clay exchange – brickfield

Reaching out to the world Clay Exchange is a way for artists from Cornwall to see other places and for artists from other places to see St Austell. It is concerned with developing St Austell’s national and international networks, working with ceramic arts initiatives, festivals and communities, in particular the development of collaborations with the British Ceramic Biennale and other partners in Stoke-on-Trent such as Emma Bridgewater and the City Council.

Our first project is Brickfield, a community arts project set in the heart of Cornwall’s clay country run by Rosanna Martin and Georgia Gendall. It involves the creation of an experimental brickworks at a site in St Austell’s Clay Country. Making reference to the landscape’s industrial heritage and drawing on local material resources, the project aims to develop a new site for collective community brick production. Rosanna and Georgia will be working with a wide range of community groups, students, architects, and local businesses as well as calling on brick making experts, clay country geologists and historians.

Brickfield will use traditional brickmaking methods as a catalyst and framework for bringing communities together and exploring how through collective thinking and shared labour, we can make a new site of handmade industry. The processes involved in traditional brick-making are accessible and fun as well as providing a unique insight into an entire making cycle from clay collection to fired end product. Through this collaborative endeavour we aim to both galvanise existing communities and generate new ones.

Together with community groups from around Clay Country, we will design, make and fire a new Clay Country brick. We will make a volume of bricks over the duration of the project which will be stacked to make a specialist brick kiln that will be fired as part of Whitegold 2019, providing a focal point for visitors to gather, tell stories and find out about the process of brickmaking.

What does the project involve?

In June/July there will be opportunities to take part in field trips exploring the china clay landscape to learn how the china clay industry has shaped the countryside around St Austell and to find clay samples that might be good for making bricks. With help from Imerys, Rosanna and Georgia will be experimenting with by-products collected from the industrial processing of china clay and combining these with other materials to create a new clay body that will have unique characteristics specific to the area.

In August there will be a series of workshops that will involve designing a new brick with its own distinctive stamp and name and from which special brick frames will be made. Once we have our basic brick design and moulds for making them we will set up a brick-making production site in clay country. On site there will be opportunities to get involved in all stages of making the new clay country brick. This will involve: mixing and preparing clay, adding combustibles to the mix, wedging the clay to remove air, pressing clay into wooden moulds, knocking out the bricks and laying them to dry before they are finally added to the kiln to be fired.

The traditional way to fire bricks is done using a brick clamp kiln which is, roughly speaking a big stack of bricks piled neatly on top of a fire that is contained in a tunnel below. The firing will take several days! Small versions of a clamp kiln will be set up on site over the course of the project, working towards a final firing as part of the Whitegold Festival 2019.

Throughout the project we will be exploring what kinds of architectural structures the bricks could be used for, with an ambition to build a space in 2020, for which events, exhibitions, residencies, talks, story telling and other community activities could be programmed.

Main Activities

Clay Country Field Trips, Clay Collecting, Brick Designing and Naming workshops, Brickmaking Production, Kiln Firing

Cornish Bricks

The first brickworks in Cornwall was part of the Heligan estate and is believed to have begun in 1681, with Heligan House itself being built using clay dug on the estate. A number of brickworks existed across Cornwall, from small scale sites such as Heligan, to larger scale commercial outputs like the one in Par. Often a works would be located where clay was readily available, and could be processed with other materials that came directly from the land such as river mud, china clay by-products such as sand and mica, and decomposed rocks.

Brickfield invites you to get involved in all aspects of the project, for further details or to register interest contact