Martz Memories, by Stanley Lee

Comeback      Baggs      Reds               Tale #12


     One day, in about 1957, Karl Martz came to class and brought with him copies of an article he had written.  The article started with a rhetorical question, “Is color due for a comeback?”  He explained the reason for the question.   For some time, the popular trend in ceramics had been to use drab decoration that came close to the color of natural clays, both for earthenware, and stoneware.  Potters were content to let the form of the piece provide the interest.  Karl felt that pottery should be more colorful, and he brought some glazed pots to reinforce his viewpoint.  One glaze immediately caught our attention.  It was called “Peach Bloom,” and we were soon using it, because Karl told us how to get plenty of variations in our own applications.    


     At the time, salt glazing was a popular practice with those who had outdoor kilns, and it was another technique that also gave drab colors.  The salt vapors came from handfuls of salt thrown into the fire-chamber, and they deposited a thin glaze layer on pots that were in the salt-kiln.  The glaze also deposited itself on nearly everything else that was in the kiln, including firebricks, shelves, kiln-furniture, and the very walls of the kiln.  Once a kiln was used for salt glazing it had use for little else.  The fumes that left the kiln were poisonous, and clouds of salt vapor could be seen floating in uncontrolled directions during the firing.  Largely for these reasons, salt glazing has been discontinued, and another medium that is non-toxic is in use to produce the single fired effect. 


     Yet another kind of kiln control used to produce drab or dark tones on pottery is reduction firing.  The practice involves changing the internal atmosphere of the kiln from one of oxidation to one called reduction, the purpose being to reduce the oxygen from the air the kiln normally requires.  In the process, the kiln gases take oxygen from the glazes and clays to give a drab looking product.  Even stoneware bodies took on a look of gray-black.  A big restriction to studio use of reduction firing is that the kiln needs to be in the open air, or else the atmosphere of the kiln-room and rooms adjoining would become unpleasant to breathe.  Fumes need to disperse.  But pottery was ready for a return to color, and Karl was ready to help. 


     As students, we were aware that Karl Martz had studied glaze chemistry with Doctor Baggs of Ohio State University, and we knew of the regard Karl had for his teacher.  The name of a glaze we frequently used, was called “Baggs D”.   


     I wanted to investigate red glazes.  I asked Karl what he knew about copper-reds.    He shared some ideas with me, and then told me that Doctor Baggs had done work with copper-red formulas, and that I needed to experiment by modifying glazes that I used.  This was good advice, but it looked like a lengthy series of experiments, and I needed a short-cut.  I wrote to Baggs for help, and he made recommendations.  I then brush glazed two small pots. They came out with a blazing scarlet red on each, and I waited for Karl’s comments.  He didn’t use many words, but his remark carried much meaning.    


     “Well, Stanley, you certainly got a red.”


       I had to admit that “getting a red” was not enough.  There was the need for at least subtle variations, and I resolved to follow up my experiments, but in that semester I had no more time.  However, Karl Martz had shown me how and when to think again. 


     Thank you, Karl.