Clay spins on a wheel while hands move softly around it, molding, folding and crafting it into a piece of art. A sunset red and orange fire melts glass into workable liquid that’s squished and stretched. Fine white powder flies out from underneath an electric saw and falls to the ground in the shadow of what will soon be a custom-built surfboard.
All of this creativity coalesces in the Cal Poly Craft Center where students can express their artistic sides through pottery, flameworking and surfboard shaping. In spite of the number of projects worked on daily, the Craft Center works to be as ethical as possible when it comes to waste disposal. Specific crafts are considered sustainable or harmful to the environment based on different methods of waste disposal and consideration of
The stool sits directly behind the torch, which has two levers. One reads “oxygen,” the other “propane.” Propane gas starts the fire while the oxygen lever controls the flame and the temperature of the fire. A student pulls on gloves to protect his hands, picking up steel tongs and strapping on dark glasses to begin his craft.
The Craft Center uses a type of borosilicate glass called pyrex — similar to the glass of baking pans, according to flameworking instructor Jeremy Dunn. The raw material is delivered to Cal Poly in long sticks that can be hollow or solid and clear or colored. Students use solid pieces for souvenirs like pendants for necklaces and hollow pieces for designs within the pendant or different styles of shapes, like a wine glass. The glass comes in different colors, from turquoise blue to magenta pink.
Held under flames, the hard glass turns into a putty-like liquid. Crafters use steel and bronze tools to carefully grab the hot glass and work with the fire. The flame worker must wear thick, dark didymium glasses to protect their eyes from the heat and bright light that can damage corneas. Especially when working with colored glass, looking into the fire and glass melting together can be extremely harsh on the eyes.
Flameworking glass is a relatively sustainable practice as each piece can be melted down and returned to its original state with just one session under the flame. There aren’t many wasted works of glass found at the Cal Poly Craft Center because employees take discarded pieces and store them in boxes so anyone can repurpose them.
“That’s the best part about flameworking,” materials engineering senior Dunn said. “You can always re-do or melt anything back down. Even if you screw up, you can usually fix it.”
Bowls, shot glasses and vases sit proudly on the shelves in the Craft Center while a table topped with day-old clumps of clay sits in the corner uncovered.
The Craft Center’s clay comes to Cal Poly in a powder that’s mixed with water to form the correct consistency. When pottery is being created, wet clay pieces are coated in a shiny glaze and placed carefully in a kiln where they are fired until completely baked to hardness.
The process of preparing clay and breaking it down can be harmful to human health. Craft Center employees wear respirators when mixing together the in-house glazes because of hazardous chemicals. The powder clay has silica in it, dust that can cause lung diseases. Silica dust is released when cutting, grinding, drilling or otherwise disturbing materials that contain crystalline silica particles.
Pottery is called greenware when it is not fired or cooked. Greenware pieces can be reworked again for new projects. In the Craft Center, greenware is stored atop a special table and collected after one or two days to be replenished with water a nd reused by potters.
If the clay has been cooked inside a kiln, it is called bisqueware. Once it is fired, the clay is much harder to reuse. However, leftover bisqueware can take three different routes once abandoned. Sometimes bisqueware is broken up and mixed into wet clay for sculptors. Together, the wet and dry pieces form a different type of clay often used by sculptors and artists to create a more structured and rough appearance in a physical object or figure sculpture. Bisqueware can also be practically used in the Craft Center for things like holding the lid of kilns open. When used this way, pieces get cooked over and over again and eventually break and are thrown away. If completed pieces are forgotten, which they often are, they are sold to members of the San Luis Obispo community.
“A lot of beginner pieces look similar,” Crafter Center instructor Jayne Benedict said. “Many students tend to look for their piece, but end up giving up when they can’t identify theirs or take others’ by accident.”
As closed-toed shoes grace the dusty floors of the surfboard shaping bay in the Craft Center, foam chunks fall from the sides of a foam log that soon reveals itself as a longboard. White powder sprays first from the loud machine that cuts the foam and again from the sandpaper that rubs the surface smooth.
Surfboards are made out of large “blanks” of polyurethane foam that are cut, shaven and smoothed down to precise measurements the shaper chooses for their board. Left behind are tiny pieces of white powder coating the shoes and jackets of surfboard shapers at work.
“Each week that classes are running, we dispose of approximately one to two 40-gallon black plastic garbage bags of surfboard foam,” surfboard shaping instructor Adrian Broz said. “Currently we do not work with anyone to recycle this waste, but we want to.”
The powder falls to the ground where it is swept up daily. Polyurethane foam is not very sustainable and the waste is thrown directly in the landfill.
“It is unfortunately quite difficult to feasibly reuse polyurethane foam on a large or commercial scale. Unless there would be an interested party in [San Luis Obispo] to pick up foam in both sanded dust and solid form,” Broz said.