It may surprise more than a few readers to learn that
Megamarket, Sam’s Club, Lowes, Wal-Mart and several other
stores are built in the bottom of one of Columbia’s old clay
pits, which for generations provided a variety of red bricks and
fire bricks used to build homes, hospitals, streets, office
buildings, government buildings and more!
Let’s define the terms used about this versatile local
material. It’s described as "an earthen product which
is plastic when wet and permanently hard when fired to a high
temperature." Earthenware? Porcelain? Redware? Greenware?
Stoneware? Pottery? Ceramics? All of these words relate to clay,
and Boone County’s clay can be used to make objects in all
Clay is the important material in bricks, sewer tile, dishes,
pottery, roof tile, floor tile, wall tile, dolls, etc. Familiar
objects in which clay is an ingredient are cement, enamel ware,
talcum powder, paint, pencils "lead" and paper!
"Ceramic" is the general term referring to things made
"Greenware" means clay objects that have not yet
been fired to make them usable. Unfired greenware will
disintegrate if immersed in water. I once put several
"raw" greenware pots on outdoor racks to dry, and an
unexpected shower destroyed all of them!
"Potter" relates to an old English dialect word,
"pote," meaning "to poke." A potter is one
who "putters" or makes pottery. And a pottery is a
place where pottery is made.
I have been one of those putterers since retiring in 1972. I
dug some white clay from a roadside and first "poked"
it with my hands making folk sculptures to represent the
activities of early frontier people. They’re chopping wood,
butchering, washing on a board, square dancing, spinning, etc. In
1975 my husband and son made me a potter’s wheel, and that
broadened my interest in clay to include making jars, plates,
jugs, urns, crocks, bowls and more.
Clay is often classified as earthenware, stoneware or
porcelain. Earthenware includes low-firing white, yellow
and red clays that require less heat than stoneware and
porcelain. Clay containing small amounts of iron produce ware
with a yellow hue or, with more iron, red ware. The more heat it
gets, the darker the color becomes.
America’s first pottery was made with red clay found in
the eastern United States by 17th century potters soon after
their arrival. Early American red ware was easily cracked,
chipped or broken and is now expensive because less of it has
survived through the centuries. Yellow ware withstood somewhat
higher temperatures but is more rare than stoneware, which
survived much higher temperatures.
Porcelain is a man-made material, a recipe including pure clay
plus pulverized flint and feldspar rocks. It survives the highest
temperatures of all and is often beautifully fragile, the choice
of many artist potters.
Stoneware clay, fired at more than 2200 degrees, became
popular in the late 18th century and was found in most homes by
1900. Lard, sausage, pickles, kraut and other food favorites were
"put down" in stoneware jars. Canning jars with fitted
lids or with grooves for tin lids allowed our ancestors to have
fruit, vegetables and meat more months of the year than would
have been possible otherwise. Tan or white stoneware jars with
cobalt blue decorations are favorite collectibles and quite
durable and are available in many antique shops.
Stoneware potteries were in southeastern Missouri, including
places called Kaolin and New York, towns long gone, and in
Dexter. There were also potteries in Hermann, Rocheport,
Novinger, Callaway County, California, Arrow Rock and many other
Columbia is located over clay beds and formerly had at least
two commercial brick plants. Watch for white clay as builders
continue to excavate on Brickton Road.