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What I Mean When I Say: Susan Dewsnap and ‘bat’

Visiting Assistant Professor Susan Dewsnap, “Soda Firing,” a Short Term offering in Art and Visual Culture, described as “various clays, slips and glazes are employed in exploration of the techniques used by the pioneers of the soda-firing process, as well as its current practitioners.” Suasan: “It’s a class focusing on atmospheric firing using a particular kind of kiln, where when it reaches its maturing temperature we introduce water and soda ash into the kiln and that reacts with the clay body and the glazes and cause highly variable results in the firing. It’s exciting and can be very disappointing. You just can’t be too invested. With all kiln firings, I always say it’s a little bit like Christmas. You have huge expectations and you think you know what things are going to look like. So you’re always very excited and very happy, and then there’s always this phase of disappointment. It’s kind of learning not to have too many expectations. Live with the work you get out of the kiln and then evaluate it after you’ve had that little period of living with it instead of passing judgment right away.”

For most of us, a bat sleeps upside down in caves or attics. Or, a bat hits home runs.

For Susan Dewsnap, a lecturer in art and visual culture, bats help ceramics like bowls or plates keep their shape.

“The term derives from ‘batten,’ as in, ‘to batten down the hatches’ or hold something secure,” Dewsnap, who has exhibited her ceramics in the U.S. and internationally, says.

Lecturer in art and visual culture Susan Dewsnap teaches a Short Term course in 2015 on soda firing. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

Bats are flat objects, usually circular, made of wood, plaster, or plastic. They can be attached to a pottery wheel, and ceramics are created, or thrown, on top of them.

“Bats enable a potter to throw a form on the pottery wheel, and when completed, to remove the pot, while still attached to the bat, without touching the wet work,” Dewsnap says.

The bat is essentially a support, good for creating wide, shallow pieces like plates, which could be deformed if a potter tried to pick them up with her hands. By lifting the piece by the bat, the potter keeps the piece pristine.

A rack of Bates’ bats sits in an Olin Arts Center studio, awaiting their ceramicists. (Emily McConville/Bates College)

Bats are also useful for making larger pieces, Dewsnap says.

“When making large round jars, I will actually use two bats: one to throw the bottom half of the pot and one to throw the top half,” she says. “After allowing the two sections to set up, the top half, still secured to the bat, is flipped upside down and attached to the bottom half, resulting in a larger form, which is then returned to the wheel, still attached to the bottom bat, for further shaping.”