A Bittersweet End

Engaging art students participate in the pit firing for one last time Sept. 28-29


Alyssa Bailey

The fire and smoke that burn around the ceramic work is absorbed into the surface of the clay creating beautiful natural designs that are spontaneous and quite unpredictable.

Alyssa Bailey, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Not many students have heard of the pit firing or know what it is. It’s an opportunity for all Ceramics I and II students to create a clay piece at the traditional pit firing at Faust Park during the 50th Annual Heritage Festival on Sept. 28-29. 

It’s led by local ceramic artist, Sandy Schultz, and art teacher, Mr. Tiemann, who has helped organize the event for the past 10 years. This will be Mr. Tiemann’s third year attending. The event is predominantly open to his ceramics students exclusively but students that have previously taken those classes may also participate in the annual pit firing. 

“The oldest known method of firing pottery, known as pit firing, is a wide spread firing technique among people all over the world. In America, this Native American art form has been perfected and is highly valued among collectors,” Tiemann said. “All of the work is strictly ceramic work. There are no glazes (liquid glass) added to the pieces. The fire and smoke that burn around the ceramic work is absorbed into the surface of the clay creating beautiful natural designs that are spontaneous and quite unpredictable.”

Before the firing actually begins, all the students will perform the “Blessing of the Pit”, which originated from the Cheyenne or Blackfoot tradition.

“Students, families and friends are encouraged to participate in order to promote cultural awareness and for educational experiences that so many people are unaware of or understand. The “Blessing of the Pit” gives students the opportunity to experience a different culture, their belief systems and traditions that have been passed down for generations,” Tiemann said.

While senior Megan Foster has had little experience working with clay, she’s decided to participate in the event and create a vase with a smiling sun as this will be her first year attending. She’s eager to see how all the colors from the pit firing blend together and make her piece look.

“This is my first time at the pit firing, it’s actually my first time working with clay at all but I just hope that it’s a fun experience and I hope the vase has some pinkish colors to it because I feel like it would look really pretty with the sun,” she said. “I don’t want it to get too dark but you don’t really have control over it. I don’t really have expectations just because I don’t know what to expect.”

Alyssa Bailey
Megan Foster’s concept for her pit firing piece has been influenced by a vase her sister has. She’s hopeful for how the vase will look with the colors added to it.

Foster felt inspired to create her clay piece based on a vase her sister had. The vase had a “peaceful-looking Buddha face on it”, which helped Foster come up with the idea. She combined ideas of her own and the objects around her house to put her own spin on it and create something pretty that she could have for a long time. 

“This is my first clay piece since Art Fundamentals and I haven’t worked with clay in three years, and I was actually shocked at how it turned out because I am proud of it,” Foster said.

With incoming students like Foster participating in the firing this year, it’s amazing to see the amount of growth and popularity this event has gained over the past few years.

“It’s exciting to see that the turnout of Liberty students has continued to increase the past three years I have been teaching here. The first year we only had four students participate compared to 12 this year,” Tiemann said.

Senior Brianna Dierks, who has previously done the pit firing, reflects on her own experience last year.

“I had a lot of fun making the piece because I never worked with clay before; it was my first time using it and it turned out really cool. I absolutely would do it again because I really loved it,” Dierks said. “I’m not in Ceramics so I can’t make a piece to go because I don’t have a class with Tiemann but I might show up just because it’s really fun to see it happening. It’s a really cool experience.”

Foster didn’t do the pit firing the other years due to the lack of time, as most students can relate to, but she’s grateful to be doing it this year. Unfortunately, this opportunity is not offered outside of school and it’s possible that Faust Park will discontinue the Heritage Festival after this 50th anniversary. However, Tiemann has carried on this tradition since he’s been at Hazelwood Central High School and if that’s the case, he “hopes to find a way to work with the school district and community to continue doing pit firings somewhere locally with the talented students here at Liberty.”