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.

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.

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

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 now wedged (like kneading) to form a lump.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.