Maine Clay: Digging it

Ok, so admittedly, I am a little behind on posting all that has gone on since my return to Maine last July. It was one heck of a winter here, and it’s not even over yet! (according to the multiple feet of snow on the ground, not the calendar or any meteorological groundhogs) Apparently it wasn’t gonna be all daisies and sunshine for my first winter back in Maine in over ten years.

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Anyhow, remember summertime? I certainly do! AND I am looking forward to its return! Back at the end of last summer I was fortunate to get a tip from a geology pal and a dear friend and fellow art enthusiast about a clay deposit discovered in the Western Foothills of Maine. If you know me well, you know that this meant I set off immediately with buckets and shovels like a kid with a treasure map in hand!001

 

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And what a glorious day for a treasure hunt it was!

What we found was pretty spectacular

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This deposit was actually in the side of a big mountain with a trickling stream flowing down over it like something out of a fairytale. The kind of fairytale where everyone lives happily ever after with overflowing buckets of clay and big muddy grins on their faces.

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And there were ferns! I love ferns!

So my friends and I made many trips up a steep embankment carrying our full buckets, dumping them in the back of the truck and returning for more until our backs and knees and shoulders said no more.

Back at the studio for analysis, this clay proved to behave, in some ways, similarly to the NY Marakill clay I used in my thesis work. To the naked eye, the clay appears dark greenish gray, and when fired to ^04 in an electric kiln, turns a lovely orange brickish red. After some initial processing (slaking, mixing, sieving, and drying out enough to wedge some up) I threw these little test bowls and used some contrasting white slip for a little something extra on the surface. I am personally more interested in having small forms as tests when possible  vs. the standard test tile format.. because if it does come out great then I already have a vessel, instead of a nice looking slab of clay that I can throw in a box!

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Here’s the part where I admit that as much as I wanted this clay to be totally awesome and workable all on its own, it’s not. This clay is quite sandy and short (even after running through a super tight sieve) and doesn’t really hold up well when I tried throwing larger forms. Admittedly, one of these little bowls, which is about 3 inches wide even collapsed after I dipped it in the white slip and set it up to dry with the others. I had stepped away to the sink or something and when I returned, I discovered that it had buckled from it’s own weight. Not an ideal throwing body without adding anything just yet.

My inner post-grad self keeps pushing to figure out what it IS good for!

So next up, I tried using it as a slip on a more stable white earthenware that I scored from a fellow potter before it went into the garbage (you know I hate to see anything go to waste! The deal with the reclaimed clay was that I could have it all in its random stages of drying if I cleaned out the massive containers that they lived in.. don.e deal!)

Here are some examples of the native clay as a slip on that free reclaimed white earthenware, with underglazes and clear glaze, fired to ^04 in an electric kiln.

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So I was pretty happy with the results of the native clay as a slip, but I have lots of it! and if I only use it as a slip, those buckets that it lives in will never be freed up for much else! Ha! Go figure, I am still looking for another solution before giving up on it or adding a bunch of fireclay and bentonite, among other things. Am a purist or what?

Oh, well those of you from my days in grad school or those of you who have waded through the depths of my blog might remember these little beasts:

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Yeah, it’s true, I even pulled out my thesis molds (which I swore I wouldn’t be needing anytime soon.. but that was ALMOST a year ago now…) And, surely adding a little bit of Darvan 7 to my Maine clay doesn’t count a far as not being totally pure, right?!  A little bit of deflocculant never hurt anybody! Stay tuned!

Back to my Roots

If you have been following my journey in clay so far you likely know how important it is to me have an understanding of  where my materials come from, as much as what happens to them over time.  So perhaps it comes as no big surprise that I too, like the materials I admire so much, have returned to my own source. Since completing grad school and a 12 year hiatus away, I moved back to my home-state, The Great State of Maine!  Fitting, right?

And with a new home must come a new studio! I am happy to say that I am currently a resident artist at Bayside Clay Center at Running With Scissors Art Studios in Portland, Maine.

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My Dad and I built this spiffy work bench from plans we found here.  I really enjoy how it has helped to maximize small space for tool storage and working. How did I end up with so much stuff? The sweet vintage stools were conveniently waiting for me in my parent’s barn for all these years.

So the studio that I am now part of is associated with a larger group of artists who have become like family to me. I am fortunate to have found this space. Here is a little story about how I came about to be here:

Portland, Maine is where I now call home, a community supportive of the arts and home to over one third of the entire state’s population. When I began my quest for a studio space in the area, I was in no position to rent out and retrofit a large space on my own to set up a studio and gallery, as exciting as that might have sounded at the time. I came across the Running With Scissors community by some strange miracle of Google searches in the night, in a grad school induced haze.. I sent an email to see what this place was all about, and just about a year ago came to visit the current studio space, which was a large gutted building with some blueprints on the wall and a strong vision.

Joining the Running with Scissors community and setting up my ceramic studio within the East Bayside neighborhood of Portland has been the most consistent and rewarding creative aspect of my life since I returned to Maine. Having a creative family to share with, celebrate, encourage, support and grow with is something that we all could use. I am fortunate to have found this community and believe that in troubled economic times such as these, we all need to band together to make big strides and move forward together.

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Running With Scissors is currently in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to help our studios grow and provide some pertinent pieces of equipment like a spraybooth, a ventilation system, a table saw and more. If you have the time to check it out and are even willing to donate or share this story with your friends and family, I am truly grateful!

Shared Returns

So many lovely ‘returns’ have arrived in my inbox over the past few months, I wanted to share them with all of you:

sweet little gardens

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And the windowbox method:

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Ultimate sharing:

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And then as the season progressed:

“Grateful for the seed bomb that found its way to me. Love how realistic the potato is! It’s supposed to be good and rainy today and tonight.  I think I’ll go bomb the garden!”

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I would love to see more harvest pictures to share from this project. Thanks so much to all of you who took pictures and and sent them my way!

Stories like this one bring me big grins as well:

“I picked up a potato while at SUNY New Paltz graduation. It appealed to me because I work with crop scientists and plant geneticists at Cornell, including a potato geneticist. It is sitting in my office and I have had several discussions with people about it. We all agree that the potato you used for a mold is one which breeders would appreciate- the eyes aren’t too deep and the shape is uniform. Very important features in a good potato chip!”

Happy harvesting and don’t forget to Share the bounty!

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Out of the Gallery, into the Real World

Well what can I say, my title ^^ is as much about the completion of my masters degree as it is about the great ‘returns’ I have received via email over the past weeks.

Such varied results. I’m entertained by them and I hope you will find them interesting as well

“I was shaking the clay squash to the beat in my head like it was a percussion instrument just a short distance from the museum when it broke in my hands. Dug the exhibit tho!”

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The real world is often a struggle with pavement; we can hope that the rains will wash the seeds into the cracks and germinate there.

Here is another ‘traditional’ approach to planting:

“So I was out of town for a little while and neglected my seed bombs. However, yesterday I put one in my (SMALL) garden, right next to my vegetable plants. It started to rain so my seed bomb is on its way! I also gave one to my mother and she sent me a picture of the collapsed bomb in her garden! I’ve attached two pictures of my bomb. Hopefully my mother will take some pictures and I will forward them to you.”

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Lookin good! This little garden is adorable. And I love to see the clay cracking around the edges and starting to break down!

Here is another account:

“My amazing friend Mama Lula holding a seed bomb made by Rebecca Verrill for her SUNY New Paltz MFA thesis show “Borrowed.” Viewers of Rebecca’s show were encouraged to take a slip cast raw clay seed bomb in the shape of a vegetable and activate it somewhere out in the world. Rebecca asked that the process be documented in some way. I couldn’t think of a more perfect place for Rebecca’s remarkable sculpture than Mama Lula’s beautiful garden in Anacostia (Washington, DC). I just happened to be in DC hanging the HV Seed Library show this week. I’ll be back in DC at the end of the month to take down the show. That will give me a chance to check in with Mama Lula and the sculpture.”

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Thanks for the feedback to those of you who have shared your stories and pictures thus far! Looking forward to hearing from many more of you. I will post then as I receive. Happy planting, and Happy June to everyone!

Also, if you are in the Hudson Valley of NY or in Southern Maine and did not get your fill of seed bombs, have no fear, I have extras in both locations. Send me a message if you are in desperate need of any. I will do my best to get some to you!

First Return!

I wanted to share with you the very first documented ‘return’ I received via email this morning from one of our borrowers:

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“As promised, here are our veggies in our raised bed. Our Jack Russell jumped on the bag with the acorn squash and it broke… but since it was in a bag I was able to save all the pieces and plant it. What a BRILLIANT idea and project. Good luck to you!!”

And GOOD LUCK to EVERYONE with your veggies! I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

Thanks again for your participation!

Got Veggies, Now What?!

Many of you might be wondering now that you have these strange clay vegetables, what is the best way to ‘return’ them? I’m hoping to answer some questions you may have, and share with you some options.

First of all, I want to give you an idea of what kinds of seeds you might find inside of your vegetable. (see process info in earlier posts for pictures of how they got IN there) You will likely find a mix of five to ten (sometimes more in larger forms) different heirloom varietals from the following list:

Ashworth Sweet Corn

Bloomsdale Spinach

Blue Hubbard Squash

Blue Lake Pole Green Bean

Chioggia Guardsmark Improved Beets

Detroit Red Dark Beet

Early Fortune Cucumber

Early Summer Crookneck Squash

Light Red Kidney Bean

Long Island Improved Cheese Pumpkin

Muncher Cucumber

Oaxacan Green Dent Corn

Provider Bush Green Beans

Purple Savoy Cabbage

Purple Top White Globe Turnip

Rainbow Chard

Red Russian Kale

Royalty Purple Bean

Sparkler Radish

Sugar Snap Pea

Sugar Daddy Snap Pea

Table Queen Acorn Squash

Waltham Butternut Squash

Watermelon Radish

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Before I set about filling them, I would start a little pile for each one to ensure it had a good selection in each form. Those little seed piles often looked like this:

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Each form is pretty diverse, so part of the fun comes with identifying what sort of vegetables you have once they sprout forth!

If you have a space in mind that you can keep an eye on, like in a window box or plant pot, you can simply place your clay veggie on top of the soil and water it. The moist soil will likely break down the bottom of it first and the clay will get soggy and reveal the soil and likely some of the seeds inside. During earlier germination stages, spritzing it with water and keeping it in a simulated greenhouse environment can really help.

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For this ^^ one, i started it in a plastic to go container I found in the garbage.. it was almost like a ‘mini greenhouse to go’ with it’s clear plastic domed lid. It took about three days to see the first sprouts emerge.

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In some cases, with larger forms, the clay outer shell will protect the developing seeds underneath, and you can lift it to check on them and spritz with water in the early stages of development.

As it continues to grow, you can add additional soil, or transplant it to a larger pot or garden as you see fit

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Here is another seed bomb grown inside along a sunny window, and transplanted later into a bigger pot

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After the plants emerge, depending on the size and thickness of each clay shell, the remains can be broken apart and mixed in with the soil, if they haven’t already dissolved.

OR, if you prefer to toss your seed bomb in the backyard on a patch of ground along the side of your driveway, and let the rains break it down, or simply break it apart on the ground to have more control of what’s inside, these are also options. It won’t take much force to break them apart. Some forms are more delicate than others, as many of us learned at the opening of the show!

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So if you ended up with a vegetable pod and are still confused as to what to do with it, feel free to email me, I’d love to talk about it and answer any questions you might have. I understand too that it is possible you might have a hard time letting go of this organic object you have acquired from me. Just remember, the true potential lies inside of the form. If you need to live with it on your shelf for a month before you decide what to do with it, the seeds and soil will be waiting.. but keep your growing season in mind, and remember, it’s only clay, it came from the ground, and it is meant to go back!

Happy seed bombing!