A Day in the Life of The Clay Factory

By Trina Williams

Text and Photos by Trina Williams



If you were driving down the street, you would miss it entirely. Behind this plain facade hums the "machinery" of The Clay Factory, pasta machines, food processors and ovens. It is kept going by the "heart" of the factory, Howard and Marie Segal.


Thank goodness there is a brightly colored business directly across the street, because there is no sign, although there has been one from time to time. As Howard once told me, "We're a mail order business, we don't need a sign."


However, the complex has undergone a face-lift recently and looks like a typical Southern California storefront complete with palm trees.


So, let's go inside. There are two entrances, one to the workroom which doubles as the San Diego PC Guild class room and clay day space, the other to the retail/mail order section where Howard holds forth. On a lucky day, you can see Marie Segal, artist, designer, teacher and mother of Premo.



Marie started the business in 1980, manufacturing Christmas ornaments from bread dough. Later, refrigerator magnets were added, and in 1982, production was switched to Fimo. After adding more items to their gift line, the Segals became distributors of Fimo and soon added teaching and technical support. They cut back on their gift items and concentrated on the raw materials. They became staunch supporters of the polymer clay community. In the early 90's they parted company with Fimo.

In 1994, the Segals approached Polyform to make a new clay. They wanted a high quality American product. Rather than reinvent the wheel, the Segals worked with Polyform to make a good product better. The Clay Factory Clay was soon in development.


Together with many other PC artists, the Segals developed techniques for using the new clay. After the beta testing period, the new clay was named Premo.






On this particular visit to the Clay Factory, a class is in progress with Pier Voulkos. The San Diego PC Guild is sponsoring the class, which has drawn students from 50 to 150 miles away. We will be learning to do balloon armatures.







As the class progresses, we learn to make a variegated stack of clay and how to cut, carve, stretch and shape our designs.


At break time, Pier visits with Howard. Even though most of the Clay Factory business is mail order, clay addicts from all over Southern California make the trek to pick up products or take classes from well-known artists. Sometimes they visit the San Diego Guild on one of their monthly clay days.



As our class progresses we discover that we can bake odd shapes on a nest of torn up sheets. We also learned to close up our seams so that when more air was introduced, the pieces wouldn't leak. We found that Fimo made the shapes more elastic, that a mixture of Fimo/Premo worked and that Premo was OK, but took more work. Another trick was putting the piece in a hot oven to get it to expand a little more.


By four o'clock, several samples were finished, and we cleaned up for the day. Most of the participants would return the next day to learn to make beads from their scraps, while I headed off into the sunset to return again another day.



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