Monday, April 14, 2008
Magnetitus of the Mountain Mine
Last Tuesday, April 7th, Josh, Maya and I went on a trip to find an old abandoned iron mine rumored to be in the area near Penland. Following Jeff Supplee's (he's a geologist potter who has done a lot of work with making glazes with locally sourced materials, i.e. rocks) directions we drove north on route 19 and stopped at the gas station in Cranberry to inquire about this iron mine. We saw this sign which we took as a good omen of the mine's proximity. We followed the simple directions and within the hour we found ourselves looking into a hole in the earth.
Thanks be to Josh Copus for providing these photos of our prospecting.
A word about why we undertook this trek: the focus of this class as well as the mentality of the teachers and assistants is that going out in your back yard to find your materials is A) pretty awesome and B) old school. A lot of potters can go their whole lives using commercially/industrially procured materials, which is fine if that's what they're into. I don't mean to be preachy or holier than thou, I'm just getting excited about the prospects of using materials that are locally specific. It is an aesthetic choice as much as it is decision to make everything harder, ie dig clay, find the right rocks, process wood ash, etc.
Now, about this mine: iron is a very common metal oxide in the potter's pallet. We use iron in glazes to get certain colors, or in clay bodies to give them a certain color for contrast. This mine is known to have a certain iron oxide called magnetite or ferrous ferric oxide or Fe3O4; it is not a common iron oxide for potters and it's kinda hard to find, but we hope to use it as a pigment for decoration on the surface of the pots. The coolest thing about this trip and the coolest thing about magnetite is that as the name would suggest it is magnetic. To figure out which piece of rock in the mine was truly magnetite we brought with us a couple of magnets to hunt for the right rocks. Whatever stuck to the magnet we threw in a sack to haul back to Penland (that stuff is heavy). We found places in the mine were whole sections of wall would hold the magnet, just like a refrigerator.
The mine itself was pretty awesome, apparently it goes a couple of miles into the earth although we only explored the very mouth having forgot flashlights.
These are some of the larger rocks we brought back. It's hard to make out, but you can see the magnet we used stuck to the hunk of magnetite.
Here's Maya and myself holding up a chunk of the day's find.