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group studio/classroom safety practices (bravo!)

updated mon 31 mar 97


Richard Selfridge on mon 31 mar 97

Gavin wrote:
In this case the reason I don't know is that toxicology is a moving
target, and a sensitive one at that. So there is no once for all answer to
what's bad and what's good.

At the same time, I detect a note of hysteria in the general discussions we
are having on this list. This list is an appropriate forum for discussion,
and there are numerous issues of concern. It is well to remember that
ceramics, pottery and glazes are old, very old, in the experience of
humankind, and we haven't been killed off by it yet.

It's always great to see someone articulate a reasoned moderate
position on issues that tend to alarm, excite and polarize us. Just a few
thoughts on these issues.
1. I don't envy anyone trying to cope with these problems in a teaching
situation especially with very young people, but as our peditrician once
said, kids will eat dirt and most of them are unaffected by it. It's obvious
that we need to keep dangerous substances out of their reach without
frightening them to death (even if they would make great stuff with those
sometimes suspect low fire "Fauvist" colors). Hopefully they will eventually
ride their bikes without training wheels and even swim in the deep end.
2. We all face choices about safety in our studios, and if you've seen the
Isaac Button movie, you know he appears to have had a long life throwing a
"bazillion" pots each day, glazing them with lead (were those actually milk
pans?)and puffing on his pipe the whole time. Cardew's Winchcombe pottery
was a similar story. It's probably dust (silicosis) and modern life(too many
handguns), that will get us in the end provided we wash before we eat our
lunch and avoid carbon monoxide in the studio. We do, however, incur other
obligations when we employ others to help with our "dirty" work. (Bring me
your young, fresh, pink lungs).
3. The least likely danger but probably the most costly in a litigious
society such as ours is that we may be seen to have poisoned or injured a
customer. We need all of them we can get so it is in our interest to keep
them healthy. Leaching of harmful substances is an issue we must
continue to address,(the concept of a foolproof sanitary "liner glaze" is
the best practical solution for functional pots), but we cannot be sure how
people will use our products. A few years back, a customer (now a very
successful stockbroker) was reheating a coffee for us when I visited him. It
was in one of my quart jugs on his gas stove, directly on the open flame.
When I told him it was not designed for that, he said it worked fine and
that he had been doing it for a few years( he may be still doing it).
Just like our children, we can't follow our pots around for ever. It
may always be a balancing act between making our art and making safe
products. (Yes, I still like those Barium turquoise and Manganese bronze
glazes, and am really captivated by the unctuous quality of those old lead
glazes, thank you Thomas Toft).
Again, bravo to Gavin for a post that should go into everyone's
(especially teacher's) file.
Richard and Carol Selfridge (say hello if you see us in Las Vegas, we look
about like our pictures on our Web page)