Sunday, May 31, 2009


From the road, we are sometimes unable to blog for lack of a signal. The 22nd annual Feats of Clay closed May 31st, but not before we got there. The small town of Lincoln hosts this annual event as a fund raiser that can be viewed in three parts: First is the Gladding.Mcbean historic pipe factory tour. Second is the clay art competition held there for 22 years, and third is the Lincoln Art Gallery show.

We were ferried to the factory by a one dollar bus. That isn't the price of the ride, it is the price the city paid for the bus. The volunteer bus driver informed us of that fact after all visitors were seated. The bus ran just fine.

Gladding & McBean, young entrepreneurs, found clay deposits at what was once the bottom of a vast river bed in Lincoln, and began making water pipes for irrigation in 1875. Now, their yard has sewer and drain pipes from small to massive proportions, with giant kilns in which to fire them. What is generally referred to as “Spanish” roofing tiles are stacked head high. Most interesting are the architectural, medallions, gargoyles, angels, and massive friezes to grace tall skyscrapers awaiting them from Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, London and even Italy. Gladding.McBean is world renowned. They train their own craftsmen to do the exacting work of shaping intricate pieces and replicating damaged pieces from old buildings. Most of their work is restoration. They painstakingly build molds for fancy or straight pieces that are reused many times over.

The kilns are an art form in themselves. Huge beehive shaped brick kilns, once fired with wood, are now gas fired. Huge blowers hasten drying the wet sculpted clay. The entrances to each kiln are bricked shut, once they are loaded. A four or five inch peephole is left open to view the cones that inform the observer when to turn off the fire and let the product cool.

Somehow, I had no idea sewer pipes were still made in this old age tested method.

While there, we discovered the factory produced a relief of an Eagle, the symbol of might, used at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center where Jim J did his basic training.

Gladdong.McBean history is illustrious and filled with famous names in architectural design. Humble earth, fired and glazed positioned on a building that will serve the community longer than several lifetimes is the legacy of these artisans.

For 28 wonderful pictures of the place, click the following link:

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