Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fern Fossils

Fern Leaf Panel
fern applied as resist to green ware
later sky blue slip applied, then bisque fired

I just retrieved my leaf panels out of the bisque load yesterday. I use leaves as a resist on the panels and then I paint slip over the whole panel including the leaves. I usually peel the leaves off before firing. This time I was in a rush and just left the slip coated leaves on the panels, thinking the leaves would just burn out. The popular leaves on two leaf panels burned out, leaving a powdery residue I easily brushed away. The fern leaf panel still had slip adhering where the fern leaves were, so I had to scrape away the residue of the fern coated slip.

Fern Leaf Panel
sky blue colored slip applied over fern
after bisque firing, slip scraped from fern sections

As I scraped away, I wondered why the fern coated slip didn't turn to ash like the other leaves. I thought maybe the fern leaves burned at a higher temperature than the other leaves, but this didn't make any sense. Even though the kiln probably only got to Cone 07 (that's another story), I knew 1785 F or so was hot enough to burn up the fern. As I scraped away the slip where the fern impression was, I saw the fern leaf itself was actually gone, but the slip seemed to have chemically reacted with the fern leaf, changing the chemical composition of the slip. If I wiped the panel with a wet sponge, the slip coated fern portion turned a darker color. The slip on the other parts of the panel remained dry and were bonded to the clay.

Fern Platter
fern used as resist,
white slip applied to red clay,
fern removed, ready for bisque firing

I started thinking about fern fossils and how they are formed. I discovered ferns are some of the most common fossils found on earth. Most fern fossils are found near coal mines. The leaf tissue rapidly decomposes and is preserved by chemical reactions of calcite and iron carbonate. I'd like to experiment further with ferns. Next time I'll let the fern remain on the clay through the glaze firing and see if I can produce some man made fern fossils. I'd also like to see some actual fern fossils and try to replicate the look of them on clay. Every process in clay seems to lead me to another process and more experimentation. This week I'm glazing my leaf panels; they should be ready to show you in a couple of weeks. I can't wait to see how they turn out.

For some reason I am drawn to ferns. Ferns appear delicate yet are quite hardy, growing in places where other plants cannot or will not. In West African wisdom ferns are a symbol of endurance, defiance against difficulties, hardiness, perseverance, independence and resourcefulness. This explains a lot about why I am drawn to ferns.

Rose Number 33, along fence line
if you know this rose, please let me know
if not, just guess or make a comment anyway

There were about 40 different rose bushes planted along the fence line, when I moved here. I have no idea what varieties they are. Since I have so many roses I thought I would post a rose every time I post on my blog. If you know the name of the rose, please let me know.


  1. I love the fern idea, but lookit your flowers! snowing here....

  2. Linda, your fern platters are WONDERFUL! What a cool experiment you were able to do (unexpectedly!) ....oh how I wish I could see our large ferns (or anything green -ha!), they are under a couple feet of snow. at least until June...

  3. The fern silhouette is awesome!! Love it...

  4. Hi Gary, thanks, the rose photos were taken last year so I could catalog the roses here. I'm going to post one rose photo every time I post here. It has been cold here and snow in the mountains but none here - just rain.

    Hi Cindy, thanks, I'll bet your ferns up there are beautiful, Alaska is one place I would love to visit some day.

    Hi Cynthia, thanks, I am planning on experimenting further with these.

  5. When I was a kid I used to find fern fossils often, which now makes sense since I grew up near coal mines! - always surprising to see the imprint of something soft in rock.

    Your platter is beautiful.

    The pink rose looks a lot like the one that has been in the front of my house for an estimated 60+ years. It blooms especially well this time of year. (but I have no idea what it is)

  6. Hi Barbara, I think fossils of any kind are so wonderful. Thanks about the platter, I hope it fires nice. Most of the roses at my place were planted here about 20 years ago and it's probably a hybrid tea purchased at either Home Depot or Walmart, but it is beautiful. The old ones like the one in front of your house are such survivors and take so little care, I just love them.

  7. Good post! It will be great to see this in its finished form. And, I did respond to your questions on my blog. Peace!

  8. Hi Amy, thanks, can't wait to see how these turn out. I'll check out your blog, thanks for the response.

  9. Linda, the fern resist pieces look fabulous! And I love your plan to post a rose a day!

  10. How did the barrel firing go? I'm dying to know!

  11. Sorry Becky, the supposed "air quality" here isn't cooperating.


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