Idaho iPods: Tom’s historical adventure with clay

Recently, I was thinking of an intriguing project Tom Trusky assigned to his students in 2007. He was my poetry teacher at Boise State University in the early 1980s. Then, from 1984-86, I had the good fortune to be co-editor of cold-drill, an amazing literary magazine Tom founded and for which he was faculty editor. He later founded a poster series, centers and archives for book arts, western writing and rare films. He discovered artists hitherto unknown or long forgotten, wrote and edited books and traveled extensively on speaking tours. Here’s a podcast of an interview with him: Trusky Interview. The kingpin of pranks and puckish humor, Tom amused us all with daily e-mails, snail-mail postcards and packages. He was also the king of kitsch and I remember eating Chunky Monkey ice cream and curly hotdogs with him when he visited us in Montana. Some time later, we all met in Seattle to watch Nell Shipman movies and listen to him lecture. Several years ago, he and his partner, Enver, visited us here in Canada, as they made their way through British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan (if I remember correctly!). The last project I worked on with Tom was a book published in 2007 called Michael b., about a good friend of his who lived in British Columbia. But, now, let’s switch to one of his many adventures. In reprinting his words below and posting links to his photos, I honor my friend and mentor who passed away two Decembers ago.

——————————————————

October 22, 2007

IDAHO iPODS

by Tom Trusky

Introduction to Book Arts students are usually assigned to create one pre-book structure such as a scroll; however, fall of 2007 I decided inflict a new plot on students, a plot I had been considering for 25 years: utilizing Idaho clay to make a tablet. I had been galvanized to concoct this assignment by news that the Idaho State Historical Society (ISHS) in Boise had Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets over 4,000 years old-among the oldest examples of writing in the Gem State.

I called this assigned tablet an “Idaho iPod” and defined it as “a real-time, full-text, random-access, read-only information storage and retrieval device.”

The project began with field trip to ISHS where students learned of the tablets’ provenance from Director Linda Morton-Keithley and were allowed to inspect the ancient tablets “gloved-hands-on“!

 Students visited two pits to obtain clay for their tablets. The first site was on US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property and is located between the small town of Grandview and C. J. Strike Reservoir in SW Idaho. BLM clay is white and very pure.

•    BLM clayscape (photo by student Corrine Fuller)
•    Instructor, retrieving BLM clay

The second site was located by Geo-Archeologist Jerry Jerrems and is found near Cartwright Road (CR) on soon-to-be developed private property in the northwest Boise foothills. (Both BLM and CR sites required permission from property owners, prior to removal of clay.) CR clay is dark grey and often contains sediments and artifacts.

•    Jerry Jerrems, providing historical background about the site.
•    Student digs in Cartwright Road pit.

Basic tablet construction advice was provided by Rick Jenkins of the Boise City Arts Center. Student lab fees purchased dowels and rolling pins used in the construction process which concluded with either air or sun-drying or kiln firing.

•    iPod construction begins with hydrated, screened and 
kneaded clay, dowels, and rolling pin.

Clays from seven Idaho pits or sites had been obtained over the summer by the instructor and all were test fired by Jenkins-who also made city kilns available for student tablet firing. Results of test firings of Idaho clays, student (and instructor) iPods, and one deck of US Army “Heritage Resource Preservation” playing cards (which feature a cuneiform tablet on the back of each card-and tablets, seals, and other historical artifacts and structures in Iraq-ancient Mesopotamia-on the face side) were then placed on display at BSU.

•    Display photos
•    Deck of cards array
•    ArtTalk: Lost in the Shuffle (163K PDF)
•    Fact Sheet: Training for In-Theatre Cultural Resource Protection (50K PDF)

A selection of iPods by eight students (asterisked captions are followed by photographs taken by Carrie Quinney of BSU Photographic Services):

PAIGE WEBER: A “traditional” tablet made from Cartwright Road (Boise) clay. Tablet emulates the cuneiform markings of a Babylonian tablet. (2 ¾ x 4 ½”)*

       Paige’s tablet

FRANCES SUTTON: Round “tokens” have been created out of three Snake River Valley, Cartwright Road, and BLM clays. (Each approx.1 ¼ x 1 ½”)*     Frances’s tablets

ISAAC GUNTHER: Tablet made from BLM clay simulates a real iPod. (3 ¾ x 2 ¼”)*

      Isaac’s tablet

JESSIE BEARD: A punning “eye” pod tablet (from BLM clay). (1 ½ x 2 ¼”)

      Jessie’s tablet

TABBY JOLLEY: Jolley’s punning, painted and decorated tablet is an Idaho spud-a plural iPod (eyes of the potato-get it?). (3 x 6″)

     Tabby’s tablet

AMBER TRENT: A Winco supermarket receipt tablet. Trent is emulating hundreds of thousands of Babylonian tablets which are receipts, receipts for sheep, honey, land sales, etc. She has used Cartwright Road clay. (2 ¾ x 2 ¼”)*

     Amber’s tablet

HOLLY GERE: Air or sun-dried tablets are far more fragile than fired tablets. Breakage has rendered Gere’s message (on BLM clay) ominous and/or ironic…. (4 ¼ x 7 ½”)

    Holly’s tablet

RANDY PURVIANCE: BLM and commercial clay have been mixed-much as the elements in Purviance’s cutting-edge tablet. It’s a “green” tablet (wind powered-note propeller?) that turns a spool on which have been affixed a 19th century ( Eadweard Muybridge) sequence of photos:

Photo 1

Photo 2

which may then be viewed on (through?) a 21st century screen (square hole?) in the clay:

Photo 3

Credits: Many individuals assisted in the Idaho iPod project. Many thanks (in alpha order) to: Gary Bettis, Scott Brown, Cort Conley, Virginia Gillerman, Felicia Burke Halter, Mark Hofflund, Sharon Hubler, Clinton Hughes, Rick Jenkins, Jerry Jerrems, Rick Just, Linda Morton-Keithley, Coyote Short, Paul Swiergosz, Mike Wardle.

A tribute to Tom Trusky.

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About Jan

I have a background in ceramics, graphic design and journalism.
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One Response to Idaho iPods: Tom’s historical adventure with clay

  1. Pingback: Book Arts: Writing on Stone(ware) | JANE STREET CLAYWORKS

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