Selected techniques for firing clay products in the First Cycle Institution in Ghana
Of all man’s arts, Ceramics deals more directly with earth, water, air and fire. Fire is the key, by its action the soft and formless clay is given hardness and permanence. No one actually knows how or when traditionally firing systems started in this country. One can however start by looking at the Ceramic kiln, one of man’s earliest tools the primitive form of which dates back to at least 8,000 B.C. and perhaps earlier. The method of firing clay objects and vessels to make them hard, durable and impervious to water was no doubt discovered accidentally. It has been said that, early man in breaking stones, may accidentally have created fire by the sparks which occurred due to experience with camp fire. Perhaps men observed that, clay soils beneath the camp fire was hardened by heat or perhaps a reed basket lined with clay for collecting water might accidentally have burnt, leaving the hardened clay in the form of the basket. From such a discovery, it would only be a small step to a more controlled management of fire, to gain concentrated heat needed to fire objects fashioned in clay. Such basic technical knowledge has certainly been in the possession of many different societies at varying stages of development, but has only led to a full scale industry when allied with a social need and favourable economic conditions. The knowledge of pottery making and techniques of firing became wide spread among ancient cultures and was practiced in a similar manner in areas as remote from each other, as Central Asia and South Africa. There were many local variations of open pit firing but the essential procedure involved the digging of a shallow pit. Twigs and branches etc. were placed in the pit as lining, the pots were placed and piled together in a compact with little empty spaces between them as possible. Fuel was stacked in and around the pots. Around and over the setting of raw pots, were placed a layer of broken fragments of fired pottery. Normally, broken pots from previous firing are used to cover around to retain the heat. The fuel in the pit was set ablaze and allowed to burn rather slowly for an hour or two, to get the pots thoroughly dry. Since the fuel was enclosed in a shallow area, not much air goes to it and as such, the fire did not burn intensely. Gradually, with the development of more embers, the heat is accumulated. More fuel was piled on, as the fire reached a level above the pit. The attainment of red hot pots showed that, the pots were ready and the fire was allowed to die down. The top of the fire might have been covered with wet leaves or ashes to retain the heat and prevent the pots from cooling rapidly. Evidence of traditional firing with regard to pottery dates back to the 15th Century, Excavations carried out at Dawu (19L12), Aseibu in 1963 and Jakpasere (1969), give credit to this. It was discovered that, the method was similar to those found today. The method was similar to those found among ancient cultures; It involved the surrounding of wares with available fuel and the setting of fire to it. This was allowed to blaze just like a bonfire. As R.G. Hagger says in “Primitive Potters” “the first vessels which they made were sun- hardened” and this is similar to the method practiced by the first cycle institutions in Ghana. This method would not hold liquids or remain intact for any length of time, Many trials must have been made and many failures experienced by our far distant ancestors before they learned to harden them by baking. Perhaps they discovered the secret of firing pottery through some domestic tragedy. Very little is known about primitive firing techniques or when the potter first constructed a chamber or oven to bake his ware. Women potters at Pankronu and Apedu in the Ashanti Region in Ghana, heap their unbaked pots in a great mound, cover it with grass and dung and set fire to it, feeding the great bonfire with bundles of dried grass. Perhaps, early Potters baked their vessels in the same way. The Egyptians for example, learned to construct an oven at a very early date; a potter’s oven is shown in a tomb at Saggara dating from the fifth Dynasty. With this background, it has been discovered generally that sometime heat that should have been retained to help fire the works to it permanent hardened state got lost in the process of firing, due to the nature of kilns or oven built and this resulted in reduction in the degree of hardness of the works. The main aim of this present work is to produce simple techniques for firing pupils’ clay works in the first cycle schools. Although most teachers teach clay work, very few of them are able to preserve the pupil’s works. However, some of the works produced by pupils are unique and need to be preserved but surprisingly they are left in the bone dry, fragile state to break. Also pupils show die -interest in clay-work because they see it as valueless and not permanent. The author therefore hopes that, the research results would encourage the use of locally produced kilns or ovens, instead of depending on imported ones which our institutions in the first cycle could not afford to order or purchase. This will go a long way in saving the country foreign exchange.
A thesis submitted to the Board of Postgraduate Studies, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Postgraduate Diploma in Art Education, 1991