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Clay Cargo 2014 Collection: Saltwells Nature Reserve

Our second location was the pit once quarried by ceramic manufacturer, Henry Doulton (1820-1897) at Saltwells, Dudley, near Birmingham.  Arriving by canal with Ikon’s youth programme, Black Country Voyages, we walked through the woods to the site now a spectacular nature reserve.  We travelled with poet Elisabeth Charis and collected clay and botanical material for artist Rob Kesseler.  Rob works with electron microscopy and has revealed the deeper molecular structure of the clay and plant material gathered.  Elisabeth has written about the canals, the pit, clay’s ancient origins and qualities.  Here are glimpses of their work.

CLAY WITH DIATOM: clay sample with a Marine pennate diatom frustule. Diatoms are unicellular phytoplankton enclosed within a cell wall made of silica. Magnification 8000x, hand coloured SEM micrograph, Rob Kesseler 2014.
Elisabeth Charis at Saltwells
Elisabeth Charis, poet, at Saltwells

CLAY.fireweedlow res
Saltwells clay particles with a single pollen grain of Chamerion angustifolium, Rosebay Willow-herb or Fireweed. Magnification 1600x, hand coloured SEM micrograph, Rob Kesseler, 2014.

Quarrying at Saltwells ended when the roof of an underground stream was breached and the pit was flooded overnight.  Extract follows from Elisabeth Charis’ poem Softening: Drawing Space

Sooner or later, the tension
bears into breaking
down all premise
this trance depends upon.
Forward all
rolling into chaos.
Sooner or later,
one explosion, one exploitation too many,
the knife cuts too deep,
nicks a vein which still flows.
Sooner or later, she throws up
an unstoppable flood.
All machinations drown
in her fluent protest.

All those held together frames and hinges;
all that grinding and roaring;
all that borrowed power


overwhelmed under wet
fury. Everything stays, sinks,
passes. Slowly

the days desiccate.
Moist flesh crumbles
to but a suggestion,
to dust.

Watch for the next blog posts with words from Barry Taylor and images from Matthew Raw.  If you would like a copy of the publication and to see poems and images in full, please contact Clayground.  The 50 page publication is £8 plus postage.

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