Resourceful Awareness By Nicholas Seidner
Resourceful Awareness published by
Studio Potter in 2006, Volume 34, Number 2, pg. 32
Our home and pottery is in southwestern Vermont, wedged between the Marble Valley to our east and the Slate Valley to our west, and near the New York and Vermont state border. We are surrounded by natural beauty and natural resources. My wife, potter Diane Rosenmiller, and I have been potting and teaching pottery in this part of the Taconic Mountains for the past ten years. Like most potters we know, we are conscientious and resourceful individuals who enjoy the rewards from our labor. Activities like cultivating an organic garden, harvesting firewood and finding businesses that have valuable free waste, like end rolls of paper and packing materials are self-imposed survival tactics. So, scavenging for local glaze ingredients, something I started doing seven years ago, is a logical blending of resourcefulness and professional development. Part of my development is the desire to make pots that reflect my life and interests as a potter in Vermont, in an increasingly commercialized and homogenized twenty-first century.
My curiosity for using local materials first began while driving past the local slate quarries and their processing facilities in Granville, New York. Spotting large settling ponds collecting slate slurry from cut stone screamed opportunity. The next day I showed up in my truck with buckets and a shovel and asked permission to collect the abundant waste material. Processing the slurry simply required a pass through the sieve and drying. The first high-fired test tile produced a fully fluxed iron saturate glaze -an indigenous kaki- with the color and variations of aged red paint on traditional barns. I fell in love with the material, developed a variety of iron bearing glazes, and use it as a straight slip to decorate bisque ware.
I shared my excitement and passion of this discovery with anyone who would listen. The president of our town historical society listened, and enthusiastically handed me a historic map of Brandon, Vermont, a town in Rutland County with rich mineral deposits. The map, dating back to 1869, revealed the location of a kaolin and yellow ochre(limonite) deposit that were once mined for use by local paper and paint industries. The site is now a State historic preservation site with few visible remains of those businesses, but by gently scratching the surface of the reforested floor, I rediscovered a white sticky weathered kaolin and a dark slick ochre. The kaolin and ochre “shafts”, as labeled on the map, were found practically on top of one another. Also from the map, there was reference to the kaolin drying shed, where old drying beds dug into the earth continue to hold the excavated clay. Permission to access and salvage the abandoned raw material was granted by the head of the state agency that oversees the site; he was enthusiastic too. This was my first experience using historical documents to help locate mineral deposits and has created the possibility for future research, adventure and gathering of semi-wild glaze material. There is another world of forgotten, but as a potter, desirable, raw materials, from the same veins early settlers to this region cultivated.
For me, this hands on approach to tracking down raw materials adds another important layer of participation to my pottery making process. This approach, to “dig local”, combines my interests for local history and geology, sustainability and preservation of the land, plus my enthusiasm to explore. Resourceful awareness has literally melted a piece of the local landscape into my work, saving money in the process. A goal would be to independently gather all my glaze ingredients with this low tech, light impact approach, but for now I will appreciate the convenient fifteen mile drive to the local ceramic supplier.
The following is a list of ideas to help locate potential sources of local material: Ask your State Natural Resource Agency for data sheets for specific minerals, read past and present publications from the United States Geologic Survey for your region, talk to local geology professors, tap the resources from local and state historical societies, contact local stone cutters and kitchen counter installers and ask about possibilities for rock dust or rock slurry, but ,also, drive slowly, look around and carry a shovel and a big bucket.