Magazine to publish VC art professor's article on 'bomb pots'

Feb. 16, 2013 at 2:03 p.m.
Updated Feb. 15, 2013 at 8:16 p.m.

A bit of regional history about a ceramic grenade resulted in a magazine article by Victoria College Art Associate Professor Debra Chronister.

The question-and-answer article titled "Bomb Pots" will be published in the April issue of Ceramics Monthly.

In the article, Chronister explains her interest in firepots, early grenades, after several were found in the La Belle shipwreck in 1995.

The ship was part of a French expedition led by Robert de La Salle and sank in Matagorda Bay in 1687. Several of the artifacts were brought to area museums, including the Museum of the Coastal Bend on Victoria College's Main Campus.

Firepots were bombs used in the 17th and 18th centuries to blow up walls and doors of buildings during sieges.

A metal grenade filled with black powder was inserted inside the ceramic firepot then surrounded by more black powder. A fuse apparatus was added, a cork disc plugged the opening, and the whole thing was sealed with fabric.

"I never thought of ceramics being used in warfare," Chronister said. "We all have an inner pyromaniac in our craft."

Studying the firepot, Chronister wondered aloud why the piece of pottery would be glazed.

"Probably to keep liquids out because black powder won't detonate when wet," she said.

The firepots can have one, two or even four handles.

In the magazine article, she tells of working with Museum of the Coastal Bend curator Eric Ray, a maritime archaeologist, to test the effectiveness of firepots in their original use.

Ray said he wanted to detonate a few of the modern reproductions and record the event using a high-speed camera.

The pots were exploded at a bomb range in Corpus Christi. Several wooden silhouette figures were added on the range to simulate the firepots' destructive power on the human body.

"For those nearby, the blast-pressure wave would rupture soft tissue," Chronister wrote in the magazine story. "The flying shards would have caused nasty wounds, even from afar. When the compression was tight, most of the ceramic was literally pulverized so small as to be undetectable. The flying bits of powder would penetrate the skin and enter the blood stream, resulting in a slow and painful death."

Nowadays, firepots can be used in a peaceful manner such as storage containers, she said.

Chronister was asked to write the article after editors of Ceramics Monthly saw a story about her in the Texas Christian University magazine.



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