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.


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



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.




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:


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!


1 thought on “Maine Clay: Digging it

  1. Nice to see it all-fotos n description of your current journeys…We have bombs yet to place/plant/explode/nurture/harvest this spring n fall…

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