Digging Clay

Digging for clay in clay pits
The Durham clay pits were located in the vicinity of the outdoor swimming pool.
Photo courtesy of the Currier Art Museum.

"The first assignment for the new pottery term was to pile in the back of a UNH pickup truck and go out to the clay pits to get the semester's supply…Durham clay is quite remarkable, a fine-grained red earthenware with much of the working qualities of porcelain. Unlike porcelain, it has only about a 15 degree firing range, after which it melts rather quickly."

"At the end of my first semester, Mr. Scheier had told us for some time, the class would go to the clay pits behind the outdoor swimming pools and dig a new supply of clay. Mr. Scheier gleefully provided us with an array of funny-looking accessories. I was the smallest, he had me wear a pair of yellow slicker trousers with so suspenders that would have fit a man of 300 pounds, plus he had me carry a shovel with an eight-foot handle. He decreed the tallest person in the class, a lanky young man, should carry the smallest tool. He outfitted the others with similarly silly-looking gear, picks and shovels, etc. Several were given five gallon glass jars to carry, which we assumed were to be used to bring the clay we would dig back to the pottery studio.

"He marched this very peculiar looking group single file across campus to the clay pits that hot, sunny day, and we attracted quite a few stares as we labored under our loads. When we finally got to the clay pits, he announced that we were not actually going to dig clay! He had an abundant supply, but he wanted us to see what clay pits look like. And the picks, shovels, slickers? That was just to attract attention. The glass jars? 'To catch frogs!'"

"Some of the students occasionally worked for Ed making clay for the classes: Mixing in a large blunger that afterwards delivered it to a filter press… The standard rate for student help was .65 an hour, and the ceramic helpers were on some weird budget…Ed described it on pay slips as "controlled erosion" to get it past some bureaucratic hurdle."