The most exciting moment for me is when the pot is still glistening with moisture. No slip, no colors, soft and imbued with mystery of beginnings. The heat transforms nature's finest ( clay ) into stone again. The clay which evolved from weathering rock over millions of years has returned to its original state, prior to mankind. How can that not be almost sacred, cause for awe?
During my early years, I haunted European museums enlivening my passion for art. A yearning lurked somewhere, and anything of beauty captured my attention. Museums house symbols of our passions, desires, longings, obsessions and our search for transcendance.
Some of the greatest pots were made during centuries past. My best pots will be made later today or tomorrow or the next day.
USING LOCAL CLAY
1 – Find a clay – Creek banks, hillsides, road cuts or ask someone such as a welldigger or farmer.
2 – Test your clay. Roll between hands forming a rope which you bend. Stickiness when wet is a good indication of plastic clay. A lime test is done by simply placing a small piece of clay into a mild solution of hydrochloric acid. Take a bucketful home for further testing. Add water as needed and knead clay til workable for throwing and handbuilding. Make some pots and fire to get an idea of its fired characteristics.
3 – Digging. Remove overburden ( weeds, leaves, roots, etc) Dig clean clay.
Haul and store til dry.
4 – Clay processing
A – Hammer dried clay, reduce to a powder. Can be done by hand or with a hammermill.
B – Mixing: Scoupfuls of clay are put in a rotating cement mixer with water for about 20 minutes.
The souplike blend is poured thru a 30 mesh screen into a clothlined dewatering tray. In a few weeks the slip has dried to a workable clay.
C – Storage: The clay is taken up from the trays, pugged and stored in airtight containers. The longer the clay ages the better its quality. My clay is aged 1 year or more before using.
This is a brief summary of my clay preparation process.
Salt Firing History
Exactly how salt glazing was discovered is, as yet, not known. Authors date first salt glazed pottery around the late 1200’s in Germany. ( 1 ) Speculation is that a potter used salt saturated barrel staves to complete a firing. (2) Or, seaside driftwood. Or, other.
The process is simple – introduce common table salt into the kiln at or near maturing temperature. The salt reacts with silica in the clay or slips to create a glaze.
Modern research indicates salt firing to be safe and non-polluting. (3)
1 The ABC of English salt-glaze stoneware from Dwight to Doulton. Blacker J.F.S. Paul & Company, London 1922
2 Salt Glazing by Phil Rogers, 2002 pages 11-12. 3 Rogers Ibid. pages 109-115.
My Pottery Stamp
The honeybee forages out from its hive for food. Likewise, I tend to use local resources for clay, glaze and slip materials.
The honeybee has always fascinated me. Maybe that was why I came to use the image of a honeybee as my pottery stamp. Incidentally, the honeybee is North Carolina’s State Insect.