Artist truly digs pottery

Potter Rudy Bauer uses the muddy clay found in yards and beaches to make beautiful one-of-a-kind pottery. Bauer digs the clay, breaks it down in water, and brushes it onto his pottery to form glazes and colors not found in commercial glazes.

"We live on clay left by glaciers and all this glacial flour is underneath us. We live on 40 to 70 feet of clay," said Bauer.

Most clay can be used to glaze pots if it contains enough carbon. The outcome is different every time because the makeup of the clay varies.

Clay was formed when the land of the peninsula was underwater. The color and texture of the glaze differs depending on the animals that died and fell to the bottom of the ocean. Bauer uses clay from around the peninsula as well as around the country. He experiments with the clays to find which works best and which ones combine well.

Iron colors clay

The best clays contain silica, alumina, feldspar or talc and a colorant. Iron is the naturally occurring colorant in the clay here.

"I use those glazes as a base to jump off from to do experiments in glaze layering."

Bauer makes test tiles to find out what each batch of glaze will do on the different clays he uses to make his pottery.

"I use chemistry and computer programs to use known glazes and things I make up to form something new. Or I use these naturally occurring glazes, which are much more challenging because you don't know what is in there and you don't really have control. Potters like to be in control because if we're not, we waste a lot of time.

"My father was a chemist and once I learned that glazing was chemistry, there was no turning back."

It takes time, experimentation and research for potters to learn how each glaze works and how to combine it with others to get new and different looks.

One of Bauer's experiments is to wrap the forms in seaweed and fire them in his wood kiln. He also uses an acid wash wrapped in aluminum foil in the wood kiln. These give beautiful colors and patterns but the pottery isn't well-sealed, so it is decorative only.

"I always have a mentor. They are my reality checks."

Bauer will have a show at the Sequim Museum and Art Center this summer to demonstrate all the variety of local glazes.

Form is first

"You have to have beautiful forms to put the glaze on. If you don't know how to make beautiful forms, you have to go back to square one. I am always working to make my line progress.

"Without perfect forms you shouldn't be doing this. The inside should be as good as the outside because you're buying the whole piece. If you pick up a pot and look at the bottom, you can tell how good the potter is. The bottom should be as good as the parts you can see. I'm trying to loosen up my forms through impressions (to decorate the sides)."

Potters also use clay to make the forms they glaze, but this clay has different components so it melts at a higher temperature than the glaze. The pottery clay turns into glass while the glaze clay melts and colors.

Bauer uses two different types of clay for his forms. One is a fine porcelain that has no sand in it, is pure white and almost like toothpaste when first opened. This makes fine delicate pottery and often can be so thin lights shines through it.

Art of science

The other is stoneware that has sand and refired clay in it and is more utilitarian. The stoneware is easier to work with and is very strong. He fires it to the point where it is almost stone.

"The science is enormous," said Bauer.

Science is necessary to know how to make the forms, how to apply the glaze, how the chemicals will work together, how old the chemicals are, how long to fire the pieces and at what temperatures and how to cool the piece.

Bauer started making pottery after his wife and son became interested. He bought them a wheel and became intrigued by what they were doing. One evening his wife showed him how to work the wheel.

"Not knowing what I was doing, I grabbed a big ball of clay, put it on the wheel and an hour later I had a bowl. I just let my brain think through my fingers. I've never stopped."

Potters must practice until their fingers and brain work together. That way the form is even, the thickness of the clay is even and the base will hold the piece.

Empty Bowls Project

Bauer is a retired nurse, leaving in 1994 when he became involved in making pottery. He still likes helping people. Consequently, he has become involved in the Empty Bowls Project.

For the project, people buy a bowl of soup. The buyers keep the bowl, and the food bank receives the money for the meal. Bauer and several of his friends make these bowls to help feed the hungry.

Rubbing his thumb softly on a porcelain bowl, Bauer said, "My pottery is important because it brings pleasure to people. You know we are surrounded in this world by a lot of things that are so irrelevant. To me pottery is something that came to us from early times. If you didn't have pottery, you didn't have anything to eat from. What's important to me is passing along a craft that shouldn't be lost. For someone to take one of my cups and put it to their lips and drink out of it, there's a connection between them and the potter whose fingers made that. It's in my mind with everything I make."

Dana Casey can be reached at

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