Meaghan Paugh feeds wood into the glass bottle kiln, which must reach an internal temperature of 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit to melt the bottles.
PORT KENT — The crisp November evening was set ablaze by firelight passing through hundreds of differently colored bottles.
Meaghan Paugh stood in front of her creation—a glass bottle kiln—half delighted by the rainbow glow and half amazed that the experiment was actually working.
“I don’t really know what’s going to happen,” she confided. “I guess we’ll just have to wait until tomorrow morning.”
Paugh, who has a degree in studio art with a concentration in ceramics, got the idea from a paper she wrote on Italian artist Karin Putsch-Grassi for a contemporary art class at Plattsburgh State.
Researching Putsch-Grassi opened Paugh up to the world of glass bottle kilns and further investigation revealed no evidence of that kind of work in the United States.
So Paugh collected sand from the shore of Lake Champlain, enlisted some friends to help her collect wine bottles, dug a trench in her parent’s backyard and built a 3-foot-tall igloo out of sand and bottles over it.
Then she invited some friends over on Wednesday, Nov. 14, and started a fire within the kiln.
As smoke gently puffed out of the chimney on top of the structure, people took turns peeking through tennis-ball-size peepholes, into the fiery belly of the kiln.
Despite the minor setback that occurred earlier that afternoon—a portion of the wall collapsed and had to be repaired—things went smoothly the rest of the night.
Paugh’s adventurous spirit was paying off.
“You can’t be scared of the unknown,” Paugh said.
The kiln was still standing the following morning, and the bottle necks protruding toward the inside of the structure were elongated, having melted during the night. They now stretched downward, like bright blue, green and white stalactites adorning a room in some otherworldly carnival-themed cave.
Paugh plans on picking her creation apart and hopes to put the remnants on display in a local gallery, along with photos and a video to describe the process.
She also plans on doing another glass bottle kiln next summer, and would someday like her work to be seen by people around the world.
“Hopefully by the spring I will have some more things to show the area, and I’d like to spread a little bit farther than just local,” Paugh said. “I’ll take baby steps, but go big or go home is usually my motto.”