Clay is raw earth, namely, feldspar. It crystallizes from magma, categorically an igneous rock. For about four and a half billion years, clay has oscillated between states, both liquid and solid. There have been 5 mass extinctions that clay has witnessed, with one so tremendous that scientists call it The Great Dying. It took millions of years for life to catch up, since 96% of marine species and 70% of land species perished. Clay, of course, persisted.
Other earth bound materials are added to give commercial clay a plasticity that makes its raw form so wonderfully seductive to work with. And while I call it raw, it is processed enough to remove unnecessary random organic materials. Making with this clay is a simple concept. Take the clay, round it into a ball, place on a wheel. Use the centrifugal action of the wheel to open it, spread it, pull it, shape it, compress it. Take off, let dry somewhat, put back on the wheel and trim. Take off, let dry some more. Introduce heat from the kiln. Glaze, heat again. Done. Along the way we slip it, carve it, dart it, mould it, paddle it, embellish it, paint it, inlay it.
Exposed to enough heat, clay will return to its liquid state. And then it will cool, and harden, again.
At a class this summer at Haystack Mountain, master teacher/artist/potter Michael Hunt of Bandana Pottery urged me not to smash a pot that initially did not live up to my expectations. For all that the pot has been through, Michael explained: lying in wait for millions of years, transforming from liquid to solid and back again, witnessing the coming and goings of life. Only to be plucked out, processed, formed, and vitrified…
Maybe, Michael said, that pot just doesn’t know what it wants to be, yet.