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A potter and his Paragon kilns


The popular image of a potter is one who lives in seclusion, working quietly at a potter’s wheel. The clay studio is thought of almost as a monastery.

John Rodgers has never fit that image. He has always been an adventurer. Before he became a potter, he flew a bush plane in Alaska. Many years ago while flying a Cessna 180 in the Yukon, a mechanical problem forced the plane into an uncontrollable dive. As frozen swamps rushed past him below, John struggled to regain control of the plane. “In those moments, I did a lifetime of praying,” he said. He pulled out of the dive by flying upside down, and finally landed, thoroughly shaken. Death had visited, grinned, and moved on.

John became a clay worker 21 years ago while in Alaska. He now lives in Chelsea, Alabama, where he makes pottery in his barn studio. Recently he had another close call.

He was so immersed in working at his potter’s wheel that he didn’t notice the approaching thunderstorm. He didn’t look up when the sky darkened and thunder cracked in the distance.

A brilliant blue-white flash struck a towering red oak tree near the barn. It sounded like a shotgun blast. In a shower of sparks, chunks of bark, branches, and leaves exploded 40 feet in all directions. The lightning struck John, who was inside the barn. The force threw him four feet into a wall with a thud. He slid to the floor, stunned. At first he couldn’t move or talk. He slowly regained his senses when paramedics arrived. Once again, Death had stopped, smiled, and moved on. But it wasn’t quite time for John.

John Rodgers makes functional pottery for the kitchen. His signature style includes the image of the muscadine grape. “If you see a pot decorated with the muscadine vine, it will most likely be mine,” said John.

Last November, John designed custom communion ware for a religious conference. In May he began firing 800 pieces for the project. “I did as many as ten separate kiln firings at a time - some in my own kilns, some in kilns of friends,” said John. “I own two Paragon SnF-24 Cone 8 kilns, two computerized Paragon TnF-24-3 Cone 10 kilns, and one small Duncan test kiln.

“The four Paragons have a lid system Paragon calls the LiteLid. It uses a spring counter balance that makes opening and closing the lids incredibly easy, even with the three-inch thick lids of the cone 10 models. The lid support system allows the lid to float about 1/8 inch or so all the way around so the lid can seek its own seating, thus acquiring a more perfect seal during the growth distortion of the kiln that occurs in all kilns when firing. Other brands of kilns that I worked with during this period of high production that did not have a counterbalance system had hinge problems.

“Anyone looking to buy a new kiln would do well to look at the Paragon kilns with their LiteLid system,” said John. “I don't have any interest in Paragon, but I do like my kilns. I think they are first quality, both in design and performance.”

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