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wood kilns in rural places / beecher case

updated mon 4 nov 02


John Baymore on fri 1 nov 02


first i want to acknowledge that john
baymore's appeal, at least to me, is about
knowing what is going on, and how it will
affect all of us as potters.

john is a great guy, a real support for the
craft, and knows his stuff. my thoughts
on wood fired kilns near others is not a slap
at what he has to say. in fact, i am in total
support of john and his ideas... i just am not =

sure about the wood kiln in up state new york...

Thanks very much for clarifying that, mel-san. I was beginning to feel
like the real "bad guy" in attempting to bring this ugly matter into the
light of day. And .....garwsh......thanks for the kind words . As yo=
know from our brief experiences together...... like presenting together a=
the Alabama Clay Conference a few years back....... I respect and value
your background and your wisdom highly too. You certainly "been there,
done that, and even DESIGNED the T-shirt." And if anyone goes and
checks the CLAYART archives on many subjects...... including old stuff on=

wood kilns...... they'll find us mostly right there shoulder-to-shoulder.=

It certainly is possible that in my original post on this that I did not
make the case as well as I should or could have.

i just am not sure about the wood kiln in up state new york...
i think there is more than meets the eye.
lily knows the area, and lives there, she has
helped us see that there are two strong sides
to this story.

So how can I / we get you to be more sure of it?

If you haven't yet gone to the town meeting minutes and the NYTimes artic=
that I listed in my original posting..... check them out. Yes it is a LO=
of reading.... but it is very enlightening. Give you some real perspecti=
on this case and a lot of detail. This whole thing smells like week old

There are two strong sides here all right. One of them would ban any and=

all home occupations in a rural residential location. One would classify=

the emissions from ANY type of potters kiln as toxic and polluting. One
would prevent local school kids from visiting a potter's studio. One wil=
use ANY tactic he can find to shut the pottery down........ he cares not=

how. And so on. =

The other APPEARS to have complied with the town's zoning laws and in goo=
faith complied with what the town had asked her to do. And also appears =
have attempted to cooperate with her neighbor. Is the potter's situation=

and all her actions "perfect"? Of course not. Nothing ever is.

I believe that, as they say, the "preponderance of the evidence" that is
available to us..... not actually being there........ seems to tip things=

toward Susan Beecher's side of the fence. If there were thick heavy smok=
blowing into my home.... I'd be upset too. But the facts, when taken and=

put through the "experience filter" of someone with a lot of ceramics and=

wood fire background........ like yours......... seems to support that i=
NOT completely the case here. The distance is too great. The physics of=

hot gases and air go against it. The effect of dilution of the high wind=

go against it. And Mr. Middleton's overall actions and approach paints =
picture of his "personality type" and a "life view" that tells you he
likely is quite unreasonable to deal with on most ANY issues.

Can Mr. Middleton see smoke and flame? Of course. Can he smell it? Of
course. Is the level worse than if a neighbor was located 50 feet right
next door running a throttled back woodstove to heat the house? Possibly=

not. At 150-200 feet with a high wind (which is what took the SINGLE
firings smoke there in the first place) ........ is it really thick smoke=
? =

Likely not. In the country, wood smoke is a pretty common thing.

And Susan's already offered to NOT fire when Mr. Middleton or his family
are there. She's trying to meet him MORE than halfway. He won't even ta=
except through his lawyer.

Besides.... the crux of the case is stretching FAR away from the issue of=

the wood kiln. He's bringing in all sorts of issues as ways to try to st=

we cannot just jump up and say.
`she is a potter, therefore she is correct`.

No we can't. What we CAN say is that "she is a fellow "CLAYBUD"
potter.......... therefore I ought to see for myself if I think she is
being treated fairly and if not,..........see how I can maybe help

In some ways, it might be likened to our CLAYART ... "Clay it Forward"
thing. To my knowledge we don't ask for a complete financial statement a=
5 yerars of IRS 1040's to see if someone REALLY needs the support. We do=
little "look see" .... trus their word....... and help out a bit.

if i lived 75 yards from a wood kiln...i would stick dynamite under it.

I guess you are a bit less tolerant than I . I just sic the dog on
people .

I have a next door neighbor whose kid has a 4 wheel ATV and a snowmobile.=

Runs the infernal roaring polluting machines all over the place...summer
and winter.... sometimes across my field that is in the front of my house=
. =

I HATE those things........ think they are a wonderful tool only for
NECESSARY travel situations. BUT........ it is his property, and obvious=
he doesn't see it the same way as I do. So...... I just say "oh well, th=
is the country, comes with the territory". He doesn't say anything about=

my noborigama.... and I don't complain about the noise and smoke from the=

"mechanized monsters".

I look at it as the "price I pay" for living in the country..... which is=

more than offset by the other benefits of living in the country. =

if i hauled in wood piles, blue tarps, started a wood
fire kiln in minnetonka, and i have three acres...i would
be out of business in twenty minutes.

Interesting....... minnetonka must be a bigger more suburban area???? Ho=
big is minnetonka?

I am also on three acres here in rural (but getting less so all the time)=

New Hampshire. I've had the noborigama firing here for about 22-23 years=
. =

As you so rightly mentioned to folks..... I go out of my way to keep up
good relations with the neighbors. Luckily I don't have a "Mr. Middleton=
around yet . But things can always change...... and I dread the
possible arrival of just such an unreasonable, non-communicative, and
obviously litigious person. And having that person have access to legal
precedents like those that might come down from the Beecher case...... is=

not a "happy thought".

I usually have about 3-4 cords of wood stacked up near the kiln waiting t=
get cut up.....covered with blue tarps. Logging truck with grapple arm
brings it in from the wood mill.....scrap wood. Another 2-3 cords sittin=
already prep-ed, right next to the kiln.... covered with blue tarps.

I carefully picked the property site so that it would be really hard to
build a place right up close to my property borders on the part that hold=
the wood and gas kilns and the studio. You can see the noborigama from t=
street in front of my house. You can really see it when you are parked i=
the main house/studio parking area. Until some trees used to=

be able to see the wood kiln from the main east/west highway thru the
area..... Route 101.... about 250 yards away. I too am a "home occupatio=
in a rural residential zone. There was zoning in place back in 1977 when=
started the pottery and started building the studio and kilns here.

Wilton is a small town of about 3000 people. There is a single "main
street" business district about 1 mile from here with about a dozen shops=
. =

There's a picture or two on my website. At my slide lecture in Japan bac=
in August.... I showed pictures of the town of Wilton at the start..... a=

fact that I make sure the town government knows about .

there is a great difference between a fast freddie, and a anagama.

You and the other experienced potters around all know that..... but not
according to Mr. Middleton's general viewpoint. According to his possibl=
legal contentions...... ANY kiln....wood, gas, electric........ could be=

looked at as being the same if you sell pots.

I do have to say that I think the current "fad" in the USA of building
honkin' HUGE cooperative anagamas is going to eventually "nail" us
woodfirers. Anagamas certainly produce great results...... but they ten=
to smoke like crazy. Generally poor fireboxes and bad mixing. And reall=
big ones smoke a LOT...cause they burn a lot of wood. Historically in
Japan...... many potters eventually moved away from those more primitive
kilns toward the chambered variety.... because they were more efficient a=
fired more evenly. They also tend to smoke less. There's a lot to be sa=
for Neely's simple train kiln design...... maximum fly ash effect for
minimal wood burned.

So....... hopefully people will read all the various stuff available for
themselves and make a decision about adding some support or not. As you=

said.... my prime reason for bringing this up is to get people well aware=

of it......since such situations can eventually affect us all.

Be well. As inimitable ole' Tony C. said in a copy of his lettter to the=

Jewett Planning Board that he sent me........ "Lang May Yer Lum Reek"
(gaelic for ...... Long may your chimney smoke.)"



John Baymore
River Bend Pottery
22 Riverbend Way
Wilton, NH 03086 USA

603-654-2752 (s)
800-900-1110 (s)

John Baymore on fri 1 nov 02


Sorry ...... but I think we disagree a bit here. Maybe it is the "glass
half half empty" scenario . I read the info in the
NYTimes article and the minutes a bit differently. Plus I talked to Susa=

I read the transcripts and the Middletons are very close to that kiln.
There is some discussion of how close, the closest to their "front-door"
that is mentionned, I think, is 75 feet. And the kiln apparently is not
where the town thought it would be on the property itself.

Please re-read ALL the transcripts I listed as well as the newspaper
article. I think what you say here is incorrect. I have read and re-rea=
ALL of the transcripts on that town's site..... beyond the ones I
listed....... looking for small bits related to the case and to get a
"profile" of the players and the town government's operations. =

The distance is much greater than 75 feet. Mr. Middleton's own flyer he
put out to the vacation home owners in the town said 150 feet. And Susan=

said it is further than that from his house.

When she got her building permit, the town did not REQUIRE a survey drawn=

and certified by an architect for the permitting process for Susan's kiln=
. =

Just as many small towns don't. A basic hand drawn type plot plan was
sufficient for the permit's needs. She complied with what the TOWN
originally asked for. From the discussions in the transcripts it is clea=
that the TOWN (other than Middleton's nephew) was and still is comfortabl=
with the drawing of the placement of the kiln for getting the original
permit. They contend that it is "close enough" to the actual placement.

However Mr. Middleton (and his nephew) are NOT happy with it. I would
expect that Mr. Middleton wants the kiln located to an accuracy that woul=
tax a GPS system. And if the survey is not that accurate (and expensive)=

..... he would use that inaccuracy as a point to contest the entire
operation. He cares not the exact location.... he cares that it is
possibly an open avenue that he might contest the installation on. He'l=
use ANY point to contest it. =

Basically, Mr. Middleton is trying to change the rules after the game has=


There is a lot of discussion of woodpiles and blue tarpaulins...These
on that street in that town have a problem with the unsightliness which
against their zoning code, or at least, goes beyond what the town though=
it would get. =

Having driven thru the Jewett area in the winter..........(I'm a
skier.....skied Hunter many wife is from the Catskills) I wou=
venture a guess that there are LOTS of wood piles covered with blue tarps=
. =

They are the wood piles that others use for their home heating wood and
their vacation home woodstoves and fireplaces. This issue is a
technicality.........which Mr. Middleton is not above pushing.

If blue tarp covered wood piles totally offend Mr. Middleton....... what
the heck is he doing in the rural countryside?

If they outlaw ALL the blue tarp covered woodpiles in the whole town.....=
that would be FINE by me, and I'd say they have every right to make Susan=

put in a woodshed (which she is doing, by the way). Put them ALL in
woodsheds. Great. But that won't happen. Not politically easy. Too ma=
people have fireplaces and woodstoves.

As to what the town THOUGHT it would get.......... from my readings, it
appears that the TOWN was happy with Ms. Beecher's situation.....UNTIL Mr=
Middleton and his NEPHEW on the town council started beating them to deat=
with lawyers and verbage. THEN, after the fact, they were looking for a
"scapegoat" and looked more closely at what Susan was doing. They starte=
looking for things that could be "addressed" that they looked like
they were responding to Middleton's lawyer's complaints. No one gave a
crap about any of this until Mr. Middleton's lawyer contacted the town. =

Sadly, the town council also looked at the building inspector who approve=
the Beecher building permit and installation to get themselves out of the=

nasty "legal glare"..... and tried to "pin" some "blame" on him. Lots of=

"finger pointing" going on in general in the transcripts. Gets ugly in
some spots . In fact ........ in scrambling to look "better" as the
"stink" got bigger..... in subsequent meetings (not mentioned in my websi=
listings) .... the council members mentioned that they thought the Buildi=
Inspector was "overtaxed" in the growing demands of his job....and took
zoning compliance issues away from him. Sweet little "political move".

So the building inspector and Susan both are getting "nailed" in the
crossfire of Mr. Middleton's NIMBY games.

This is all about small town politics; a town government that has never h=
to contend with an affluent, pushy, well-connected polititian resident wh=
is "on a crusade". They are very much on the defensive and being
reactionary. They are outgunned..... by Mr. Middleton's legal savy and
lawyer, and his financial wherewithall. A big hired "gun" is playing
"High Noon" with them. All they want is peace and quiet. =

Middleton has the power and Susan doesn't. =

It is to the town government's GREAT credit that it comes across that the=
really ARE on Susan's side..... they just don't want to get politically
"fried" in the process of supporting her.

As to industrial vs commercial....I think it is the SIZE of that kiln tha=
is causing the problem....

It is NOT a large wood kiln. I don't know the exact particulars... but
from looking at the photos I'd guess it is about 200 cubic feet total
space, in two chambers....bout a hundred each. Might be 170..... might b=
250. It is a noborigama.... not an anagama. They typically burn cleaner=
and tend to have less flame appear out the chimney top at peak.

There are all sorts of reasons to have a large kiln. One good one is tha=
it takes FAR less of the planet's natural resources to fire a large
periodic kiln once than it does to fire one which is a tenth the same siz=
for ten times. Good concern for the environment. It also makes more sen=
to fire a well insulated kiln rather than an underinsulated "hobby-type"
electric. Good concern for the environment. It also makes more sense no=
to use electric energy...... that is VERY wasteful in the power convesion=

factor. Good concern for the environment.

If you fire 100 cubic feet of pottery in one week, one month, or one
year..... it doesn't matter how many kiln loads you take to do it...... y=
are still producing that volume of work in a unit of time. If the VOLUME=

of work matters to what is "acceptable" as a handcraft potter....... we
better ALL worry about that kind of ruling. The "pottery police" are
coming .

I don't think labeling the kiln "industrial" or "commercial" would matter=

too much. Either is likely prohibited in a residential setting. One HU=
issue here with Mr. Middleton's contentions is the question, "Is the maki=
of handcraft pottery an acceptable use in a home occupation zone?" The
legal answer to THAT question could set a precedent for a LOT of potters.=

That is just ONE "place" Middleton is trying to win his case.

As to smoke: Come on now! There is no way the curtains, the carpets, th=
walls of the neighbor's house won't smell of it. If you have ever had a
fire in the neighborhood--I mean a bad fire, a fire of a house down the
street-- you smell it in your house for days.

I am sorry but I think there is NO comparison between a home house fire a=
a wood kiln burning. First of all..... a house fire includes all those
synthetics that a house is chock FULL of....... plastics. And paint. An=
shingles. And electronics. And god forbid... sometimes people and pets.=

To quote you........ "Come on now!"

I think this is a TOTALLY incorrect extrapolation of your experiences,
based on my experiences with actual wood kilns..... not house fires. I
have been a wood firer since 1969. As a professional kiln builder, I hav=
put in MANY woodkilns for people and institutions. I have visited many
wood firer's homes. I have fired many wood kilns. I have spent time in
the meca of wood fire..... Japan. The homes located DIRECTLY next to woo=
kilns do NOT "smell it in your house for days". I once even put in a thr=
chamber noborigama between Beth Isreal Hospital and Children's Hospital i=
Boston. With the use of afterburners....... you couldn't see smoke off t=
chimneys at all. In the general neighborhood..... it smelled like a
fireplace was burning somewhere. I think this contention is a bit of an

But my house DOES smell very distinctly each morning in the winter from m=
neighbor's throttled back wood stove. The cold flue gases (from good sto=
design retaining the heat and the damper being shut down) hang near the

My home is very close to my noborigama. You can't even tell it is firing=

when in the house..... ever. The studio is closer..... can't smell it
there either. The smoke and fumes tend to go UP....... they are
boyant....being less dense than the surrounding air and having the vertic=
flow vector induced by the chimney. Usually, you have to get pretty clos=
to the kiln to smell it. Sometimes you can smell it out on the main
street........ 500 feet or so away...... about as much as you smell any o=
the neighbor's fireplaces or wood stoves.

Yes...she can probably do some things to address smoke generation........=
but in general it does not permeate everything for hundreds of yards
around. I am not saying that wood kilns do not generate smoke....... but=
am saying that in THIS situation...... it appears that it is not likely A=
BAD as Mr. Middleton and his lawyer is contending.

My own guess is that, to make an analogy, Ms Beecher said "truck" and the=

town people visualized a pickup, and got an 18 wheeler and that is the cr=
of the problem.

Having taken the trouble to interview here BEFORE I wrote the original
posting...... I'd say that this is NOT the case. And it does not show up=

that way in the meeting minutes in my opinion. If you want the view from=

her side..... and lots more information..... she's in the phone book.

If you read the minutes you will see the town is bending itself into a
pretzel to make things right.

You got that part DEAD ON. But Middleton wants to make sure that it is
"right" ONLY for him.

Sorry to nit pick.



John Baymore
River Bend Pottery
22 Riverbend Way
Wilton, NH 03086 USA

603-654-2752 (s)
800-900-1110 (s)

Janet Kaiser on sat 2 nov 02

For what it is worth, I want to support John Baymore on this issue,
although letters of support for Ms Beecher from non-US citizens abroad are
sadly not going to help in this or any other case. (I was informed of this
the time I E-mailed a state representative about another political issue).

I certainly understand John's concern for the impact a case like this will
have on many potters around Jewett, that county, NY state or even the whole
country. It is a matter of principle, beyond all the Middleton vs Jewett &
Beecher nit-picking about placement, tarpaulins, minor inconvenience, local
rules and statutory regulations.

And the whole thing could be taken even further... Why stop with banning
wood-firing here or anywhere else? It could even set a precedent that ALL
kilns are potentially harmful. Think what effect that would have! It would
only take a serious lobbyist a short time to convince the government that
only "large manufacturers with modern firing methods and equipment meeting
ABC regulations and under XYZ department control" will be officially
allowed to pollute in the future. They are then accountable, whereas a
small to middle sized producer would not have any ground to stand on, not
least because of economic and financial issues involved.

It is not like this particular kiln produces wood smoke on a daily or even
weekly basis. In the countryside, we have people who occasionally burn
bonfires with potentially far higher levels of pollutants, such as from
plastic, oil and rubber. No good saying bonfires are banned, because by the
time (if and when) officialdom arrives to check up, they are over and done
with. And officials will only have to investigate, if they are told by some
malicious informant. Good neighbours only light bonfires when the wind is
in the "right" direction and causes the least annoyance to neighbours.
Never during inversion weather when the smoke hangs in the air. They also
fire on days, when there is no washing out on the neighbours line... All
the little customs and common civility of living and working in the great
outdoors. And do not say an occasional bonfire is no comparison! A
well-fired wood kiln using dry and seasoned wood is not going to produce
any more smoke than a large bonfire of green wood plus those oddments which
do get burned, whether an illegal contravention of local by-laws or not...
Old furniture, mattresses and other general household or farm waste.

Yes, the countryside is still working in the old rhythms of the days, weeks
and seasons no matter how much officialdom would like to regulate us. We
know when to shut windows and doors to keep out smells, noises and
"pollution". Ha! That is so funny... These townies who take up full or
part-time residence in the countryside and expect a sanitised and "quite
life" just like they see in the movies or on picture postcards. They drive
around in their gas guzzling, pollution-belching four-wheel drive monsters,
blaring out loud music, their untrained dogs frightening the farm animals,
allowing their unruly children to trample crops and yet demanding their
preconceived "rights". They do not realise or stop to think that this is a
working environment where production goes on day-in, day-out, just like any
factory floor. It is not some scenic theme park set out purely for their
personal use and enjoyment. But coming from their comfortable and highly
lucrative city jobs, the factory is just as alien to them as the
countryside. They should go back to cocktail-swigging suburbia, where they
really belong. All the comforts and amenities which they can control and
zone with like-minded neighbours to their heart's content, without any of
the annoyances of being near working people getting their hands dirty
earning a living.

Yes, I also agree with John that all the indications are there that the
Middleton Clan are just big bullies and will probably get away with cowing
a whole town and council, just because Himself has a bee in his bonnet
about an issue. Once again the rights of the individual are being defended,
whereas the duties forgotten. Mr. Middleton has a duty to allow Ms. Beecher
to live and work without denying her the means with which to do so. The
brow-beating and appeasement going on says a lot about small-town politics
in a peace-loving society. We all get uncomfortable with loud and pushy
people and try to avoid them at all costs... It is just a shame that this
carries over into the town hall, where there should be safety in numbers,
if nothing less.

Sometimes it is hard, but standing up and being counted shows moral courage
and backbone, even if one is actually a member of the moral majority. What
good are majorities, if we do not stand up to be counted? We know where
bully-boy tactics can lead us, but if we do nothing to stop them, what is
the result? I know that many shy away from such issues and would therefore
like to thank John for being such a caring and proactive advocate of what
is a local issue in this particular case, but also one which could have
extremely far-reaching repercussions state or nationwide. All power to your
elbow, John!


Janet Kaiser... Thinking of what would be the opposite of those good wishes
in clay terms... Something to hurl at someone in anger... What about "kiln
up and die"? Too violent? Then what about "crock off"? Am I mud slinging?
Yes! I enjoy a good old rant every now and then... :-)

Janet Kaiser

The Chapel of Art =95 Capel Celfyddyd
8 Marine Crescent, Criccieth LL52 0EA, Wales, UK
Tel: 01766-523570 URL:

John Baymore on sun 3 nov 02


For what it is worth, I want to support John Baymore on this issue,
although letters of support for Ms Beecher from non-US citizens abroad ar=
sadly not going to help in this or any other case. (I was informed of thi=
the time I E-mailed a state representative about another political issue)=

Thank you very much for that posting.... you hit a lot of it dead on.

One thing though.......... I don;t think that letters from outside the US=
are useless.

In a strictly LEGAL sense the opinion of a person from the UK likely has
little bearing on anything. But the real issue is the psychological
impacts such "attention" can have. In one case.... it helps to "bouy" Ms=
Beechers spirits.... which is no small aspect here. It also will have to=

officilas of the Town realizing that the "eyes of the world" are on them.=

And it can make Mr. Middleton realize that he might be fighting a bigger
battle here than he thought he was biting off.

So........ I man ybe totally wrong. But I don't think letters from aroui=
the world would be all that useless.

Thanks again for the vote of confidence.



John Baymore
River Bend Pottery
22 Riverbend Way
Wilton, NH 03086 USA

603-654-2752 (s)
800-900-1110 (s)