Break Tradition at Watershed! 2018 Summer Session I Preview

Breaking Tradition Guest Artist Ben Medansky


During Session I: Breaking Tradition (June 3-15), artists and designers will come together to explore new modes of making, marketing, and showing work. Rather than situating ceramics solely in stores and white-walled galleries, artists are bringing attention to their work by exhibiting in non-traditional physical and digital spaces. Dinners that double as pop-up sales, homes that serve as storefronts, and Instagram-ready lifestyle shoots provide context for clay pieces and attract audiences through multifaceted experiences. The session is anchored by a group of artists, designers, and curators interested in how these creative methods of generating visibility are influencing the ceramics field and transforming the way twenty-first century makers run small businesses.

Taylor Carter


Taylor Carter, of the Cincinnati-based design studio CKTC, has organized the residency. She explains, “My goal for this session is to create an open environment for artists, designers, and curators to make work together. Our time at Watershed will give us the opportunity to harmonize our different areas of making. With access to the facilities at Watershed, we can create collaborative work and generate new ideas that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.”

Ben Medansky


Guest artist Ben Medansky joins the residency from Los Angeles. His work is often inspired by patterns, repetitions, and variations found in both natural and industrial environments. Influenced by modernist architecture and industrial design, Medansky’s pieces give a nod to mechanical processes while maintaining the variation and individuality found in handmade objects.

Lindsey Hampton


Carter recruited a variety of participants to anchor the session, including Vancouver-based artist Lindsey Hampton, whose background in graphic design pairs seamlessly with her clay practice. By harnessing the power of photography and social media to share her dreamy and playful pastel ceramic pieces, she relates her clay work to her range of creative pursuits. Multi-disciplinary artist Mérida Anderson has a background in fashion and is also a talented cook. They successfully use pop-up events, like their Vegan Secret Supper Clubs in New York, Montreal, and Vancouver, to develop relationships with new audiences in informal settings. Shannon Maldonado also got her start in fashion but now curates a lifestyle shop (which happens to also be her home), Yowie, in Philly.  Ali Karsh studied industrial design and psychology before finding her way to clay. She aims to “create simple pleasures and positive interactions” through her designs.

Portland, Maine-based studio potter, Ayumi Horie, will also visit Watershed during the residency to speak about her work and methods of connecting with communities around the country and world. Most ceramic artists on Instagram know her widely followed and ongoing curatorial project, Pots In Action, and many have engaged with her project  The Democratic Cup, which encourages civic and political engagement.

Connect with this wonderful group of makers during Breaking Tradition! Space is available for any artist who is comfortable working in a clay studio to participate. 


Watershed Board “Passes the Torch” to New Leadership Team

Joyce Cohen, Paul Stark, and Chris Gustin

Watershed is fortunate to have a dedicated group of extraordinary people who serve on our Board of Trustees and Advisory Council. At a recent meeting in St. Petersburg, Florida, board members were graciously welcomed to the St. Pete ceramics community by friends affiliated with the Morean Center for Clay, the Morean Arts Center, and the Chihuly Collection.

Our board held two days of meetings and “passed the torch” of leadership from Paul Stark to Joyce Cohen. We thank Paul for his years of service as board President and are thrilled to welcome Joyce to her new role!

Joyce Cohen joined the Watershed Board of Trustees in 2015. She spent many years as Assistant Professor of Art History at Simmons College in Boston, MA, and retired from teaching in 2012. At Simmons she taught popular courses on contemporary art and created a class focused on the collections in several of Boston’s preeminent museums. She also developed an arts administration major that connected students with diverse performing and visual arts organizations in New York City. Her research focused on self-taught artists and new relationships between art and craft, with her work largely centered on women artists in the mainstream like Kiki Smith, and “outsider artists” including Gayleen Aikens, Clementine Hunter, and Nellie Mae Rowe. Joyce also served on the Collections Committee and the Board of Trustees of the Fuller Craft Museum and was Advisor to the Foundation of Self-Taught Artists. Prior to her tenure in the academic world, Joyce worked as a partner with Aptekar/Cohen Arts Management, helping collectors acquire art for corporate spaces and private collections.

We are also delighted that long-time board member JoAnn Schnabel is our new Vice President. JoAnn is a ceramic artist and Professor of Art at the University of Northern Iowa. Her work includes modular pieces often inspired by natural forms and sculptures that reference the vessel tradition. She has exhibited nationally and internationally, and her work is included in numerous public and private collections.

In addition to these leadership changes, the board welcomed three new trustees:

  • Patricia Harrington of Portland, ME – currently maintains a ceramics practice, retired from planning and management positions in the private and public sectors
  • Don Ridley of Phoenix, AZ – ceramic artist and Department Head for Ceramics at the Phoenix Center for the Arts
  • Sharon Townshend of Durham, ME – ceramic artist and long-time Watershed board member (including roles as past president and secretary)

and three new Advisory Council members:

  • Susan Beiner of Phoenix, AZ – ceramic artist and Lincoln Endowed Chair of Ceramics at Arizona State University
  • Lynn Peters of Worth, IL – ceramic artist and Professor at Moraine Valley Community College, Palos Hills, IL
  • Hope Rovelto of Portland, ME – ceramic artist, print maker, and owner of Little Chair Printing

We also bid farewell to Trustees Jim Lawton and Tim Zajac, and Advisory Council members Alexandra Forst, Shawn O’Connor, and Melissa Stern. They have all contributed their time, talents, and resources to supporting Watershed over the years and will be greatly missed.

See a full list of Watershed Trustees and Advisory Council members.

Watershed Celebrates Ceramic Masters

Since 2007, Watershed has recognized influential ceramic artists who are innovators, leaders, and mentors within the clay community. We honor these artists as Legends via programming that shines a spotlight on their contributions and careers.

This year, Watershed is pleased to honor Wayne Higby, Jack Troy, and Paula Winokur as our newest Legends. Throughout 2017, Watershed hosted public talks, workshops, and exhibitions featuring the honorees. On October 7, we held a culminating celebration in Philadelphia to recognize all they have accomplished. The event included an awards ceremony, along with an exhibition reception at The Clay Studio. The exhibit featuring the Legends work is on view at The Clay Studio from October 6 through November 26, 2017.

During the awards ceremony, held at the historic Arch Street Meeting House, keynote speaker Glenn Adamson looked back at the Legends’ accomplishments and influence on the ceramics field. Gallerist and critic Helen Drutt English served as Master of Ceremonies. Each of the Legends received a one-of-a-kind handmade tea bowl created by artist Sin-ying Ho in a wooden box crafted by artist Jim Lawton. Watershed board member Gretchen Keyworth presented Wayne Higby with his award, Watershed founder Chris Gustin presented the award to Jack Troy, and Watershed board member Nancy Selvin presented the award to her longtime friend Paula Winokur. 

The 2017 Legends also took part in Watershed’s conversation series, Elemental Intersections. The series consisted of three discussions examining the common connections between art, environmental concerns, and our relationship to the natural world. The Legends were each featured in one of the conversations and were joined by scientists and others working in natural resource-based fields to investigate how art can illuminate environmental issues in innovative and unique ways.

The first talk on water examined the work of Paula Winokur and looked critically at how melting polar ice and rising ocean temperatures have created changes in the Gulf of Maine. Marine biologist Bob Steneck provided a scientific perspective while lobsterman Gerry Cushman discussed how the Gulf’s warming water is impacting the livelihood of Maine fishermen.

During the second talk on fire and forests, Jack Troy shared how he creates work via processes that rely on fire and wood, while ecologist Nick Fisichelli discussed Maine’s forested landscape, and Maine Guide Polly Mahoney shared about her experiences in Maine’s wilderness. 

The final talk explored the differing ways that the people of Maine relate to the state’s coastal landscape. During the conversation, Wayne Higby discussed his celebrated Landscape Bowls, which were inspired by Maine’s craggy coastline. Wayne was joined by marine geologist Joe Kelly, who spoke about the ever-changing conditions of beaches and estuaries, and Donna Loring of the Penobscot Nation, who shared about the theater, film, and music programs of Seven Eagles Media, which provides a platform for Maine Native People’s voices and experiences.

The talks were supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts and were organized in partnership with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Nationally-recognized radio producer and speaker Julie Burstein facilitated the conversations. Burstein is producing a series of podcasts based on her conversations with all three Legends – we look forward to sharing these with you in the near future.  


Thank You For a Wonderful Summer Season!

We are grateful for all the artists, staff, friends, supporters, and collaborators who helped make the 2017 residency season so special at Watershed. Please enjoy a few memories and photos from each of our 2017 summer sessions; we hope to see many of you back here again in the future!

Summer Staff Arrival & Pre-Session

During the final weeks of May, our summer staff crew arrived and began settling in for the season ahead. Shortly after their arrival, Pre-Session artist-volunteers joined them to help prepare the cabins, studio, and grounds for the summer. They worked in unpredictable weather on a wide variety of projects that required lots of elbow grease and good humor. From painting cabins to clearing brush, their positive attitudes shone throughout the 10-day session.  The artist-volunteers had evenings and the weekend free to work in the studio, and they produced a surprising amount of work during their brief stay.

Session I: Earth, Water and Fire, June 4-16

Our first ’17 session was organized by Berry Matthews and featured guest artist Trisha Coates. A number of participants’ practices centered around installation-based work, but we saw everything from cups and bowls to videos come to life in the studio. Thirteen artists braved both chilly temps and a heat wave while creating a wide range of functional and sculptural work. During the second week, the group gathered in the woods for an evening lighting of Matthews’ fire installation – a highlight for all involved!

Session II: The Object’s Not the Point, June 18-30

During Watershed’s second summer session, The Brick Factory collective anchored a residency that explored the possibilities of performance and socially engaged ceramic work. The collective formed at Watershed in 2011 and has maintained an online presence and dialog, but this session provided a rare opportunity for them to work together in person. They were joined by guest artist/theorist/curator Namita Gupta Wiggers and a group of socially engaged artists from around the country. Over the course of their two-week session, resident artists staged a number of performances around the Watershed campus and created work in the studio that served as props and stand-alone pieces.

 Session III: Directly Playful, July 2-19

Artist Didem Mert returned for her second residency to lead this mid-summer session focused on experimentation and collaboration. Most, if not all, participants worked together on numerous pieces, pushing their work in new directions and exploring unfamiliar possibilities. The studio brimmed with pieces drying on every available surface as the artists passed collaborative work back and forth and celebrated each other’s successes and discoveries. The session culminated in a farm-to-table dinner served on ceramic place settings made by the artists. After the meal, the group traded pieces with one another, taking home each other’s work as mementos of their time together. 

 Session IV: Reawakenings, July 23-August 4

Areas of vibrant artistic growth are influencing the cultural development of small cities across the country. This session, anchored by a group of diverse ceramic artists with roots in Tulsa, Oklahoma, provided an opportunity for artists to discuss how their practices and creative communities are contributing to the areas where they live.

 Session V: Confluence and Influence, August 6-18

Guest artist Matt Wedel joined large-scale sculptors and functional potters alike during this session that explored how working alongside one another in Watershed’s communal studio would influence participants’ work.  As the resident artists responded to and supported each other’s varied styles of making, the commonalities found among shared techniques, materials, and ideas fostered opportunities for creative experimentation and growth.

 Session VI: Atmospheric Firing, August 20-28

Guest artist and Watershed Legend Jack Troy led fifteen artists through the wood and gas kiln firing process during this jam-packed one week session. Participants covered every surface on the Watershed kiln pad with their work and then carefully stacked pieces in four different atmospheric kilns. After firing through the day(s) and night, the artists compared results from the variety of firing processes they utilized. (Plus, they got to watch the solar eclipse together in the midst of kiln-firing excitement.) The session also featured one of Watershed’s Elemental Intersections conversations – a panel discussion series on art, science, and our relationship to the natural world. This second talk in the series, focused on the power and grandeur of forests and fire, featured Jack Troy, forest ecologist Nick Fisichelli, and Maine Guide/outdoorswoman Polly Mahoney.

Thanks to our 2017 Summer Staff!

As we wrap up our summer season and begin our fall residency, we send off our outstanding 2017 summer staff team to their next adventures. Nine summer staffers joined us in mid-May and over the course of 15 weeks, they worked incredibly hard through six residency sessions and our busy summer program schedule. From art walks and artists talks, to workshops and the most successful Salad Days yet, we could not have done it without them. We look forward to seeing what comes next for these artists!


Stephen Aleckna


Stephen Aleckna, Chef
Where are you from?  Philadelphia, PA
What are some themes in your work? Experimentation, unpredictability, surface treatment 
What’s next for you? I’ll be returning to my position as Head Chef at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archeology.
What has been your favorite Watershed moment?  Helping design and execute the “Last Supper” residency dinner for our third session.



Austin Bradshaw


Austin Bradshaw, Studio Staff
Where are you from? Kansas City, MO
What are some themes in your work? Nature, craft, family, minimalism, Scandinavian design, form
What’s next for you? I’ll be working in Kansas City, and then looking forward to a post bacc in Colorado next year.
What has been your favorite Watershed moment?  Lighting off our own fireworks and fishing trips.



Emily Christopherson


Emily Christopherson, House Manager
Where are you from? Oak Park, Chicago
What are some themes in your work? Simplicity & Craft
What’s next for you? I’ll be returning to Chicago, and am planning to teach with the Art Reach program. I’ll also be making more new work in my studio.
What has been your favorite Watershed moment?  Listening to Redd rap in the kitchen & overhearing kitchen shenanigans!



Sean Lofton


Sean Lofton, Studio Staff
Where are you from? Jacksonville, FL
What are some themes in your work? Planar relationships, minimalist architecture, monolithic structures 
What’s next for you? I’ll be finishing my degree and applying to residencies.
What has been your favorite Watershed moment? I’ve enjoyed taking group trips to the Rachel Carson Salt Pond.



Ken Lu


Ken Lu, Studio Staff
Where are you from? Currently studying in West Virginia (from Singapore originally)
What are some themes in your work? Geometry, functionality, chemistry, cubes, carbon trapping and manipulation of form
What’s next for you? I will be finishing the final year of my MFA at the University of West Virginia.
What has been your favorite Watershed moment?  Seeing the Milky Way.



Brian McNamara


Brian McNamara, Dining Hall Manager
Where are you from? Sunny Southern California 
What are some themes in your work? Garbage, trash, rocks, religion, play, and I guess aliens 
What’s next for you? I’ll be moving to Syracuse to work as an assistant to Jeremy Randall.
What has been your favorite Watershed moment? Having no expectations in the studio – I can build and draw whatever the heck I want. Freedom has been my Watershed moment.



Adam Redd


Adam ReddHead Chef/Problem Solver
Where are you from? Northern California
What are some themes in your work? Art for art’s sake, color
What’s next for you? I’ll be moving to Portland, Maine to pursue a culinary career.
What has been your favorite Watershed moment? Setting off our own fireworks for the Fourth of July!




Catherine Velazquez


Catherine Velasquez, Studio Staff
Where are you from? Baton Rouge, LA 
What are some themes in your work? Playfulness, color blocking, full and hearty forms
What’s next for you? I’ll be moving to Boulder, Colorado and then working on applying for residencies.
What has been your favorite Watershed moment? Austin and Christina, our Salad Days Artist, randomly dropping a sorority girl squat on their way to the studio.



Laura Williams


Laura WilliamsOffice Assistant
Where are you from? Chicago, IL  
What are some themes in your work? Figure, line, color, composition 
What’s next for you? I’ll be returning to my lovely cat and partner in Chicago, teaching, and continuing to make.
What has been your favorite Watershed moment?  Late studio nights, kiln pad discussions and meeting fabulous new people.     


Thanks to our 2017 Summer Staff for a fantastic summer!




Making in clay at the Jackson Memorial Library

Summer Office Assistant Laura Williams shares her experience teaching clay techniques to a group of youth in St. George, Maine.

Before coming to Watershed, I taught and made in Chicago, Illinois at Magical Minds Studio, an after school program providing students with a space to learn about and make art. I knew when I accepted the job in Watershed’s office that I’d miss my home studio, but felt the opportunity to work for Watershed and live in Midcoast Maine was worth the time away.  So, when the Jackson Memorial Library invited Watershed to lead a two day workshop with the youth of St. George, I was thrilled. Brian McNamara, another summer staff member also volunteered. Together we put together our two day lesson; the first day focused on mask-making and the second day was devoted to using coils to create vessels.

Attaching coils to the base

We worked in the Watershed claybody, a terracotta earthenware that was deposited outside the Watershed studio back when Watershed served as a brick factory. Before diving into the first clay project with the students, we discussed the clay mining process and the kids excitedly pulled apart their material in search of rocks and other matter typically found in ground clay. The children’s work, when fired, will form a lovely brick color.  

During the first day of instruction, Brian demonstrated how to throw a slab by picking up a piece of clay and throwing it at an angle onto the table. This process manipulates the shape of the material, forming a clay sheet. While many students enjoyed throwing the clay to create a flat surface, others chose to roll out the slab with a baker’s pin. Next, we laid our slabs over a ball of newspaper to form the desired facial shape. Participants then formed eyes, mouths, ears, cat whiskers and other details to bring the pieces to life.

Slipped finished form

The second day, we developed our abilities in coiling. After building a base, we slipped and scored each coil, laying them atop one another to gain height. Slipping and scoring refers to a ceramic process by which makers create texture on either side of the two pieces which are being attached. The maker then applies “slip” or soft, wet clay atop the texture as a sort of ceramic glue. This technique ensures the two pieces dry together and allow for a proper connection. Once we’d achieved the desired shape and size we painted our works with slips to be fired.

The workshop took place over two weekday mornings; and despite the time of day, the library was bustling. During the ceramics lesson, a tai chi class met outside, book seekers came and went, and workshop participants happily conversed with spectators about making in clay.  A group of local teachers met next door to prepare for the upcoming school year, and they stopped in to say hello, recognizing most of our participants. It quickly became clear that the library serves as a gathering hub for the St. George Community.

As the children’s pieces fire in our kiln, I feel lucky to have taught  this hard working and receptive group in such a beautiful and welcoming space. The children will soon have their work returned to them and will hopefully continue to make in clay.

Masks dry in the sun on the path to the library

A Summer Celebration of Food & Ceramics

As the last days of July fly by and we welcome the start of August next week, we wanted to share a few photos from a Watershed mid-season celebration. During the final evening of our third 2017 residency session, our talented chefs, Adam Redd and Stephen Aleckna, treated residents and staff to a decadent five-course meal. Artists set a banquet table overlooking the meadow and neighboring farms, and decorated it with wildflowers arranged in handmade vases. Throughout the meal, the cooks plated each course on dinnerware sets created by the artists-in-residence; and following dessert, the group traded pieces from the sets to take home. It was a true celebration of creativity, local food, and summer with our wonderful ceramics community!  

Session leader Didem Mert smiles among friends as the delicious appetizers are served.

Summer staff member, Catherine Velasquez, enjoys the warm summer evening with the group.

Our location on the coast of Maine allows us to indulge in the best oysters around!

We raised our handmade ceramic cups to toast the chefs’ amazing work.

Ronan Peterson, Bebe Federmann, and Lisa Buck smile for a photo.

The beautifully plated main course on a plate made by Rachel Donner.

The meal was topped off with a delicious dessert made by Executive Director Fran Rudoff!


Thanks to the chefs, summer staff, and artists who made this event such a lovely celebration!

2017 Salad Days

Thank you to everyone who helped make 2017 Salad Days such a smashing success! On July 8, we welcomed nearly 600 guests to the Watershed campus to celebrate local food and handcrafted ceramics.  The event is truly a collaborative effort and we are grateful to the artists, community restaurants and farms, business sponsors, board members, friends, staff, and volunteers who give their time and talents to make Salad Days special. We hope to see you all again for Salad Days 2018.  In the meantime, enjoy a few photos from the day. 

The Object’s Not the Point

Guest blogger Namita Gupta-Wiggers shares her plans and reasons joining summer residency Session II: The Object’s Not the Point, with The Brick Factory collective this summer.  A few spots are still available for those interested in participating in this early summer residency from June 18-30.  Additional session artists include Erik Scollon, Summer Zickefoose, Thomas Myers, Carrie Marboe, and Nicole Burish. Learn more and register.
IMG_2936When Erik Scollon called and invited me to join The Brick Factory for a two-week residency at Watershed, I may have said “Yes!!” before we finished discussing what a residency can be. I could give a list of reasons why I am excited to spend time at Watershed that tie into my academic work, critical writing, and especially the three years of teaching a class on the Theory of Objects. While these are unquestionably a part of what I bring to the time together, I have very personal reasons for joining the group.
This is an opportunity to read, think, write, and talk. To do this away from daily life, dishes, the internet, cars that need tending . . . . and this will be a first for me. Curators don’t get such opportunities; independent curators even less. For this invitation to come from a group of artists I admire for their careful considerations, thoughtful writing and inspiring teaching. . . . my temptation is to gush, so I will be understated and say that I am excited to learn from everyone who will be there.
The invitation couldn’t have come at a better time for my own work as well. When I am not traveling or teaching, my work takes place at my kitchen table. It’s a beautiful spot, complete with a fluffy dog and occasional sunshine (I live in Portland, OR). I am often alone with my thoughts and the internet – but with intent. What I am doing in that space and at that spot has to go somewhere — into an article to be published, posts on Critical Craft Forum, a lecture for class. To have two weeks to read for the pleasure of thinking with the bonus of dialogue is a gift. I cannot wait to read what people share and am working on a short list of readings I have been meaning to get to or need to dive into as well.

Gupta Wiggers’ maternal grandparents, Bapu Anant Khare and Sarojini Khare, c.1930s

I have a story in me that has been working its way out for decades. It cannot be told through words alone. When Erik and The Brick Factory extended this invitation, they did not know that I was trying to figure out how to work some of these ideas out through clay. In fact, Erik’s call was one of the first moments in which I articulated this outside of journal notes and thoughts in my head. The story circles around my grandparents.  Their lives were charmed and disastrous, linked to massive shifts in global power, span three continents, textile histories from home to factory, loves and losses. I worked as a studio jeweler for a number of years after leaving a PhD program in Art History; I stopped making jewelry because I no longer relished a production process involving the fabrication of objects that I could not make in ways that conveyed what was in my head. Curating at Museum of Contemporary Craft and the exhibition making and writing that offered opened a different form of creative expression. Now, I am ready to bring this all together. I cannot wait to work through clay and conversation at Watershed this June.

The History of Watershed’s Clay

Ever wonder about how we go about making our clay at Watershed? Studio Manager Wm. Reeder Fahnestock shares the process we use, along with historical background and geologic context for Maine’s rich history of clay-processing and brick production.

Maine’s Geological and Brick-Making History

Maine’s mountains are considered some of the oldest on Earth. Comprising the northern part of the Appalachian chain, the Longfellow Mountains were formed during the Ordovician Period some 485 million years ago. Extended periods of vast glaciation acted on the mountains. The sheer weight of the ice caused the Earth’s crust to push downward and the abrasive action of glacial movement and the scouring action of melting ice eroded the bedrock below. As the ice sheets retreated, the sea level rose, flooding the depressed plains, while glacial streams deposited vast amounts of sediments at their mouths where they emptied into the ocean. Finer particles like sand, silt and clay were deposited in discrete layers away from the coarser materials. With the weight of the ice gone, the land rebounded exposing the deposits. The Presumpscot Formation of glacial marine clay is ubiquitous in the Mid-coast region of Maine with individual deposits reported up to 200 feet thick.

As the country began to expand in the post-Colonial era, there was high demand for durable materials to build the growing metropolises. The abundance of easily accessible clay, ample fuel to burn the bricks, the proximity of navigable waters with easy access to the coast, and the seasonal nature of work provided the key ingredients for a thriving brick manufacturing industry along the Mid-coast region of Maine. Presumpscot Formation clay contains impurities like fine sand, marine shells, and organic matter that precludes the necessity of adding tempering ingredients commonly associated with purer clay deposits, making the clay particularly suited to brick making, which requires such constituents for strength at the fired stage. At least twenty-three brickyard sites have been identified on the Damariscotta River alone. At its peak in the mid-nineteenth century, the nearby town of Wiscasset boasted seven brick makers, some with the capacity to fire up to a million bricks at a time. Edgecomb, Boothbay and Walpole were all home to thriving brick manufacturers. In addition to being used in the construction of local architecture, the bricks were widely exported to ports south, such as Boston, and were used as ballast in ships carrying other cargo.


Brick makers in Brewer, Maine

These brickyards were mostly decentralized, small-scale operations run as a low-investment component of agricultural endeavors. Brick making was extremely labor intensive with all aspects of the trade executed by hand, from the excavation of the raw materials, to the forming of the finished product, to the lading of the ships used to carry it away to distant markets. The process was relatively simple. The clay was extracted using shovels and pick axes and wheel-barrowed to a drying yard to become permeable enough to be slaked in water. A primitive circular pit mill usually powered by horse or oxen broke the clay down into fine particles and mixed it to a consistent slurry ready for molding. In the absence of a mill, simply having the animals walk back and forth over the raw material would break up and mix the clay. Large impurities like rocks were removed and the raw material in slurry form was hand pressed into molds. After drying for a day, the molds were turned out, or “struck”, and the bricks were stacked to dry further. Bricks produced in this method of manufacture are referred to as “waterstruck” bricks.

Depending on weather, the drying process could take anywhere from a week to several weeks. The dried bricks were then assembled into “scoves”, primitive kilns assembled on site for each firing. The scoves were fired with wood. The entire process of building the scove, firing the kiln, cooling and unloading could take up to a month.

As the nineteenth century came to an end and the industrial revolution began to change the face of American manufacturing, Maine brick makers were slow to adapt new technology. The local industry was largely unchanged over the course of several hundred years. The one innovation that did take hold here was the invention of the Hobb’s Mill, a low-technology unit that combined the slurry mixing process and the molding process, though production was still one brick at a time. The Hobb’s mill was not enough to sustain an industry not in the position to scale up to fully mechanized production. Extruded brick became the industrial standard along with large permanent kilns and the Maine brick making industry quickly declined.

Brick Pic

Brick shards mixed with sediment on the banks of the Damariscotta River

Evidence of the boom period is clearly visible today with beaches along both the Damariscotta and Sheepscott rivers littered with the discards, now barnacle covered and worn smooth with the actions of tides and waves. Despite the fact that Maine was once considered the pinnacle of architectural brick manufacturing, today Morin Brick Co in Auburn is the only major brick manufacturer in the state and the last commercial American manufacturer of waterstruck brick.

Watershed’s Brick-Making Legacy

Watershed’s origins are inextricably entwined with the post-colonial brick manufacturing industry of the region. In 1974, during the ascendancy of the historic preservation movement, an attempt was made to revive the manufacture of waterstruck brick to supply what was projected to be an increasing demand. A large supply of locally mined Presumpscot clay was deposited on the property of Margret Griggs (which would later become Watershed) and a large chicken barn was relocated from elsewhere on the property to house a drying area and two large, oil fired, beehive kilns. Brick molds were made and an electrically modified Hobb’s Mill was installed adjacent to the clay hill. So was born the Watershed Brick and Clay Products Co. But much of the work was still labor intensive,  production was limited to warm months and the location of the factory in a swale retarded drying times. Market forces did not materialize in their favor and transportation costs exceeded profitability. The enterprise lasted for only a year.

Margaret Griggs, an artist and investor in the brick factory, had long envisioned a place where ceramic artists could work on large scale pieces, either independently or in collaboration. In 1985 Griggs joined forces with local artist George Mason to organize a pilot project to utilize the brick factory site in a new way. George and Lynn Duryea joined twelve artists from the US and Britain to live and work on the property for a summer. In the fall, Chris Gustin invited students and graduate faculty from the Ceramics Department of the Swain School of Design to live and work for ten days at the former brickyard. The rustic and open-ended aspects of the facility encouraged the artists to approach their work with a new vigor and awareness. As a result, an enlightened community of artists came together to establish Watershed’s philosophy and shape its future as a residential ceramics facility

Today, while we no longer manufacture brick, we still use the clay that was deposited here for that purpose. One of the beehive kilns has been preserved and the Hobbs Mixer is still standing beside the clay hill. We no longer use the kiln or the mill, but we do harvest the clay and process it mostly by hand to supply artists with terra cotta derived from local deposits. While some artists prefer the clay straight off the hill, we make additions to the clay for use by residents. Straight from the ground the clay is rather rough, even by some brick making standards, with large particulates, organic matter and naturally occurring lime deposits. The occasional pebble or small bit of twig are not unusual and tend to make themselves apparent at the most inconvenient times in the construction process, appearing as you bring up a vessel wall or trim a foot. And the lime, invisible in the green stage, can cause breakage during the firing process. While passing the dry clay through a hammer mill mostly alleviates those problems, it is a time consuming step that is bypassed in the name of expediency and economics. We live with the impurities.

Watershed Clay Today

watershed (1 of 1)

Sifting raw clay on the hill behind the Watershed studio

Our process consists of breaking up the exposed surface of the clay hill with shovels and bow rakes and passing the material through a series of screens to remove the largest impurities. This material is then spread on tarps to dry before being transferred to a Soldner clay mixer and slaked. Small amounts of commercially mined materials are added: fire clay to raise the firing temperature, ball clay to enhance its plasticity, and barium to counter the effects of soluble sulphates present in the clay. It is mixed until sufficiently homogenous and of the plastic consistency appropriate for studio ceramic use.

Clay drying by studio

Drying clay on tarps

Unweathered Presumpscot clay is usually described as gray blue in color with striations that vary with depth. Sections closer to the surface tend to be browner which is considered to be a result of oxidation. No difference in the particle size, plasticity, mineral or organic content of the different striations has been discovered. The Watershed clay deposit is of the browner variety with a slight bluish/greenish tint when hydrated. Watershed’s clay matures at pyrometric cone 04 (1915° F) and can be fired as high as cone 1 (2028° F). At these temperatures it fires to a pleasing brick orange color. At higher temperatures it goes quickly from brown to black and becomes overfired. In reduction atmospheres it is highly prone to bloating. Used straight off the hill it becomes a pale greenish glaze at cone ten (2345° F) in reduction atmospheres.

SD plates drying

Salad Days Artist plates

Watershed’s residency program supports a hundred artists in a season, including our Salad Days Artist, who is tasked with making five hundred plates for sale at our annual summer fundraiser. The plates are made from the Watershed clay mixed on site. While not all artists use the Watershed brick clay, we produce a minimum of ten thousand pounds each summer. Although the process is time consuming, labor intensive and weather dependent we are proud to carry on a tradition so rich in local history.