Art students use foundation grant to recycle, repurpose pottery clay

Above, Mary Alice Easterbrooks uses the pugmill to recycle clay waste. (Courtesy photo)

ROCHELLE — John Dobbs is most widely known as an art teacher and cross country/track coach, but another important role he plays at Rochelle Township High School is head of the Green Team which recycles many hundreds of pounds of paper every week.  It wasn’t surprising then, when Dobbs looked around at the dust generated in his pottery studio and saw it as wasted medium.

Dobbs’ potters employ various pieces of equipment in their creative process. Three most often used are kilns, wheels, and some form of equipment to bring dry clay to usable form.  The high school had adequate equipment for throwing and firing pottery and when the Flagg Road pottery studio was designed, potter wheels were added. As the years passed and demand for the popular classes increased sharply, Dobbs realized the savings he could recoup by using a pugging machine to mix and reclaim clay. 

“To reclaim clay safely and properly, the department needed a pugging/ mixing machine; one capable of providing for our growing needs,” said Dobbs.

 “A Pugmill/mixer prepares clay for use. Generally speaking, only potters who are doing a large volume of work like RTHS does (more than 3,700 lbs of clay per year) and we need to own a pug mill. We use commercially available clays that have already been mixed and pugged; however, the recycling of clay scraps and pieces not kept by the students can be recycled in a pugmill,” Dobbs said as he appealed to the RTHS Education Foundation for assistance.

The three main pieces of clay processing equipment are clay mixers, pugmills, and pugger-mixers. Clay mixers mix clay body ingredients and recycle clay scraps. Pug mills homogenize clay that has already been mixed. Pugger-mixers can do both.

“The product we requested was a pugger-mixer,” he said. “It allows us to safely recycle the clay and reduce the dust in the classroom environment by reusing the clay scraps immediately with a wet clay body which is dust free.”

The pugger-mixer was an investment piece for sure. Pugger-mixers come in at just over $6,000.

“The projected life expectancy of a pug mill like the one we requested is at least 30 years,” Dobbs explained. “I figure that this particular pug mill will process over 60,000 pounds of clay in its lifetime, reducing consumption while teaching students and local artists to reuse and recycle.”

Dobbs says he anticipates the use of a pugmill to achieve three goals:  Reducing the amount of clay purchased. Recycling should reduce our clay consumption by 10-15 percent; purchasing less product will save money; time savings — the pugmill is a safe device that can be operated by all students. They can recycle and mix the clay to the consistency of their liking. This will free Dobbs up for more one on one instruction.

The RTHSEF funded Dobbs’ request and during a mid-morning pottery class while some students threw on the wheel and others glazed pieces for the kiln, still others collected clay scraps and added them to the pugger-mixer for reuse by the next class.

Join the RTHS Education Foundation for its fall fundraiser, “One More Night: a Retro Prom” on Saturday, Oct. 13 at the Bearrows Sale Barn on 10786 East Fowler Road, Rochelle. This 21 and older event will feature a DJ, Karaoke, a raffle, and Hicks BBQ.  Tickets are available at Holcomb Bank, Salinas Chiropractic and The Rack or by calling 815-561-5594.


Video News