Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Brickton Road work will reveal clay beds

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 those categories.

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 of clay.

"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 locations.

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.

Click here to return to the index

 Subscribe in your RSS reader

Copyright © 1994-2010 Sue Gerard. All Rights Reserved. No text or images on this website may be reproduced in any form without written permission of the author, except small quotations to be used in reviews.