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To Freeze or Not To Freeze? That Is The Question

In his book "Finding One's Way With Clay" Paulus Berensohn suggests storing clay in an unheated room where it can freeze and thaw for about 2 years.  He calls this "vintage" clay that seems to throw and pinch "with a vigor all it's own - a true collaborator."  Yet I've often heard potters say you should never let your clay freeze, that it ruins the clay.  On an intellectual level I can give a little argument to either side.  Well, okay, I'm the type person that can probably argue both sides of any debate so that is not saying much.

I'd really like a more definitive answer to the question about letting clay freeze.  Paulus makes some amazing pots but one can question whether it's the clay freezing and thawing or if it's his handling of the clay that makes the difference.

Frozen clay pot by Future Relics Gallery
Frozen Pottery

Another argument is that clay, in it's most natural form had frozen and thawed many, many times for thousands of years, before it got into my hands.  Potters have been digging clay from the earth for centuries untold.  Did they always process it?  Did potters 200 or 300 years ago make sure that their clay never froze?

The thing is, the clay I use today has been processed and mixed with an eye towards the science of making great clay for great pots.  How much would freezing and thawing change that?  Would it be for the better or for the worse?

So I'm trying an experiment.  Some of my clay will be kept warm during this nasty cold weather and some will be left to freeze.  I hate to be cold so I feel bad for it but it's got to be done in the name of science and art.  I'm not sure if it will get cold enough next winter for it to freeze again but maybe one year of really crappy cold will be enough.

What do you do about your storing your clay in the winter?

Stay warm.

Check out the gallery page - Future Relics Gallery by Lori Buff

Comments

  1. Interesting thoughts.
    We go for no freeze since we are ordering about 2 kiln loads at a time.

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    1. That makes sense, especially since you fill up kilns pretty quickly. I'm not sure I'll be able to let mine sit for 2 years or that we will even have a freeze next winter.

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  2. When I was in NH anything left close to the studio floor would freeze. The studio was in an old 19th century barn. The winter John was sick we didn't work in the pottery the entire winter. Both clay and glaze froze. The clay, I ran through the pug mill, it was fine. Glazes were sieved, they were fine.

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    1. Good to know Michèle, I'm pretty sure some of my clay has frozen in the past, maybe not as solid as during this freeze, but I've just wedged it and it was fine.

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  3. If it freezes you will definitely have to remix it, which is fine if you have pug mill; otherwise not so great.
    Frozen and thawed clay will break apart into interesting cliff like slabs. I did some sculptural pieces using previously frozen slabs when I was finishing my degree. They look terrific outside. Unfortunately they did not survive our winters!

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    1. Yikes, that sounds artistic but I doubt it would make for a good mug. I'll be inclined to make non-functional work and do all kinds of testing with the frozen clay, which will be well mixed before throwing.

      Thanks Suzie

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    2. My Cuban Bread Recipe can be found here.....http://thesmartcat.blogspot.com/2012/02/ladybug-bread.html

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    3. Thanks, I just put the loaves in the oven.

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  4. see, like they say, it can be remixed, which is a useless boatload of time better spent doing other more fun tasks! :)

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    1. I guess that depends on where you store your clay and how much you have. It's easy to move 50 pounds to a warm location, less easy to move 500 pounds and up.

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  5. Looking forward to the outcome of this experiment! I have heard the same thing with regards to not letting your clay freeze. The other thing to think about...is if the clay body affecs the results... stoneware vs. earthenware vs. raku, etc

    Shawna
    Jsbarts.blogspot.com

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  6. Good question Shawna. I don't have that much clay I can dedicate to the experiment so everyone who uses something different should test their own.

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