Jan 20, 2020

Wood-fired kilns bring students, faculty, and community together at College of the Ozarks

College of the Ozarks assistant professor of art places pottery inside the kiln
Michael Ashley, College of the Ozarks assistant professor of art, places pottery inside the kiln.
C of O alumnus carries wood to fire up the kilns
Shawn Cash, C of O alumnus, carries wood to fire up the kilns.
Instructor checks the temperature of the kilns
Ashley checks the temperature of the kilns.
former C of O professor and builder of the kilns contemplates the impact of art on the community
Jeff Johnson, former C of O professor and builder of the kilns, contemplates the impact of art on the community.
glazed pottery
Melted ashes from the kilns produce unique colors and patterns on now glazed pottery.

POINT LOOKOUT, MO. — College of the Ozarks students gathered with art professors from the community to glaze pottery in wood-fired kilns Nov. 14 – 20, 2019. Michael Ashley, assistant professor of art and graduate of College of the Ozarks, organized and supervised the glazing of student-made pottery.

Ashley has recently returned to teach at the College. He completed a pottery residency at Tainan National University of the Arts in Tainan, Taiwan, and has taught art at the collegiate level across the nation. He longed to return to his roots at College of the Ozarks because he missed the focus on creating opportunities for students.

“When I was a student and fired my first wood kiln, it was one of the things that made me look into clay and kilns because it was such an exciting experience,” Ashley said. “This was the main part of my work for about 15 years. All I wanted to do was fire wood kilns because I like the textured surfaces, and I just love the whole experience.”

The wood-firing process

Ashley’s clay classes, 40 students total, all participated in this event by taking shifts monitoring the kilns. Students began on Thursday, Nov. 14, by inserting pottery into the kilns and bricking up the doors to contain the heat within. Friday evening, Nov. 15, students lit fires that would generate heat inside the kilns until Sunday, Nov. 17. The kilns were then cooled to allow the students to unload the pottery pieces on Wednesday, Nov. 20. The ash from the fires had melted over the pottery, transforming into a light glaze that brought out the vibrant colors and patterns of the students’ work.

College of the Ozarks fires with wood because various minerals in the wood naturally produce numerous colors on the pots.

Ashley said the purpose of this event was to stimulate student creativity, keep tradition alive, and develop the art community in the Ozarks by creating a bond that brings students, faculty, and community professors together with one goal.

“I'm passionate about this because it is a great way for people to get excited about clay, and it’s a wonderful teaching tool,” Ashley said. “It’s a hands-on way of learning because the students are both making pots and directly affecting what their pots are going to look like as they physically chop wood and put the wood in the kiln. Students can then make connections that are different from ones they would make just being in the classroom seeing a slide lecture or watching me draw on the board.”

Bringing the community together

Jeff Johnston, former professor and founder of the clay program at College of the Ozarks, originally built the kilns in 1995 as some of the first wood kilns in Missouri. Inviting art professors from other universities to fire the kilns each semester became an annual tradition at College of Ozarks. This November, Johnston was able to come full circle by assisting his former student, Michael Ashley, and current students in running the kilns once again.

“Last night it was hopping down here,” Ashley said. “We had a lot of professors from other universities and artists from the community who gathered for a big dinner, and everybody was chopping wood. This is a great way for students, teachers, and people from the community to all get together, share an experience, talk, and learn from each other.”

Several recent C of O graduates and area professors participated in this event: Keith Ekstam, professor of art at Missouri State University; Kevin Hughes, C of O alumnus and professor of art at Missouri State University; Frank Pishkur, professor of art at Missouri Southern University; and Joel Blackburn, art and ceramics teacher at Kickapoo High School.

More about the College of the Ozarks Art Department

The art department has three faculty members: Dr. Anne Allman, Michael Ashley, and Dr. Richard Cummings. The department offers both studio art (with emphases in ceramics, computer art, graphic design, and painting) and art education degrees. Through the Boger Gallery, the department showcases artists from the campus and other areas.

Dr. Stacy McNeill is the chair of the Performing and Professional Arts Division, under which the art department is housed.

“The art department plays a significant role in the cultural goal of the College,” McNeill said. “Jeff Johnston began teaching at the College in 1981. His long tenure represents years of dedication to our art students. It is a natural fit for him to share his passion for his artistic work with our current students. We are proud to see Michael Ashley join our faculty and continue on the traditions of art and excellence at C of O.”

More about Michael Ashley

Ashley has a Bachelor of Arts in painting and ceramics from College of the Ozarks and a Master of Fine Arts in ceramics from the University of Mississippi. He has taught at Missouri State University, New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, and Tyler School of Art Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 

Ashley described himself as a maker and takes in formation from the world by creating. His memories of growing up in the Ozarks inspire his creativity with the students. 

For additional information, contact Public Relations Director Valorie Coleman at (417) 690-2212.

About College of the Ozarks

College of the Ozarks is a private, Christian, liberal arts college, located in Point Lookout, Missouri, on a 1,000-acre campus. Christian values, hard work, and financial responsibility comprise the fundamental building blocks of the “Hard Work U.” experience. The College earns numerous accolades yearly, including No. 1 Most Innovative School in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report for 2019 and No. 1 Best Bang for the Buck by Washington Monthly. To achieve its vision, the College pursues academic, vocational, Christian, patriotic, and cultural goals. These goals are mirrored in School of the Ozarks, a laboratory school that completes the K-college model.

The Keeter Center — the College’s award-winning lodge, restaurant, and conference facility — was ranked a Top Small Hotel in the U.S. by TripAdvisor for 2019. It features historic lodging, fine dining, and meeting rooms. With more than 350 student workers, it is the largest workstation on campus. Follow College of the Ozarks at www.facebook.com/collegeoftheozarks or on Twitter @CofOHardWorkU.




01.20.20 – Celine Douthit