Photo credit: etownian

4Culture and the Local Hazardous Waste Management Program in King County (LHWMP) are partnering to spread the word about Hidden Hazards in the Arts. 

The Healthy Ceramicist 

I recently saw a NY Times article on Eva Zeisel, the ceramic artist and designer, who had died at 105. I wondered how she’d stayed healthy so long working in ceramics, a field with a long history of lung damage (Potter’s Lung), mold allergies and toxic metals exposures.

My guess is that she produced art using techniques that protected her health. In my work with school art programs, I’ve come across teachers who are training their students to use safe practices, both as part of creating art and to protect themselves and their students from the “hidden hazards in ceramics.”

Eric Wall is one of those, teaching art at Kentridge High School, which was recognized in 2012 as a King County Green School. For 15 years, Mr. Wall’s ceramics program has helped reduce the school’s environmental impacts by:

  • Recycling and reusing between 150 and 200 pounds of clay per week. Clay that dries out, including scraps from the classroom floor, are placed in barrels of water and rehydrated. The wet clay is then placed on plaster tables and allowed to dry until it can be used again.
  • Firing the kiln only if it is completely full, and smaller pots are placed inside of larger pots to use space efficiently.
  • Drying out and reusing butcher paper that absorbs moisture from clay projects.
  • Finding second uses for clay and clay glaze packaging, including plastic bags, boxes and buckets.
  • Saving glazes whose color is not identifiable by adding them to a bucket labeled “mystery.” Students enjoy using the mystery bucket glazes for the surprise results.

When I visited his classroom, it was obvious how Mr. Wall also minimizes hazardous chemical and dust exposures. Only wet clay is handled by students. Gloves and dust masks are available and regularly used. He has eliminated toxic lead and carcinogenic cadmium and nickel glazes.

– Dave Waddell

If you’re interested in learning more about preventing health and environmental risks in a ceramics studio, please attend this free workshop:

Hidden Hazards in the Arts: Chemical Hazards in Ceramics
Wednesday, April 3rd, 6:30-8:30pm
Moshier Community Arts Center – 430 S 156th St Burien, WA 98148

RSVP via email or call 206-391-6605.