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DANCING WITH THE EARTH, by Susan Kemp

I have always wanted to sculpt, especially in clay. At a point when I did not have any resources, I eventually got my act together.

There was a time that I had much more space, equipment and resources at my disposal. At the moment that I resolved to get down to earth about my heart’s deepest desire, I had almost nothing. But I was living in the Tsitsikamma where I grew up and I knew that there was clay all around me and just a few feet under my feet. As children, we dug it out of shallow banks of earth or got hold of it whenever some deep digging was done – like for a grave or a fresh long-drop toilet.


I started making bits and pieces with some odd bits of left-over commercial clay from years of making the occasional pot or sculpture and giving lessons in basic hand-building techniques and sculpting. I had no kiln, nor access to one, so I decided to try primitive firing methods.


A new world opened up.


I googled. I watched videos on YouTube. I made a pest of myself on Facebook, asking close friends, experienced potters, and old and new acquaintances for advice. This is still going on, but after abut 7 years of experimenting, I am at the point where I can expect a successful firing (something I’ve also said before, but then still had to overcome further stumbling blocks!)


I started off with the aforementioned bits of commercial clay of unknown properties and fired in a small sawdust kiln made of stacked bricks. I also tried firing in open fires. After trying inferior local clays scraped from easily accessible sources, I switched to locally dug red clay from a nearby brickyard, and started firing with sawdust in a 40-gallon steel barrel.


Right now I am a very proud and very happy potter and sculptor, but my zig-zag route of trial and error to a measure of success continues. Eventually one has to do what my friend, artist and master potter and sculptor Jane Gaisford told me when I asked and asked for advice and information: “Just do it!”


PS: Clay sculptures by Susan Kemp are available at Art-for-All Gallery in Storms River Village, Tsitsikamma.

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