Dad and some neighbors used mule teams, pulling hand operated scrapers, to dig
a basement for the Aladdin Ready Cut home that was being shipped on the Wabash
to our farm near Columbia. That was in 1922. Our home had burned and we were
living in a tent that summer while the home would be erected. The mules -- and
the men -- were worn out by the end of each day because the scrapers had to
cut into some very tough, white clay. They dumped the clay on what would be
our front lawn!
Dad’s boots kept collecting clay and he’d cuss a streak and stop work to pry
it off his boots. After the house was erected and Mom wanted to set out iris
bulbs and sow grass seed, Dad had to haul in soil so they could grow.
Twenty years later I took my Christian College recreation students out near
there to a roadside clay deposit. “Dig yourself about a cup full,” I said.
“Dry it, crush it, moisten it and make something to show the class.” This
was the same white clay, but I had learned that, when thoroughly dry, it would
absorb water and could be formed into interesting shapes without adding any
other material. The students surprised me. One even made a little teapot with
a fitted lid!
In retirement I remembered those class projects and began to dig at the same
spot for my own amusement. I’ve done that for 25 years. Occasionally at some
social event I discover a thin line of white clay around the edges of my
We usually think of dishes or bricks when we think of things made of clay. Who
realizes that stoneware clay is mixed with graphite to make pencil “lead?”
It’s used in making cosmetics, slick paper, plaster, floor tile, cardboard
boxes and doll heads. Clay helps make our highways, schools, hospitals and
homes. It’s in enamel paint, children’s crayons, lipstick and much more.
Clay is important in industries and space exploration, but perhaps it’s
greater contribution is in the production of food. Plants, like people,
require food and water. The clay hard pan beneath the soil of gardens and
fields, helps moisture and fertilizer stay within reach of roots. And it’s
clay that impounds water in lakes and ponds. Neither sand, gravel nor loam can
do that job. Cattle, hogs and other farm animals depend on impounded water to
thrive and the pond or lake also provides water for irrigation. Clay is an
important ingredient in the cement that creates huge dams and power plants and
the resulting reservoirs in which we swim, fish, ski, sail and enjoy other
forms of recreation.
It’s high time we celebrated clay!
Big plans are in the works to do just that. Mexico, Mo., is planning Clay
Day-USA, for the third weekend in June. Because there are nine fire brick
refractories in the area, Mexico is known as the fire brick capital of the
world and they intend to deal with “all of the known uses of clay” at that
event. Some participants will sell their work and prizes will be given. The
grand prize will be a trip to Shigaraki, Japan.
Clay Day-USA was suggested by John Tsikalas, a Mexico potter known for making
delicate vases. The celebration includes kiln building, making fire bricks,
hands-on activities for children and adults and demonstrations by potters from
this country, Europe and Japan.
For further information and entry blanks, call Lori Pratt, Arts Coordinator,
at (573) 581-2100 or write to Clay Day-USA, 300 N. Coal, Mexico, Mo., 65265.