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Kiln Pointers

Making Useful Objects from Glaze Tests

Kathy Rhoades and a few of her 25,000 thumbprints.

Instead of making glaze test samples on throwaway clay scraps, create something useful. For instance, make glaze tests on clay disks that include a hole for a chain and a rubber-stamped design on the front. Give them away or sell them as pendants. What you consider glaze imperfections or ugly test colors may be beautiful jewelry to others.

The following story by Kathy Rhoades reminds me of a message in a bottle washed up on the beach. Kathy has sent out thousands of clay messages on coin-size disks. Her story may give you ideas for other ways to use glaze test samples. In the distant future people may hunt for her fingerprint disks the way collectors look for arrowheads.

Twenty-Five Thousand Clay Thumbprints

By Kathy Rhoades

Strattanville, Pennsylvania

While attending the University of New Mexico 13 years ago, I began to record my thumbprint in small, coin-size porcelain clay pieces. I fired them to cone 9 and stained them at bisque to enhance the marks. I made 25,000 thumbprint disks while sitting in front of the TV at night so I could be with my family. It reminded me of my grandmother stitching quilts.

I gave the thumbprints away at exhibits. People carried them in their pockets like worry stones. One student even rubbed the coin during his review. Several students sent their extras to family back home in other states.

I started leaving them all over campus, just to see what would happen. I left them near entrances to buildings, near a pond, and on sidewalks. They began to move and have a life of their own. I found them circling a tree or arranged on the lawn as a smiley face. I noticed them in offices on campus.

Later I included my email address on the back of the thumbprints. On a trip from New Mexico to Pennsylvania, I left piles of them at stopping places. By the time I reached Pennsylvania, I had emails from people who had found the thumbprints: from a teacher in Kansas who had stopped at the Dairy Queen with her children; from a woman and her husband heading home to Washington State from Texas who had stopped on the New Mexico-Colorado border for a break. One lady wrote, "Just wanted you to know that some people do look for signs of life." People were excited to participate and receive emails from me as well.

I now have clay thumbprints all over the world. People dropped them off on their travels for me, coast to coast in the USA, Japan, Mexico, England, and Italy. Connecting with people through the thumbprints has made the world smaller for me.

I shared the clay thumbprint idea with a fifth-grade class as a way to introduce the next generation to a war memorial that the school had built. The memorial recognized past and present soldiers, but not future soldiers. Every year new fifth-grade classes leave their clay thumbprints around the rocks at the memorial with a little ceremony.

Kathy’s Background

I graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1999 with an MFA in Sculpture and a concentration in ceramics under Gina Bobrowski and Bill Gilbert. I received my BFA from Clarion University of Pennsylvania with a double concentration in painting and ceramics in 1995.

My sculptural work is often figurative, either literally or metaphorically. I was heavily influenced by the New Mexico landscape so my surfaces are usually dry, slips stains, engobes. Because of where I am in my life at the moment, I am working more on the wheel with some hand-building thrown in, making functional ware, working with stoneware in the cone 6 range.


Two weeks ago I sent a Kiln Pointer on supporting silver clay with a carved firebrick. Rebecca Skeels of Farnham, UK wrote, “Just a small point about the cutting bricks idea: I recommend that people wear a dust mask.”

Rebecca has been a jeweler for 11 years and has been firing PMC (Precious Metals Clay) since it first arrived in the UK. She teaches PMC and enameling and works at the University College for the Creative Arts in Farnham. “If you're ever over here,” Rebecca added, “Farnham is the place to visit, especially as there is a big ceramic conference next year here. And we do have ceramic, glass, and jewellery kilns. It'll be like home from home!” Thanks, Rebecca, for the safety reminder and the invitation.


With best wishes,

Arnold Howard Paragon Industries, L.P. - Better Designed Kilns 2011 South Town East Blvd. Mesquite, TX 75149-1122 Voice: 972-288-7557 & 800-876-4328 / Fax: 972-222-0646 /

Feel free to email this Kiln Pointer to friends. To read back issues Click here or go to, select “Support,” and then “Kiln Pointers” from the drop menu.

To respond to this Kiln Pointer, press Reply. Your email will go directly to Arnold Howard.

PRIVACY NOTICE: Under no circumstance do we share or sell your email address.

Copyright 2006, by Paragon Industries, L.P.

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