September 11, 2013

Edisto River and the Unknown Clay

A summer of incessant rain yielded a few interesting things in the nearby park where I take my morning walk. That is where I found an old Indian spearhead that had worked its way up to the surface of the sandy soil. More recently, I discovered a clay deposit underneath the bridge across a brook which became more obvious when the rain washed away the surface silt. I first discovered the clay when I scuttled down the bank to try to pick a Rose of Sharon flower. When I got to the bottom of the bank I saw that the flower was just too far out of reach. But I did notice some nice round yellow stones in the water. So I picked one up and to my surprise found that it yielded to my grasp like silly putty. It was very plastic clay. So I carried it home and made a little bowl out of it. The next day I carried some more home and made a little vessel out of that too.

Should I really be stealing from a park like this I wondered? It was on my next walk that I discovered a very large pit of clay underneath the bridge across the brook. The clay came in three colors; buff, blue white, and golden yellow. I decided that I just had to experiment with it so returned to the site with a trowel and a small bucket.

I had a little bit of a scare when I sank up to my shins in the part of the bank I was standing on - it was all soft clay. But I managed to extrude myself from the quicksand and make my small harvest. Problem was, I couldn’t scuttle back up the bank with a trowel and bucket of clay. Fortunately a passerby waking a dog helped me out here by taking the trowel and clay bucket up the bank so I could get back up.

Back home I began to process the clay. I started with the golden yellow ochre. I dried it, pulverized it, and put it through a colander. It appeared that tiny rocks still made it through. So I put it through a finer mesh. It took forever and I decided because of all the effort I would make a slip out of the fine powder and use the rougher grade that I had no longer the energy to powderize to make a small vessel with. I then made small lidded vessels out of the buff color clay and the bluish white. They were all a little gritty so I stopped my experiment after making nine little vessels. An untested clay could explode in the kiln or the pit fire. I imagined the effort of a pit fire (which often makes me even sicker than I usually am) yielding a bunch of broken shards. Add to that the fact that these were all made by the slow pinch and coil method and just too much time was being sunk into an unknown, untested future.

To flesh out my collection of pots with a known and tested clay, I made more vessels with a dependable stoneware clay so that I could be assured that something might make it through the firing and all would not be for naught.

I then thought to experiment with my river bank golden yellow ochre homemade slip. Terra sigillata it was not. The texture was horrible. Apparently sand got through the fine mesh and coated the pot with a rather rough texture that was hard to burnish. Perhaps I’ll stain it to emphasize the texture that nature has yielded.

The photo above are the unfired experimental Edisto River clay pots. It might be the last time they are seen intact but I’ll hope for the best.

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