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!

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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!