Sunday, March 30, 2008

Things I learned

After buying more supplies at Continental Clay, I learned some things about the materials I have been using. There are differences in white clays. Some are softer than others. Kaolin is the whitest, but also the softest. So it may not be the best white clay for my sculptures. Ball clay has much more strength, but is very gray.

Mica has different colors and can be ground into different grades. The 40 mesh from Continental Clay is used in raku clay bodies. It does not have much shine for clay plasters or clay paints. It does, however, make clay plasters very workable. It can be substituted for sand or used in addition to sand in a clay plaster recipe.

So, I just mixed some 40 mesh black mica with a red clay slip and some fibers to make a plaster for one of my forked branch vessels. There is some shine. I like the subtle shine. When I mixed it with white clay, it was like adding graphite. It made it very dark.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008


I spent the morning burnishing a piece of sculpture with a smooth stone. As I worked, I thought about the history of burnishing clay surfaces. Of course there is Maria Martinez and the Native American pottery of the Southwest. Maria Martinez used smooth stones handed down from her grandmother and possibly used by ancestors before. The stones became smoother and smoother with use. Listening to Martinez describing her burnishing in a film from the 70’s, it is evident that she is extremely proud of the effort that she put into burnishing her pottery. My pieces, however, will not be fired. They will not turn black and hard with high temperature and smoke. There is also a history of burnishing clay walls. When I read about the Moroccan tadelakt process, burnishing played a big role.

I wrote about tadeladt in February 07. Tadelakt is a Moroccan technique. After applying a special lime plaster, the craftsman polished the surface with with stones and olive oil soap (sabon beldi). This adds shine and water resistance that makes the treatment suitable for not only walls, but also floors and bathtubs.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008


Last summer I tried to mud dye cloth. I was teaching an Eco-Art course for the local Summer Institute program and experimented with ways to paint red clay on cloth and make the dye permanent. I used these nut hulls to mordant the cloth; boiling the nut hulls and cloth together. I never got the great results of mud cloth in Mali, but the experiment was fun. Judy Dominic is quite the expert on Mali mud cloth and has tried many plants for the mordant. The plant used by dyers in Mali does not grow in North America. In addition, I certainly tried to make the process more speedy. Now, however, the hulls get a third life embedded into the clay of one of my sculptures.

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Mexican Basket - Another Influence

I bought this basket in the mid 80's at the Eye’s Gallery on South Street in Philadelphia owned by Isaiah and Julia Zagar.

Adela Akers, my graduate school advisor, introduced us to the Zagars and we visited their apartment above the store. The apartment had walls covered in mosaics that Isaiah made from tiles a, objects, and broken mirrors in an attempt to bring some of the sunshine of Mexico to Philadelphia. When I bought the basket, I was freshly out of my MFA program at Tyler School of Art and very low on cash. Still when I saw this basket, I needed to buy it. The simple structure of hooped ribs covered with a bark net spoke to me with infinite depth.