I have begun throwing small pots that will be used to test different slips, glazes, temperatures and firing techniques. The blended clay body isn’t in love with being thrown, but is cooperating so far.
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Here is a short video explaining the clay making process.
The process of preparing the clay is primitive, slow and laborious. What I’m doing here is soaking the clay in buckets of water, then once wet, first by hand picking out the large sones. Then working it through a series of smaller and smaller screens to separate the smaller rocks from the clay. Once clean of all rocks, it goes into a large canvas sling for the water to drip out and evaporate, while I slowly stir it over a couple of days. Then it moves into a large plaster mold, covered in canvas, the plaster pulls moisture from the clay faster than just the air does.From there it moves to the concrete floor in the canvas to further air / dry out. All the while being rolled around in the canvas to make the drying even and the clay body more uniformed. Eventually it becomes dry enough to handle. In the case of these photographs, there are three different clays being processed (150 lbs of each), then once they are cleaned and dry enough, they are combined into one clay body by piling them on the floor and walking on them to wedge it all together. Then it is run through the pug mill to further mix / combine the clay and remove more of the air. Then last it is wedged by hand. And then it is finally ready to try to use to make pots. It took about three weeks to process the first 400 pounds of usable clay, from about 450 pounds of dry clay. You lose some weight from rocks being removed and gain some weight from the addition of water. Clay number 5 has a lot of rocks, as you can see in the photos, so 150 pounds of dry clay yielded about 100 pounds of clean, wet clay. Clays 2 and 3 were equal in weight after the removal of rocks and addition of water. You can also see from the photos below that each of the three clays has a different color. Each was harvested from a different location and depth on the site.
Here is a little video about the clay “making” process.
After a long and complicated journey, all of the materials harvested from the Kimbell over the last year and a half are in LA. Here are a few pictures from our (me and the materials) road trip, which included brief visit to Marfa. And some pictures of the materials in the courtyard at Heath LA where the real work will happen.
It’s mid July and I’m back at The Kimbell. Construction is moving along slowly. The weather is so hot, over 100 degrees every day, that the construction site is running from 6:00 am to 2:30 pm to try to beat the heat. This morning I was on site at 5:30 am and watched the sun come up over the Kimbell, which was a pretty special thing to see.
Then I did some heavy duty dumpster diving to get materials from the new building. I got some rebar, concrete forming wood, wood scraps and concrete scraps, all from Renzo’s building, and I also found a very special jewel (okay a 300 pound jewel) on the bottom of the “Concrete Only” dumpster. Buried under new concrete scraps were a bunch of saw cut concrete cubes, about 12′ x 12″ that were cut from the Kahn building where there will be an underground tunnel connecting the two buildings. This concrete was below ground so you can’t see where it was removed from, and the location will remain underground, but it is nonetheless Kahn concrete, and it will, no doubt, add some very special fairy dust to a clay or glaze in this project. The “Concrete Only” dumpster was picked up and hauled to the dump this afternoon, so my timing and luck were perfect.
Sorry that I have been missing in action, things have been extremely busy in the studio with non-Kimbell projects. There are two shows opening in the next few weeks, and a few interesting projects in the works for the fall (A show at Play Mountain in Tokyo, and two projects related to the Pacific Standard Time shows (http://pacificstandardtime.org), one at LACMA and one at The Santa Monica Museum of Art). But I will be back at the Kimbell in mid July to get one last haul of materials from the construction of the Renzo building, then to load all of the materials (about 10,000 lbs. worth) into a 24′ rental truck and drive it back to LA. I’ll post from the road in July. In the meantime here are the invitations for the two shows if you are interested. Or see http://www.heathceramics.com or http://www.atwaterpottery.com and http://www.edwardcella.com
Louis Kahn wrote and lectured a lot. He had a very poetic, often confusing way of saying things. One of the things he discussed frequently is materials, and in that context specifically the brick. As such, any student of Kahn knows that it would be imprudent for me to ignore the brick in this project. I have begun to test the clays that I have by making some bricks. I carried back a log that I cut from a cedar tree at The Kimbell, then milled it into boards to make a brick mold. First I’ll put a long Kahn quote here, then some pictures of the bricks so far. The first brick, made of clays #2 and #3 at 50% each, and put in the mold when pretty thick, cracked while it was drying, outside of the mold. The second test was the same clay mix, but poured in the mold as a thick slip. That one cracked like crazy while drying, still in the mold. The third test was clays #2, #3 and #5, mixed equally and put into the mold in a thicker consistency, like test number one. This brick survived and fired to cone five, which turned out as a nice, solid, green brick.
Here is Louis Kahn:
“Realization is Realization in Form, which means a nature. You realize that something has a certain nature. A school has a certain nature, and in making a school the consultation and approval of nature are absolutely necessary. In such a consultation you can discover the Order of water, the Order of wind, the Order of light, the Order of certain materials. If you think of brick, and you’re consulting the Orders, you consider the nature of brick. You say to brick, “What do you want, brick?” Brick says to you, “I like an arch.” If you say to brick, “Arches are expensive, and I can use a concrete lintel over an opening. What do you think of that brick?” Brick says, “I like an arch.”
“It is important that you honor the material you use. You don’t bandy it about as though to say, “Well, we have a lot of material, we can do it one way, we can do it another way.” It’s not true. You must honor and glorify the brick instead of shortchanging it and giving it an inferior job to do in which is loses its character, as for example, when you use it as infill material, which I have done and you have done. Using brick so it makes it feel as though it is a servant, and brick is a beautiful material. It has done beautiful work in many places and still does. Brick is a completely live material in areas that occupy three quarters of the world, where it is the only logical material to use. Concrete is a highly sophisticated material, not so available as you think. “
“You can have the same conversation with concrete, with papier-mache, or with plastic or marble, or any other material. The beauty of what you create comes if you honor the material for what it really is. Never use it in a subsidiary way so as to make the material wait for the next person to come along and honor its character.”
Now if you were to reread that quote and every time he says brick, replace it with “clay”, you would see the challenge that I have as seen through the Kahn prism. What does the clay want to be? Does it want to be thrown on the wheel? Cast in a mold? Sculpted by hand? Into what form(s)? And maybe most importantly, why?
Between these three clays, I have between 6,000 and 7,000 pounds of clay, so it makes the most sense to use a blend of these three. By adding clay number 5 to the previous tests, it became a more solid throwing body. However it didn’t like being cast in a plaster mold. And it didn’t like being fired too hot. At cone 5 it melted, but at lower temperatures, like cone 05 and 04, it is a nice redish, terra cotta looking clay.
Now that the clay harvesting is over, and I have tested each of the five clays individually, and found none of them to be great on its own (except for clay number one, of which I have only a couple of buckets) I have started to test different mixes of the clays. The first tests are clays, 2 and 3 mixed at 50% each. When this mix was cast it held up well. At cone 05 it is a nice pinkish color and held its form well. When it was thrown and fired to the same temperature, it had the white minerals floating to the surface and then undermining the integrity of the pot over time. The same thing happened at higher temperatures, like cone 5, when thrown the minerals came to the surface over time and undermined the pot again, on the cast piece, that didn’t happen and it is solid. At cone 5 the clay goes green. There has to be something about the throwing that causes the minerals to migrate. The spinning of the molecules? The taking the clay to a dryer, plastic state to throw it? Using less water than when it is cast as liquid clay? Does the plaster of the mold pull the problem minerals out of the clay? All very mysterious to a chemistry cave man.
In January I went back to the Kimbell for the last chance at clay before the hole is covered over with concrete. I got about 2,500 pounds of a brownish / redish clay. Although there are a lot of rocks in the clay, and it is a bear to process, the clay is nice to work with on the wheel and it casts pretty well too. At low temperatures, like cone 04 or 05 it fired pinkish, at higher temperatures, like cone 5 it went green, and when cast it collapsed, when thrown it held its form.