EDGERTON—It’s hard for Fred Maves to describe his role with the Edgerton Clay Day, Art and Pottery Festival.
“I’m just the clay guy,” he said. “I’m not much on organization, that sort of thing.”
But Maves’ passion for pottery helped kick-start the fledgling festival, which will celebrate its third official year—and fourth in total—Saturday, July 21, at Central Park.
The free event will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and give people a chance to sit down at a pottery wheel and play with clay.
Maves sought those hands-on learning opportunities back in 2015, when he helped launch a makeshift Clay Day. Edgerton was planning a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new pottery plaza outside City Hall.
“I talked to the city administrator, Ramona Flanigan, and said, ‘Well, that’s it? You’re going to cut the ribbon and that’s all? Is anybody going to be throwing any clay around here?’” Maves said. “She said, ‘Yeah, that sounds good to me.’”
He brought some pottery wheels to that ceremony for public use, a haphazard debut for the inaugural festival. It returned in a more organized fashion the next year under the Arts Council of Edgerton’s umbrella.
Pottery has a history in Edgerton because of the blue-gray clay abundant in the area. Clay companies from Chicago moved in to exploit the resource in the mid- to late 1800s.
A type of pottery called slip casting was popular at the time, and Edgerton’s clay was ideal for that manufacturing process.
Maves said if he gets time during next weekend’s festival, he plans on giving slip-casting demonstrations. He tried to explain the process over the phone to a reporter, but hands-on experience seems necessary for any novice’s understanding.
The slip-casting boom of the mid- to late 1800s, when as many as six pottery companies called the city home, predated Edgerton’s claim to fame as a tobacco powerhouse, Maves said.
“You’ll see there’s actually some signage there (at the pottery plaza) of all the clay companies that were active back then,” he said. “It put Edgerton on the map for a number of reasons, including bricks. They made millions of bricks with that same clay.
“It’s just like heritage. It’s good stuff,” he said. “It’s what the city’s based on in a way.”
The shared history of clay and tobacco will come together this year, with Clay Day and Tobacco Heritage Days both being held on the same day. Maves hopes the tobacco crowd at Racetrack Park will carry over to Central Park.
Local band Tad of Sarahcha and singer Bree Morgan will perform at Clay Day. Kids can get dirty at a clay stomp, where they stomp and mix clay with their feet. Vendors will sell art, and Maves is making some commemorative pieces based on the sculptures at the pottery plaza.
Six pottery wheels should be available for people to try their hands at sculpting. The clay that will be used was mined from an area off Lawton Street, he said.
Any experience level can participate, and people should feel no pressure to sculpt a terracotta masterpiece.
“A lot of people are maybe closet artists ... who knows?” Maves said. “Clay’s just good fun. Sit down, get messy and try your shot at it.”