Bhante clay process

My Buddhist teacher died in October 2018. After the funeral I was offered a couple of big buckets of earth which had been dug out for the grave. I gladly accepted it and have set about making Buddhist devotional objects from this clay. Currently, I am making malas (a Buddhist rosary used for chanting mantras) and symbolic alms bowls (the Buddha as a wandering mendicant and monks to this day use a bowl on their alms round to receive food offered by the local community for their one daily meal). 

 

See below to learn how I processed the raw clay and turned it into a usable body. The Bhante Clay Devotional Objects page shows some finished items. Do contact me if you would like to find out more or make an order.

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First retreat after the death of my teac
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What is Bhante clay? Bhante is a Pali word used by Buddhists and means something like venerable. My Buddhist teacher was often addressed as Bhante. It’s what I have called the clay I have created by mixing 25% of the raw clay (which was dug from the grave site before the burial of Sangharakshita in November 2018) with 75% of my usual bought white stoneware clay.

There are stages in the processing of raw clay to make it usable.

1. After drying out the earth/clay and crushing it into small, even lumps, it is slaked in a bucket of water just covering the surface.

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4. The sieved clay now needs to be left so the water can slowly evaporate until it is of a malleable consistency.

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7. The Bhante clay is wedged with my usual white stoneware clay. I made two batches in proportions of 25% Bhante clay : 75% S/W clay and 50% Bhante clay : 50% S/W clay.

10. I also made a range of test bowls so I could see how they respond to glaze.

13. First tests from the 1180ºC emerge. Items are fired in a tray of sand in case it melts into a puddle all over the kiln shelf which would be disastrous! The colours are warmer and deeper.

2. After the clay has fully absorbed the water, it is passed through a sieve to extract the bits of stone and detritus.

5. The resulting clay is then dried further on a plaster batt and wedged (like kneading) to form a lump.

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8. The wedging shows how gradually the two clays are combined to form one uniform clay body with a smooth consistency.

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11. The first (bisque) firing at 1000ºC takes place. The colours of the clay after firing are very attractive.

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14. First bowls made with the new 25/75 clay.

3. The sieving is repeated with decreasing mesh size until the required ratio of pure clay to grit/inclusions is achieved.

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6. I mixed the Bhante clay with my usual white stoneware clay. This is because pure dug clay will usually not hold up to higher temperatures of the kiln.

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9. Clay shrinkage tests must now be made in order to assess how the clay will stand up to various temperatures. I made tests for bisque temperature of 1000ºC, 1180ºC, 1200ºC and 1240ºC.

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12. Test pieces are glazed and ready for glaze firings at various temperatures.

15. First mala in progress. Hand made beads are fired on a special bead firing frame of heat resistant metal.