane Tedder, UK’s Campus Sustainability Officer, we also retrieved the scrap cutoffs from the new sawmill located at the UK Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment. The Campus Woods program and the sustainability grants that supported the new sawmill are co-led by the College of Design and the Department of Forestry in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. The program is made possible by the support of UK Facilities Management.