Clay – Why Do We Love It?


Clay
blankets our earth’s surface with tiny particles of weathered granite.

Wet clay is strong and malleable. Dry clay holds its shape and can be hardened through heating to extreme temperatures.

“If one takes any finely grained non-clay mineral and mixes it with water, a crumbly mass will be produced with almost zero formability. If the same is done with clay, however, there is produced a mass that is readily formed into any desired shape and, most interesting of all, it will retain that shape under the force of gravity. In other words, the clay mass has three unique properties; first, it may be deformed without cracking; second, when the deforming force ceases, the shape will remain fixed; and further, when the clay mass is dried, it has considerable strength.”

Studio Potter, Volume 4, Number 2 (Winter 1975/76)

Clay has strength because many extremely fine particles can be tightly packed in a clay body.

It’s plastic because its molecules are shaped like dinner plates, with an average diameter of one micron (one millionth of a meter). When wet, the ‘plates’ slide against each other due to thin sheets of water between them. The presence of water allows clay particles to move against each other and change the clay form without breaking.

Pull, pinch, slice, carve, stick, roll, press, twist, and squash!
We can form almost anything out of clay.

A clay object can be hardened through firing at high temperatures, such as 2400 degrees Fahrenheit. It can be coated with specific clays (glazes) and fired again to make an object that is impervious to water.

Once high-fired, a clay object can never disintegrate into its original molecular structure. This is when we call it ceramic.

As early as 24000 BCE people were making figurines for ceremonial purposes. Functional pottery flourished when agriculture became prevalent around 10,000 BCE.

Venus of Dolni Vestonice                        Ancient Mesopotamia pottery
(26,000 – 24,000 BCE)

Wallace and Gromit is a British clay animation comedy series created by Nick Park of Aardman Animations. circa 1990.