Thursday, September 6, 2012

Playing with Clay

It’s not often I take a day off to simply play; a day for myself.

Last Tuesday I did just that. I spent a day playing with clay, getting my hands into mud from the Chocolate River in nearby Fundy.

I’d been thinking about doing this for quite a while. It’s been years since I did hand built clay work. Lately I felt a need to find time for myself, for creativity; to widen my circle of activities, to simply let go and see what happens.

Potter Judy Tait owns Albert County Clay Company in Curryville on Albert Mines Road, a quiet, winding country road by-passing Highway 114. Her studio is the 100-year-old Curryville Community Hall; until the early 1900 hundreds the centre of the community, hosting church suppers and ice cream socials.

With lots of help from her husband David, Judy extracts clay from the ‘red muck’ found locally.  It’s a fine clay that lends itself beautifully to her speciality of hand building. While I am studying my rolled-out pieces of clay, envisaging my end product, hoping it will match the picture in my mind, Judy is hand cutting and scoring large leaf shapes destined to be attached to the outer rim of a large vase. She handles the clay with authority and ease, with confidence in her creativity and how to shape the clay to her inner vision.

My vision was to create small medallions to be incorporated into mixed media and textile hangings. To help achieve this I took several of my Indian wooden fabric printing blocks. Usually used for printing on fabrics, they make interesting indented patterns. My Ganesha stamp produced some small bas-relief plaques.  As I made them I loved what I saw, though I have no idea how they will eventually feature in my own work.

As the day progressed Judy and I listened to Loreena MacKennnitt CDs and talked about many things. About textiles - her first training was in surface design; her studies in England’s Potteries districts; her travels to Ghana; yoga; meditation; life in the quiet countryside.
Judy encourages me to make a bowl. I opt for a shallow design, using an old glass light fixture as a mould.

 Excited by her signature of imprinting her pottery with grasses, leaves and natural wayside finds, I am thrilled to find ferns, one of my favourite plants, growing abundantly nearby. Leaving the centre of the bowl plain, perhaps to hold beach stones, pine cones or other treasures, I impress the edges with the ferns.

It’s not all easy, requiring us, for this is not just ‘my’ bowl, to turn the clay over several times. I realise I’m far too gentle, rolling the clay tenderly, as if it were flaky pastry. Judy slaps it down on the table and uses the rolling pin with strength. She is firm with it but always respects it.

Still I am pleased with what I achieve. All day I let my hands focus on the clay, feeling its substance, learning its possibilities.  Totally forgetting about e-mails, phone calls, just absorbing the peace and quiet, letting it inform what I create.

Now the clay is drying and will be fired with other of Judy’s pieces; in a couple of weeks I can return to do the glazing. I’m busy considering colours; Ganesha should be red, his usual appearance. My favourite blues will figure in some pieces, and there is also a soft green, perhaps for part of my fern bowl. Some pieces I may finish with a natural glaze, allowing the richness of the clay to show through.

The results are for another entry in this journal.

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