To fans of handmade craft in the Washington DC area, Appalachian Spring is an institution. They have been in business for over 30 years, a pretty amazing feat. About ten years ago, before I had launched a bona fide pottery studio, I was standing in the Rockville location of Appalachian Spring telling myself "someday my pots will be in this store." Today I went to that same location, and dropped off the pottery that owner Paula Brooks ordered from me at the Buyers Market in February. As I drove away, I said to myself "I can't believe I was right."
An element burned out in my kiln. This happened on a Friday evening, while firing a big wholesale order that was due the following Monday. So I spent the whole weekend freaking out about missing a deadline. My first phone call on Monday morning was to L&L Kilns, and before I knew it, a new set of elements was being overnighted to me. The people at L&L don't sound like they have been trained in customer service jargon. They sound like experts, who are naturally articulate and genuinely want to make your kiln work again asap. My second phone call that morning was to my customer, who graciously gave me two more weeks to deliver the order. Phew.
More good luck ... my brother Won was in town. He is an electrical engineer. Not only did he help me replace the elements, he taught me how to use a multimeter. Now I can regularly measure the resistance in my elements so hopefully I will see it coming the next time one burns out.
But here's the "hard lesson" part of the incident. 5 out of 6 of the elements were not ready to burn out. One of the elements was broken, with a little pile of burnt crud surrounding the break. I had probably placed a pot too close to the element, and allowed a bit of glaze to chip off into the element holder. I used to have a "one inch rule" about placing pots close to an element. Lately I had broken that rule a lot, thinking that getting one more pot onto a shelf was justification. It's not smart to replace one element by itself, they should all be of the same age and similar resistance. So having to replace 5 working elements really offends my inner cheapskate.
Mea Rhee (mee-uh ree),
American Craft Council
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