A fiery idea ignites the arts

S. Dennis Kiln offers new opportunities for students

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August 15, 2012

By Jill Yanish '13

Sam Johnson, assistant professor of art at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University, wanted to create a kiln that would strengthen the art department, as well as honor Saint Benedict's Monastery and the college.

The spark is the new kiln at the College of Saint Benedict, which was lit for the first time on July 27. Smoke billowed from the chimney of the pole shed where the kiln is housed, tucked behind the CSB campus, near the bus sheds.

Sam Johnson, assistant professor of art at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University, wanted to create a kiln that would strengthen the art department, as well as honor Saint Benedict's Monastery and the college. The kiln will be named the Sister Dennis Kiln, for S. Dennis Frandrup, OSB, professor emerita of art at CSB and SJU.

Frandrup taught at CSB and SJU since 1973 and also serves as the artist in residence at CSB. Twice, during her tenure on the faculty, she won the adviser award for her dedication to students.

"The art department grew from her leadership," Johnson says. He credits Frandrup, as well as the other sisters of the Monastery, for their contributions to the arts at CSB and SJU. "They're a quiet, but forceful, power."

The Sister Dennis Kiln was funded by a major gift to CSB from an anonymous source, as well as capital funding from CSB and SJU and donations of materials and labor from various community members. Approximately a dozen community members, students, alumnae/i and faculty worked for about a month to build the kiln. Those who helped build the kiln had the first opportunity to fire their ceramics.

A fiery first

The first firing of the kiln came with many unknowns and required vigilant supervision while it reached its peak temperature of 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit. Overseeing the kiln requires stoking the fire every six minutes and close watch to maintain the appropriate temperature.

The Sister Dennis Kiln is a complimentary partner to the Johanna Kiln at SJU, which was first fired in 1995. The Johanna Kiln is larger and geared toward professional use, while the smaller size of Sister Dennis Kiln allows it to be fired in a weekend, making it ideal for student use. Johnson foresees the kiln being a place of mentorship where students can learn from each other and community artists.

Johnson credits Richard Bresnahan, artist in residence at SJU, for the recognition of a wood kiln in the CSB and SJU community. He emphasizes the fortune and exclusivity of having two such kilns on the CSB and SJU campuses.

"No one asks what a wood kiln is here. It's part of the institutions," Johnson says. He adds that the Sister Dennis Kiln will generate a deeper spark for the arts - literally. "The kiln adds value and potential for our students."

A dedication and blessing of the S. Dennis Kiln is scheduled for 4:00 - 4:00 p.m.,  Tuesday, Sept. 4, south of tennis courts on the south side of the CSB campus.  Parking is available in lots six and eight.