Pottery in the sun: Ceramic artist in Catalina builds solar-powered kiln

Ceramic artist Michael Flaherty goes the extra effort to be original with his art. This year, he built a solar-powered kiln, firing his work under the hot summer sun at his studio in Catalina.

Artist Michael Flaherty built his own sun kiln out of wood and ceramics

Ceramic artist Michael Flaherty stands next to his homemade sun kiln in Catalina. (Melissa Tobin/CBC)

Ceramic artist Michael Flaherty goes the extra effort to be original with his art. 

Last summer, the artist built a wood fire kiln to glaze his pottery work. This year, he's built a solar-powered kiln, firing his work under the hot summer sun at his studio in Catalina. 

The idea came to him a few years back during a local cleanup week. 

Ceramic artist Michael Flaherty goes pretty far to be original with his art. This summer, he's built a new solar-powered kiln. 6:17

"There was a large trash day one day when I lived in Corner Brook. And there were all these satellites dishes out there. And I thought to myself, 'These are big enough that I bet I can collect enough sunlight to fire ceramics in it.'"

The idea evolved over the years, and this year he started making the sun kiln with wood, hardware and ceramics. 

"It's a big gold mirror that I made myself out of clay and ceramic glazes," he said. "It's mounted and pointed at the sun and it reflects all the light to one point, and I mount a little clay sculpture right at the point and it gets really hot and fires the piece."

The kiln is built on wheels, making it portable.

Flaherty must keep a close eye when firing, as he needs to fix the angle of the dish throughout the process.

"Every few minutes I have to check on this because of course the Earth is spinning right now. I have to compensate by rotating the kiln a little bit to point directly at the sun."

Flaherty must adjust the angle and position of the sun kiln every few minutes so the sun's rays shine in the centre of the gold mirror. (Melissa Tobin/CBC)

The kiln may be small, but it generates a lot of power. At peak sun, the kiln can get as hot as 700-800 C. 

"The temperature is just dependent upon the size of this mirror," said Flaherty. "Someday soon maybe I'll make an even bigger mirror and then I can get it hotter or make sculptures that are bigger."

For extra protection, Flaherty wears a welding mask to shield his eyes from the bright rays from the mirror. 

For the ceramic artist, the kiln brings his art full-circle. 

"I made this dish, and this dish is forming this other ceramic object. It's like pottery makes pottery"

Flaherty shows off a mini vase that was glazed in his homemade sun kiln. It took about 15 minutes for the piece to fire. (Melissa Tobin/CBC)

The current piece he is working on is for an installation about climate change. 

"Idea is that it's using the power from a star to make ceramic sculptures, and I thought planets were a very appropriate subject matter considering the kiln."

Flaherty isn't sure if it will work in the winter, but he intends to give it a try. 

You can see his work at the Union Electric Building in Port Union as part of the Bonavista Biennale from Aug. 17 to Sept. 17. 

with files from the Central Morning Show