Soil As Medium

Midfired stoneware and glaze, video, and newspaper
Presented at the Sheehan Gallery, Whitman College, Walla Walla, WA 

There's more going on in a thimbleful of dirt than you will ever learn in five lifetimes.
    — Joel Huesby, 6th Generation Farmer in Touchet, WA

Soil as Medium is an experiential research artwork exploring interdependent relationships to soil in the Walla Walla valley. Throughout history, ceramic artists have used readily available soils, clays and rocks to produce regionally-specific wares that bear evidence of local geology. I engage this ceramic tradition by examining local geological, ecological and industrial systems that shape my consumer relationship to global material goods. In this case, my work responds to micro and macro systems: a fertile loess soil that produces wheat, onions, and other global commodity crops.
Project participants:
  • Dan and Sarah McClure, Organic Farmers and Owners of Walla Walla Organics
  • Joel Huesby, Organic Farmer and Owner of Huesby Farms
  • Bryce Krueger, Conservationist with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
  • Jason Beechinor, Large-Scale Conventional Farmer and Owner of Beechinor Farms
  • Nick Bader, Associate Professor of Geology at Whitman College

Five raw materials were collected from the Walla Walla Valley: soil, pigweed, basalt, onion skins, and wheat straw. To collect these materials, I met with five local experts on our soil. Each person shared a conversation with me and gave me a raw material to use in the project. These raw materials were used to make ceramic glazes. Those glaze materials decorate five large ceramic sculptures included in the exhibition. The browns, blacks and crystalized milky-clear white you see in the glazes are the result of these raw materials when mixed with base glazes and oxidation fired in a ceramic kiln to Cone 6 (approximately 2200° F).

Those glaze materials were then used to glaze five large ceramic sculptures, which were included in an exhibition at Sheehan Gallery at Whitman College. During the exhibition, the ceramic objects performed as sculptures. After the exhibition, the sculptures adopt a more practical purpose. They were offered to each of the five project participants, who were encouraged to return them to the soil from which they came as outdoor sitting stools.

Exhibition photos by Tara J Graves

A newspaper accompanying the exhibition includes excerpts from each of the five conversations that resulted in glaze material. A limited run of free copies were made available to gallery visitors. A digital version can be viewed below.