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Mixing clay, creating community

By Corene Brisendine

Jarred Pfeiffer participated in his first clay stomp at 6 months old.

Pfeiffer’s dad held the first clay stomp in 1974 in Wisconsin as a way to make cheaper clay for his personal use, but he instead found it was a way to build bonds of community by having fun and getting a little dirty.

“This is all because my dad has done these clay stomps for the last 40 years,” Pfeiffer said.

Pfeiffer said that he wanted to make a lasting impression at Kansas State University before he graduates in May with master’s degree in fine arts. So he decided to hold the first Clay Stomp at K-State. The practical goal is to mix 3,500 pounds of clay for the fall semester to use in the various pottery and ceramic classes. The emotional goal is to build a sense of community among the participants.

“Nobody cares what color skin you are, if you’re a guy or a girl, you just get in and get dirty,” Pfeiffer said. “We all look the same when we are covered in clay.”

Elizabeth Boardman, junior in digital art at K-State, invited two of her friends to stomp clay Saturday morning.

“I decided that since I am going to be using it this semester, I should probably help,” Boardman said. “That and I just wanted to get dirty.”

Boardman said that while her major is digital art, she is taking a first-year ceramics class. She said she might consider picking up a few more ceramics classes after having fun at the stomp.

A group of 40 area middle school girls also participated through a program called Girls Researching Our World. The program is a part of the K-State Office for the Advancement of Women in Science and Engineering. The girls attended a lecture prior to joining the clay stomp to learn the principles of chemistry that are involved in making clay.

“What that does is show how engineers and scientists work with the performing arts and other arts to create magic, said Yasche Glass, program coordinator.

Mixing clay involves combining the dry components — fire clay, feldspar, silica and ball clay — with water and stomping the mixture flat. Once the pile of clay has been stomped flat, participants pile the clay back up and stomp it flat again.

“It just turns the clay over and creates a more homogeneous mixture,” Pfeiffer said.

Pfeiffer said the group would probably continue to stomp the clay for four hours before bagging it up into manageable 25-pound bags for use in art classes for the semester.

The first set of clay sculptures, bowls and ceramics made with the clay will go on sale when the K-State Potter’s Guild holds its first sale in October.

And Pfeiffer may have left the legacy he’d hoped for: The two K-State professors in charge of the ceramics department have already agreed to continue stomping clay and building community long after Pfeiffer graduates.

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