Marine Sediments

Marine Sediments

A deep dive into oceanic sediments...

As far as we know, these materials had never been metamorphized through the high temperatures of a ceramic kiln, nor utilized for art. As a wild clay artist, this excited me greatly. The ocean is the largest secondary clay deposit we have. All rivers, streams, and precipitating mountains allow their fine grains to travel down, some into lake beds, like the ones we find in the desert, crackling, exploding with fine, workable clay that has been used for centuries. But the bottom of the ocean has a hundred thousand lifetimes in it and life forms!

Fine clay silt settles gently to the bottom after its voyage from land, mixing with the fallen marine life inhabiting the areas further back in time than our minds can easily comprehend.

When scientists want to study an area’s history, especially a marine area, they will call on push cores. A clear tube (pictured below) that is sometimes short in length and sometimes many feet are pushed carefully with deep sea robotics. This method of soil harvesting creates a photo of the passage of time. Scientists can look at the layers of these sediments, and through carbon dating, discover what year a volcano erupted, what year an earthquake spat rich debris into the ocean, and even how the population of certain species has increased or declined over time.

Pteropods are a group of animals that make up the base of the oceanic food chain, including sea butterflies, sea snails, and sea angels. The settled dust of their endoskeletons are used on “Still Waters” and “Aloha Aina” and can be seen as shades of blue on the white porcelain. They yielded the most shocking transformation of all. This nearly pure calcium carbonate is chalk white, and remains so through the process of collecting, processing and incrementally firing, until we reach 1200C, when suddenly, like a blissful return to home, it escapes the kiln as bright blue as the ocean. A color that is rare and hard to create in nature, particularly in geologic work. I have worked with many clays before, ones sentimental, ones gifted, ones from exotic locations far away from home, and they all deserve my reverence. But I had not yet, until this Pteropod dust, compressed in mortar and pestle, rubbed between my hands, and created art with, the remains of living creatures. I like to think that the pieces that resulted are worthy of their contribution. 
Image of pteropod snails taken by the NOAA Ocean Acidification Program. and shown on "Still Waters" at the Scripps Oceanography Institute.
Below: A late night in the studio applying marine sediments with kelp.
The red clays on “Red Tide,” earthenware, showing splinters of past organisms, highlighted yellow against the maroon clay backdrop after firing. These sediments are full of surprises and small gifts upon each viewing. They cannot be recreated, they are custom to a place and time, and require the hours of countless scientists simply to retrieve, before even more work begins. I am thrilled to give these special materials a second opportunity to speak for their origin through art.
Pieces from this collection were displayed at the new Scripps Marine Conservation and Technology Facility in Nov. 2023. The data sheet of marine sediment testing can be seen below.
Early testing of marine sediments done in the Summer of 2023 by the artist.