The Making Process
The gathering of the clays:
The CUPÁN CRÉ – CLAY CUP is a collection of 43 clay pots made from clays gathered from every county in Ireland. Over the period spanning many years I travelled to each county on the Island of Ireland gathering clay and by early 2019 I had gathered a piece from every county. I believe this to be the first-time clay in Ireland has been gathered together in this way and made into a clay pot.
The first piece of clay to come out of the ground came many years ago from under a bog in my home County Offaly. In the last few years I put in a concerned effort to gather the rest. Prior to going out on any gathering excursion I had to determine where clay might be found. This involved a good amount of time at home doing research. Many emails were written, sent and responded too and many phone calls made. I communicated with potters, geologists, local historians and other individual people I heard may know where clay could be found. I found locations both with the help of others and through research work I did myself online looking at maps, articles and reports and through working from my own intuition; an instinct that improved as time went on.
Some counties offered up more than one location, other counties proved less straight forward and finding even the smallest amount proved a challenge. These counties required more time, more research and more attempts before I found what I needed. In all counties I retrieved only what my arms could carry and in some places little more than a hand full. The clays that make up the pots come from the edges of lakes, the bottom of bogs, various seashores, from cow pastures and forests, they come from the tops of mountains, the depths of caves, the banks of rivers, the side of the road, from islands off of the mainland and valley streams. The diversity of clay is reflective of the diversity of the landscapes where they are located. The clays were collected in Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn and in all weathers from snow to sunshine.
The Making Process:
Anyone who has taken clay out of the ground knows that before being able to work with it, it requires cleaning. Buckets of clay were a permanent fixture in my kitchen with a variety of clays in the process of being cleaned and at any given time. Each clay find was watered down and left to sediment then it was sieved to remove any larger organic material. The remaining clay material was then dried and wedged into a consistency ready to work with. As I had only a limited supply, I considered the clay as a precious resource and so was careful not to waste any. Once cleaned and processed and ready for use, I made small test pieces. I tested the clay at a variety of temperatures to determine the temperatures best to work with. There are approximately 400 test pieces and naturally enough, I have a small collection of broken, cracked and melted pots. Predominately the clays fell within the earthenware range with a few stoneware bodies.
With the clay cleaned, I had material I could work with. With it I made small hand sized pinch pots with each clay body. I experimented with a variety of possible surface finishes with the aim of letting the material speak for itself. I decided on a burnished finish as I find the tactile nature and simple beauty of a burnished pot hard to resist. As the pots became leather hard and then bone dry, they were repeatedly burnished with a polished stone. Over time the few pots became the many, and a collection of pots began to form and grow, and the thirty-two small county pots came into being. I then made a pot for each of the four provinces of Ireland. These pots created a different set of challenges as each clay had to work in unison with the other clays from the same province. After a few trial runs with the mixes of the clay the Province pots were made. Connacht, Munster and Leinster each has one pot to its name while Ulster has three: one pot combining the clays from the counties of the South together, one pot combining the clays from counties of the North together, and one combining the clays from counties in both the North and the South of Ulster together into one pot.
The next endeavour was to make a pot made up of clay from every county that makes up the island biome of Ireland. Combining all of the clays of Ireland together I first made a small pot which worked out well. Following that I made a larger pot. This pot did not survive in one piece. After that loss, I decided instead to make three pots to represent Ireland; Ireland, Eíre and Éiru. These survived the firing and worked out great. There was then one pot left to be made, the Cupán Cré – Clay Cup. This is the largest in the collection and being larger it took longer to make. Each day another few coils were added to the growing pot on the kitchen table. I took care as I went and as it grew, shaping and burnishing it as if formed. It remained in the kitchen for the duration of the time it took to dry naturally. Meals and life revolved around it during that time.
As I had only a small test kiln at the time, all the larger pots had to be transported over to people who had larger kilns. The larger pots were fired thanks to the goodwill, generosity and hospitality of potters Sinéad, Ursula, Caroline and Eilis who live around me here in West Kerry. The day I went to collect the larger Cupán Cré- Clay Cup pot, Sinéad let me know that the room smelled like bread baking as the pot was firing. When I opened up the kiln the pot was there, thankfully in one piece and looking well. After a long wait and many years work of locating and digging and gathering, of cleaning and testing, of forming and moulding, of drying and firing, the idea conceived many moons ago had manifested into physical, tangible form: the Cupán Cré – Clay Cup was finally here. I lifted it out of the kiln and held it for a while before safely packing it and placing it alongside its county, province and country pot companions.
Cupán Cré – Clay Cup ®