Wild Clay Weekend

Expedition Recap

We had a WILD Clay Weekend!

Wild Clay Expedition 2019

In November 2018, inspired by his shots of a recent boating trip to Ecor Rouge, our Academy Director Reanna Watson reached out to Zach Sierke, a local potter and long time instructor with ESAC, to begin discussing the possibility of an excursion based workshop: A Wild Clay Expedition.  Reanna recalls, “As children, my brother and I explored Steadman’s Landing, Fly Creek, and the beaches of Montrose, celebrating the sensation of clay and sand beneath our feet and allowing our vast curiosity to overtake the little caution we possessed.”


Zach, a descendant of  Homer Howard, has responded to the same coastline and creek bed with the heart of an artist, the mind of a scientist, and the obligation of a historian. His knowledge of geology and the chemistry that supports the principles of atmospheric firing, paired with his instinctual connection to the land, made Zach the perfect leader for this expedition.


Our primary goal was to utilize the unadulterated, unique environment of the Eastern Shore as an extension of our ESAC studios. Our secondary goal was to create a workshop that would appeal on a national level, attracting potters and ceramicists from around the region.


Over the next few months, we promoted the workshop at the Alabama Clay conference, through social media, and our website.  Using the amazing photos of site visits and wild clay deposits from the area (photo credit: Zach Sierke and Leigh Bancroft), the workshop gained in popularity not only within the artist community, but with geologists, archaeologists, and novice explorers.

Wild Clay Expedition 2019

Out of the ten that attended, only four were from the area. In attendance were established potters from around the region.  We had a graduate student at UWF that has traveled to Montana for woodfires and completed a residency in Denmark. A native of Hong Kong and her husband, a geologist, attended after learning about the wild clay in the region from a post regarding the workshop.  She stated that the images led her to believe this area to be the “Jingdezhan of America”. Another student that spends her summers excavating in Bulgaria, learned of the workshop after it was shared by a geologist. In attendance was a couple that said they traveled by “boat, train, and bike” to attend, while another student, an accomplished local artist, simply walked on down to the art center. Two of Zach’s regular students, one from Egypt and the other from Malta, contributed to the collective experience and knowledge of the importance of studying the earth and understanding the maker history of an environment.


Some students were artists, some were geologists, and others were simply there as students. A man from LaCombe, LA decided to attend to cultivate a deeper, primeval understanding of wild clay. He is currently exploring the Hopi tradition of deep pressure woodfires and has discovered his own source of wild black clay along the shores of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.


The workshop began with a Friday night meet and greet followed by a presentation that showcased  everything from the “barn raising” effort to build Zach’s woodfire kiln to actual shots of individuals sourcing wild clay.  On Saturday, the group traveled by boat to Ecor Rouge and  Steadman’s Landing to source, dig, and haul beautiful, rich deposits of wild clay.  On Sunday, the team, Maria Spies, and Zach toiled to process the fantastic yield from Saturday’s expedition.  When asked of students and Zach to speak of the highlights from the weekend, many responded that the entire weekend was a highlight.


As our first Wild Clay Expedition closes, we are eager to get another scheduled for the fall!  But one doesn’t need to be able to navigate the cliffs of Ecor Rouge or carry a 100lb bucket of native clay to experience the rich, history of ceramics in our community.  Maria Spies, Director of the Pinewood Studio, along with Karen Clements, Zach, and Barb Nassar continue to enrich our community with classes that explore handbuilding and wheel throwing. In addition to the technical aspects of the courses, Maria generously provides glazes and mineral based stains, whose recipes she has perfected after years of experience. Today, ESAC’s  Pinewood Studio continues to nurture the spirit makers, potters, and the “mudlarkers” of the Eastern Shore. Every few months, Maria and dedicated potters fire our own exquisite woodfire kiln while just a few yards away, hidden in the woody shadows, lies the original Pinewood Studios of Edith Harwell.


Look forward to our upcoming blog about the history of Edith Harwell and the Eastern Shore Art Center!

Heart of the Earth

Would you be interested in joining us for another adventure? Let us know in the comments below!


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