I recycled clay today. I would rather have spent the time throwing pottery. I store all of my trimmings, rejects and slurry from throwing in five gallon plastic buckets. A couple of times a year after all of the pottery is made I get around to pugging the sraps. It is not my favorite part of the process of producing handmade pottery. In fact I’d call it a chore. The old Bluebird pugger is noisy and doesn’t de-air so I have to knead the clay to get the air out before I can throw pottery with it. Recycling clay I am worth about $25 per hour so I guess it is OK pay, or should I say savings. No one gives me money for doing it. That is just the value of the clay if I had to buy it new. When I work in the Grand Canyon as a river guide I am paid about $10 per hour tips included, but that is really fun stuff that, truth be known, I would do for free.
So why do I bother with remixing all that clay? Why not throw it in a gully or make a big pile of it out behind the studio like I have seen so many places? Pugging scrap certainly is not all that romantic. It is not like going out into Nature and digging your own as the old time potters did.
I remember watching a film about Maria Martinez, the Pueblo Indian potter of Santa Clara, New Mexico. In the opening scene she went to the desert and gathered clay. Before she dug the first clods out of a hillside she offered corn meal to the four directions with a prayer of gratitude, asking permission for what she was about to borrow. Later when she had completed her pottery making she carefully gathered up all of the scraps, even little crumbs of clay and put them in a bowl to wait for remixing. She had respect and reverence for the earth element she used to make her vessels, the same element she believed her body was made of and that gives forth her food. She knows that “all things are borrowed, all things must return”. Our bodies, like the clay, are borrowed and will return to dust before long.
I suppose it is about respect. If I throw clay into a gully it goes back to its earthly home. What is wasted is the energy expended getting the clay from the mine to my studio. It is the idea that this material can be just tossed out like so much floor sweepings or excrement that eats at me. Clay is magical. I remember clearly the wonder I experienced as a child watching my father make simple figures with clay we had dug from the ground and firing them in an open campfire. I am so happy to be employed making stoneware pottery for people and to have such a beautiful material to work with. Something stops me from throwing it in the dumpster. I can’t do it.
The problem is all of the odd batches of clay sitting around my studio, some of it 20 or more years old. Sometime I should make aa bunch of pottery from all of the unused buckets and bags of clay that clutter my shop. It would be an interesting mix of clay types anyway.
Scrap in the bucket, the old Bluebird and 600 pounds of recycled clay ready for storage.