Brick Clay by JoDee Samuelson

Brick clay

The Cove Journal | JoDee Samuelson

Save Article Share Tweet

It must be summer. We’re leaving windows open at night, going down to the Cove twice a day, eating our own lettuce, making plans for summer visitors. And yes, the Perennial Sale was a big success, thank you for asking.

So I can finally relax. Get out my paints. Find a compelling subject. Naturally I am pulled to the shore: shells, driftwood, seaweed, overhanging trees and roots, dangling stairs to nowhere, crumbling ramparts of sandstone. And at the base of one rock face, a bright red horizontal seam of clay: brick clay.

Recently my farm neighbour told me that they have a patch of brick clay in the corner of a field. They use it to spread on the floor of stalls. Occasionally, rather than dig the clay themselves, they order a truckload from a local contractor. It can’t be in short supply.

I pick up a few chunks of clay and break them apart: crumbly. My mother, a potter who liked to dig her own clay, would take a wet lump of clay, squeeze and roll it in her hands, and if it stuck together it was “plastic” and good for pottery. This crumbly clay is definitely not plastic. I wonder, could I make my own “Island Red” paint if I ground it up super fine and mixed it with linseed oil? Perhaps.

Or I could make bricks. It’s been done here before. In 1861 nine brick kilns were in operation across the Island. The Charlottetown Brick Company, located on the present site of the Experimental Farm, advertised in 1879 that they could supply “any number of bricks up to one million, at prices lower than ever before.” (Charlottetown Examiner, December 2, 1879)

A year later this company had started producing pottery and was described thusly: “The lot on which the works are situated is eight acres in size. A short distance from the surface is a layer of superior brick clay, from four to six feet deep. Under this is a layer of sand and sandstone, beneath which is a layer of fine red clay, which is used for pottery purposes, [perhaps] thirty feet thick.” (Weekly Examiner, June 11, 1880)

Who knew? It appears that in the Cove, at the base of the capes, this thin red seam of brick clay is a mere sampling of the layers that lie beneath the surface of our lush green Island. In his beautiful book Island at the Centre of the World geologist John Calder writes about the many fossils found on the Island. Now I look at every rock, trying to find my own fossil.

So what should I paint? That cruise ship on the horizon? This broken lobster trap? These rocks tumbled to roundness in a narrow crevice between two sandstone slabs? Hello… what’s this… a brick? I pick it up and admire its uneven texture and shape. Locally made? Remnant of a building that tumbled over the cliff? Washed in from the shipwreck of the Flora T that was carrying bricks from Pictou to Charlottetown?

Don’t know. I’ll take it home and use it for inspiration. Surely something will come to me.

Jodee SamuelsonThe Cove Journal
JoDee Samuelson

Born and raised in the Canadian prairies, JoDee now lives in “the Cove” on the Island’s beautiful South Shore. She was a maker of animated films for most of her working life, and presently putters at less demanding artistic ventures like carving owls, painting Island scenes on small woodblocks, and playing ukelele.