Potholes to Landfill: Where does clay come from?

Potholes to Landfill on Saturday 27th April 2013

pothole  (plural potholes)

1. (archaeology) A pit resulting from unauthorized excavation by treasure hunters or vandals.

In celebration of the (relatively) new ceramic workshop at SSW, on Saturday 27th April we were joined by a host of artists, scientists, ceramicists, geologists, anthropologists and clay enthusiasts to help build and develop the SSW ceramics workshop as an exciting destination for exploring the possibilities of clay and its relations with landscape, work, ecology, art and science.

The workshop consisted of a combination of conversation and practical engagement with clay, with a clay dig, pit firing, presentations and discussions.

Starting with early morning introductions and a tour of the facilities at SSW…


A Pit – Fire was set up before everyone set off to explore the local landscape…


Everyone then proceeded to a local river in Rhynie, where the participants gathered clay from the river. At this stage, many discussions began to develop about clay as a resource, the different scientific qualities of clay, and the possibilities that this natural material presents us with.







After the dig everyone returned to SSW to discuss their findings, have some lunch, and whilst the weather held out, Beth Bidwell and Ruth Hodgins fired up the Pit Fire.



Overall it was a fantastic workshop, and a great day of discussion and exploration. Some of the questions that were opened up through this event were…

How can the ceramics workshop become a sustainable part of SSW?

What can SSW do to become a destination for work, research, and discussions on clay, land and landscape?

How the workshop can become a catalyst for bringing together different forms of research into what clay is and can be?

How can we develop an archive, an ongoing body and space of research, through which the workshop can become a centre for research, of interest not just to artists but many different practitioners?

This shall be the start of an ongoing discourse about clay, where it comes from, and what the local surrounding landscape has to offer.

Marc Higgins, ‘clay-in-the-making: anthropological perspectives on contemporary art and materials’ PHD Student at University of Aberdeen who helped to organise Potholes to Landfill, wrote a review of the event……

The day began gently with coffee, biscuits and conversation in the community room, followed by a welcome and tour of the workshop by Nuno. A motley group of potters, geologists, artists, anthropologists, clay-makers got on their wellies and took a trip down to the Bogie just above the village of Rhynie. After some exploratory digging, we did manage to find some dark, almost grey, clay-y soil in the banks of the stream. We were lucky to have some sun and only a bit of hail. There were some lovely conversations around the digging – about field tests to determine soil plasticity (if you can make a slug in your hands, then it’s fairly plastic), clay deposits in the North-East, mica, Pictish stone.

Then back to SSW for a great lunch prepared by Ruth and Beth, followed by setting alight the pit fire in the yard. The afternoon brought together these different practitioners round a table to talk and play with different clays. Jeff began with a fascinating mini-seminar on the diverse world of clay minerals; their very different properties, their geology and uses by animals and humans, which provided the ground for a great discussion; covering the processes of making and selling clay, working with clay as a found material and part of particular landscape, the importance of soil (and clay) to understanding how human activities and pollution impact ecosystems, sustainability and the SSW, in particular the practices involved in making work with clay – mining and processing, transportation, waste, firing, and finally the ceramic archive being developed at SSW; as a record of different experimental possibilities that will hopefully act as a catalyst for bringing together many different practitioners interested in working with clay.

Many exciting ideas for future directions opened up: a visit to the world famous soil collection at the Hutton Institute, a tour of clay sites around North-East, another event at the SSW around kiln building or throwing. We finished what was a really fun and interesting day with fishing out a couple of pots and tiles from the embers of the pit fire and some lovely soup. Thank you everyone who took part, SSW for their famous hospitality and in particular, Ruth and Beth for organising the day so well.’

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