Chemical Analysis of Local Kansas Clay and Its Use in Ceramic Art

Herrick Smith Ceramics Art + Perception 109 2018 Technical Home

Seeking to learn more about local material and its potential for use in ceramic art, as well as investigating the possibility of replicating the effects of local clay using raw materials to compose a clay body, a sample of locally-harvested clay was sent to CoorsTek Analytical Laboratories for testing.

X-ray diffraction and x-ray fluorescence processes were used to determine the chemical contents of the sample. The resulting list of elements was converted into a clay-body recipe using the Unity Molecular Formula to target specific desirable characteristics. The following testing and further experimentation over the course of more than a year has yielded highly promising results which prove to be both useful for my practice now, and have led to inspiring questions for future research.

The geomorphology of the earth beneath our feet determines the minerals found in our environment, the way we view and interact with the landscape, and what we may do with the land around us. Captivated using local materials in my work, and in specific reference to clay, this involves a significant amount of primary research in the highways and hedges looking for new and interesting clays. Through these expeditions, I have come across a hillside with three distinctly different clay beds laid right on top of one another by the same erosive processes that have shaped the iconic western Kansas landscape as seen in Figure 1. Due to its highly unique and desirable properties I became interested in the chemical make-up of one of the clays. It can be used directly out of the ground with no processing required, and it can withstand the hottest temperatures with beautiful color response to atmospheric firings. After extensive testing on my own, I applied for and received a grant from the Fort Hays State University Graduate School in 2016 to approach CoorsTek Analytical Laboratory for an x-ray diffraction and x-ray fluorescence analysis of the clay.

Becoming native to a place and identifying a sense of self as related to a sense of place takes time and significant effort and there may indeed be impurities.