Reid Harvey on fri 13 nov 98
Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire
To: All on Clayart
There is an urgent need for a volunteer group, like a kind of Ceramic
Peace Corps. This has been suggested from time to time in different
forums, but I believe the urgent need for this is poorly understood both
among ceramists and among organizations working in 'developing
countries.' Ceramists everywhere can play a unique part in greatly
improving the living conditions of disadvantaged people around the
world. And ceramics offers a doorway to the 'development' process.
After four years in remote parts of Africa, capacity building with
ceramists, I now have a decent internet connection and can for the first
time work towards raising awareness. But there is a great need for the
kind of synergy made possible by a group of people, of ceramists working
together. This is to appeal to ceramists to help make this happen.
I am aware that Clayart is largely oriented toward art. However the
kinds of low-tech problems that appear every day on this list are
practically like high-tech in many 'developing countries.' Problems
having to do with kilns, refractories, claybodies, glazes and forming
techniques are all seriously needed in these places.
In fact, ceramics can be thought of as the starting point of nearly all
industry because of what comes out of kilns and furnaces. Materials and
resources needed to develop small businesses are available almost
everywhere. What is primarily lacking is education.
Some of the kinds of products made possible through ceramics include:
tableware, building materials, sanitaryware (of a very simple kind),
ceramic cook stoves (which are highly fuel efficient), water filters,
food storage containers. Developing refractories from local materials
enables improved foundaries and metal working. Capabilities in these
areas enable many different kinds of products in totally different
areas. Many kinds of jobs can be created out of what ceramists, working
together are able to do.
Not to say too much here, already feeling as if I'm on a soapbox, I
would love to see further discussion on this subject. I have been trying
to find just the right words to express these ideas for a few weeks, in
the end deciding it's important just to get the idea out. If you can
offer positive experiences or ideas, please do help.
Thanks in advance.
Mike Delaney on sat 14 nov 98
This is similar to Potter's for Peace. They work with the potters from
Nicaragua. I went as an intern recently and had a great experience
teaching some how to throw on a kick wheel. The family I stayed with
survived the hurricane but their town was hit very hard. The clay is now
underwater and Potter's for Peace are trying to get funds together to go in
and train potters to make water filters. My high school calss is getting
togeher funds to send for this project. Enola in Indiana
> From: Reid Harvey
> To: CLAYART@LSV.UKY.EDU
> Subject: A Ceramic Peace Corps
> Date: Friday, November 13, 1998 3:38 PM
> ----------------------------Original message----------------------------
> Reid Harvey
> Ceramiques d'Afrique
> Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire
> West Africa
> To: All on Clayart
> There is an urgent need for a volunteer group, like a kind of Ceramic
> Peace Corps. This has been suggested from time to time in different
> forums, but I believe the urgent need for this is poorly understood both
> among ceramists and among organizations working in 'developing
> countries.' Ceramists everywhere can play a unique part in greatly
> improving the living conditions of disadvantaged people around the
> world. And ceramics offers a doorway to the 'development' process.
> After four years in remote parts of Africa, capacity building with
> ceramists, I now have a decent internet connection and can for the first
> time work towards raising awareness. But there is a great need for the
> kind of synergy made possible by a group of people, of ceramists working
> together. This is to appeal to ceramists to help make this happen.
> I am aware that Clayart is largely oriented toward art. However the
> kinds of low-tech problems that appear every day on this list are
> practically like high-tech in many 'developing countries.' Problems
> having to do with kilns, refractories, claybodies, glazes and forming
> techniques are all seriously needed in these places.
> In fact, ceramics can be thought of as the starting point of nearly all
> industry because of what comes out of kilns and furnaces. Materials and
> resources needed to develop small businesses are available almost
> everywhere. What is primarily lacking is education.
> Some of the kinds of products made possible through ceramics include:
> tableware, building materials, sanitaryware (of a very simple kind),
> ceramic cook stoves (which are highly fuel efficient), water filters,
> food storage containers. Developing refractories from local materials
> enables improved foundaries and metal working. Capabilities in these
> areas enable many different kinds of products in totally different
> areas. Many kinds of jobs can be created out of what ceramists, working
> together are able to do.
> Not to say too much here, already feeling as if I'm on a soapbox, I
> would love to see further discussion on this subject. I have been trying
> to find just the right words to express these ideas for a few weeks, in
> the end deciding it's important just to get the idea out. If you can
> offer positive experiences or ideas, please do help.
> Thanks in advance.
> Reid Harvey
Reid Harvey on sun 15 nov 98
Thanks to the dozen people, or so, who responded to me directly on the
subject of a ceramic peace corps. Following is forwarded from Michael
Banks, and at his suggestion I have made comments, though somewhat
lengthy, at the end.
Michael Banks wrote:
> Hello Reid,
> I spent last year working in Viet Nam doing mineral exploration and have
> been considering offering my help in ceramic projects there, as I have quite
> a lot of experience in this field too. But Viet Nam has a considerable
> industry already, exporting all over Asia and even to Australia and New
> Zealand, so the need is probably much greater in Africa.
> So I was very interested in your query for discussion on ClayArt about the
> need for a volunteer group, as it has prompted me to consider helping in
> Here in NZ, aid organizations respond to requests at the governmental level
> to proposas for specific projects and find appropriate volunteers already
> registered with them to fund. I realize that one of the points made in your
> message, is that these organizations are not adequetely addressing the
> fundamental importance or need for a basic ceramics industry in development.
> So they may not be the best vehicle for a ceramics group drawn from several
> different contries. Do you have any proposals for a different approach?
> Maybe one avenue is to ask the relevant government department in the
> relevant country to draft up specific proposals, or at least raise their
> awareness that a ceramic industry will have tangible benefits. If this is
> an unrealistic comment, let me know, bluntly if I need it!
> If you have the time, I would be keen to hear more of what Ceramiques
> d'Afrique is and any details of what you are already doing, or wish to do in
> the field in the future. You may wish to reply to this via ClayArt group to
> reach everyone.
Michael makes good points about the way aid organizations respond to
requests made on the government level. I have spent fifteen years in
Africa, working with several aid organizations and the U.N., and have
often encountered a lack of understanding as to what ceramics is. It is
frustrating that organizations with a primary interest in creating micro
projects and income generating activities do not know that ceramics goes
beyond pots. (Apologies to potters, who are no less vitally needed.)
In answering Michael's question, it is necessary to raise awareness on
all levels. This needs to be done by individuals ceramists and
especially by groups of ceramists. Aid organizations, donors,
governments, anyone involved with development needs to be told about the
vitality ceramics offers, as well as just what ceramics is. I think it
is especially impoertant that regional and national ceramic
organizations be patiently encouraged to take a strong stand and help
There is a consensus among those working for development here in Africa
that real development will only happen through education and training of
individuals in micro-projects. Big projects have a bad history of
failure, though this is often covered up in annual reports.
In my considered opinion, the fact is this: without ceramic projects
many good income generating activities can be initiated but their
results will be a pale comparison of those in close proximity to
ceramics. This is because ceramic projects enable many new kinds of
other projects. Ceramic projects are at the cornerstone of induastrial
capability. Without ceramics, small countries will be forever dependent
on industrial ones (and on the forces of economies outside their own.)
Here is an example of development coming out of ceramic processes:
Lindsay Publications in Bradlee, Illinois, carries a set of seven
booklets called, the Build Your Own Metal Working Shop Series. The first
book is called the Charcoal Foundary (which depends directly on
ceramics: foundary linings and ceramic shell molds). I was impressed by
the simplicity of the author's approach, so I built a charcoal foundary
after his design. This consists of a five gallon, metal pale in which is
rammed a mixture of sand and clay, common materials. An old hair drier
can be used at the base of this foundary to boost temperatures to the
1550C, or so, needed to melt iron scrap. Working in West Africa, in
Guinea we melted iron in the same kind of foundary, with the aid of a
hand operated centrifugal blower. The charcoal foundary costs about
US$50.00 in scrap and parts.
The second booklet is called, the Metal Lathe. The lathe can be built
using aluminum parts cast from the charcoal foundary. Once the lathe is
built it is possible to turn the parts needed for following instructions
in the other books, thus building a milling machine, drill press, sheet
metal break, etc., all the machines needed in a complete shop. From this
beginning, now having a machine shop it is possible to put together a
wide array of machines.
Money to buy the scrap needed to build the machines is negligible, a few
hundred dollars. An investment in time, perhaps a year or more is
needed. And an expert machinist is needed to teach local people. Other
inputs vary by locale, but need not be expensive. The primary outside
input is education, as would be the case with a ceramic peace corps.
So when a part breaks on a village's one water pump, they don't need to
abandon the pump, as so frequently happens. They can get the part from
their local machine shop.
I would venture the additional opinion that developing this kind of
project might be the very best way of developing a foundary, a machine
shop and the requisite skills to their productive use. One reason for
this is that no outside inputs are needed, the scrap and other materials
locally available. Another reason is that the project participants,
building their own machines have a new stake in ownership.
The point here is that the machine shop was made possible by the
foundary, complete with its ceramic lining and further, ceramic shell
molds (for poured metal) and ceramic crucible. The example given here
deals only with foundaries. Ceramic processes are also vitally need for
building materials, water filters, fuel efficient cook stoves,
low-profile toilets, and many other products.
I hope these comments are considered useful. I am not always very
articulate and am frequently opinionated; reasons why I have waited this
long to speak up in this way.
Thanks to all who find this information of interest. I would love to
address any further comments.
P.S. Here in West Africa it is widely understood that upto the mid 1800s
there were foundaries casting iron. Without being able to give specific
incidents in history, it is my impression that these foundaries all
closed because their products were supplanted by imported ones. With the
closing of foundaries many dependent industries and skills were also
lost. And recently I was told that the iron industry in the U.S., back
in the mid 1800s, depended largely on skilled African slaves in its
development. I do not wish to go any further with the political
implications of this. That would not be productive. My primary point is
that ceramic and metal, high temperature industries are vitally needed,
starting with the raising of awareness.
Reid Harvey on thu 19 nov 98
Thanks Steve for your information about the perspective of Potters for
Peace, and for the good work you're doing in Nicaragua. Potters for
Peace has been the closest thing I've seen to a ceramic peace corps,
with huge potential for improving living conditions in Central America.
Now all we need to do is duplicate your approach in about 150 other
You asked me about Liberia. As you probably know I worked on a glass art
project there from 1971 to 1982. I became involved with ceramics because
of my experiences there. I will never forget that we had to import the
refractory brick for our glass kilns, even though we were sitting on a
beautiful deposit of almost pure kaolin. With the advent of imports from
the West a hundred years earlier, people in Liberia had forgotten how to
work with ceramic and metal materials.
And how frequently I heard young Liberians bemoaning their inability to
manufacture anything. I began to see all to clearly a serious problem
that still effects much of Africa today, a cycle of raw material
exportation and finished goods importation, making them perpetually
dependent on wealthy countries. (Really I have no political intent! Just
describing the problem!) So the question is: when will donors and aid
agencies, who have seen the vital importance of micro-projects, begin to
see what ceramics can offer?
I also remember well your experience with electrical, low tension
insulators in Nicaragua. Can you recount the story? If I am correct,
despite PFP's ability to supply a contract for the insulators,
potentially saving Nicaragua $500,000.00 a year in hard currency, the
contract for these was lost. A donor stipulated use of their country's
filters. (I am not naming names.)
Thanks again for what you are doing,
Steve Earp wrote:
I'd like to thank Reid Harvey for initiating this thread. He mentioned
Potters for Peace, which is doing exactly what he described. Just to
update some info on PFP, we have been expanding our efforts to countries
like Ecuador, Cuba, and Haiti. We've initiated contacts in South
Africa, and other places.
Right now we are putting all our efforts into jumpstarting production of
individual home ceramic water filters for Hurricane Mitch relief. Clean
water will be one of the most important life or death issues for the
people of Central America for some time now.
If anybody is at all interested in what we can do to help, please
contact potters for peace at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out our web
site (hopefully the long overdue update will be running by now) at
The Ceramic Peace Corp idea is a very valuable one. I'd like to add a
few additional comments to Reid's examples of it's usefulness. Unlike
North America, pottery is still an intregal part of the life and culture
of many 3rd world areas. Practically everything, from floor tiles to
bricks to roof tiles to water jars to cooking utinsils are made from the
same clay deposit. In the countryside, pottery (either kitchen pots or
flower pots) is a principle source of income for many women. However,
economic forces are ruining much of this fragile economy. Due to cheap
plastic imports as well as the lure away from tradition of so many youth
(all too often, towards drugs, prostitution etc). A culture is
threatened. Groups like PFP work to address these concerns.
As Reid indicates, entire economies can be strengthened by focusing on
ceramic development, from the ground up, as it were.
ps, Reid, perhaps you remember visiting us in Nicaragua several years
ago. Days after you left, the civil war which brought Charles Taylor to
power broke out in Liberia. I always wanted to ask you about that.