A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity to visit a 130 year old clay pipe factory in Pittsburg, Kansas (2 hours due south of Kansas City by car). Over the past few years I had been talking with Bryan Vansell, whose family owns and operates Mission Clay Products headquartered in Corona, California. He described the inventory at the Pittsburg, Kansas clay pipe plant and invited me to visit. I was able to co-ordinate a visit with Bryan post NCECA Milwaukee.
The plant operated for most of it’s life as the WS Dickey Clay Manufacturing Company, and had a 100 acre footprint with 30+ beehive kilns during it’s heyday (Mission Clay Products acquired the plant a number of years ago). This is the same factory that Jun Kaneko worked from 2005-2008 to build, dry and fire numerous dangos and heads in the beehive kilns; visit: http://www.junkaneko.com/images/uploads/Special-Projects-Catalogue.pdf
As we toured the property and stopped to photograph the variety and extent of finished product on site, a sense of awe began to set in. This plant was about 4 times the size of the Archie Bray Foundation property and had nearly 5 times the number of beehive kilns. Acres and acres of finished pipe product awaits delivery or creative use.
The largest pipe were incredibly impressive, up to 4′ diameter and 10′ high, weighing up to 1.5 tons each! The variety of smaller pipe were also amazing with short and long lengths and various bits and pieces manufactured to connect any combination of pipes. It was that feeling of being a ‘kid in a candy store’ again! Beautiful fired colors and surfaces, some of the older product shiny with a salted finish, and some that had acquired a patina with age.
Needless to say, I left Pittsburg, Kansas with my creative juices ‘fired up’! I spent the next few days processing the experience and making notes and small drawings of ideas for large-scale work. The potential for the acres of fired clay product at this clay pipe plant seems limitless. Time will tell what might come of the possibilities!