Cody L. Thames likes old stuff — really old. Like the time he worked for a traveling Renaissance Faire and had to wear period attire.
“You had to look like 1600s European, 1700s European,” said Thames, 28, of McComb.
Now he’s digging deeper into the past — literally — by using local clay to make primitive terra cotta art.
Thames’ exhibit is in the McComb Library display case the rest of June, along with some Native American art by his mother, Dixie Shirley Thames, who will have her own display in July and August.
Cody went to McComb High School, Southwest Mississippi Community College and Mississippi College. He never could decide on a major because he likes so many things — like psychology, archaeology, history, botany, music, dance and art.
He spent three years with a Renaissance Faire, traveling as far off as Arizona, Colorado and Minnesota. He had to take care of elephants and train baby camels to let people ride on them.
Renaissance Faires recreate the Middle Ages with jousting, lute and dulcimer music, falconry and other ancient activities.
Now Thames has found another way to delve into the past. He starts by finding clay at the river or for that matter in his own back yard.
“Just about two feet down anywhere in Pike County you’ll find clay, red clay,” he said.
He was kayaking the Bogue Chitto recently when he saw a colorful chunk sitting on the bank, with vivid purples and yellows.
When he finds a good piece, he breaks it into parts and dries it for about three weeks.
“The traditional way is to hang it in a bag or sack and let the sun dry it,” he said.
At that point it’s still damp enough to work, and that’s when Thames shapes it by hand.
After that he fires it at 1,500 degrees for eight hours in a homemade kiln, which brings out the reddish color. Unfired pieces remain brown and crack easily.
“I’m still learning a lot about it. It’s more of a scientific thing that I thought about,” he said.
Coming up with the shapes is purely intuitive, however.
“I kind of let the clay decide. Some things seem to want to be shaped into something,” Thames said, calling the process “random, unplanned.”
The results include a bowl, a pot, a bear, spider, star, sunflower, chess pieces, molds of fossils, frog, bird, gnome, faces and simple shapes.
His first effort was to coat a styrofoam mannequin head with clay and make a face. He never fired it so the clay has a brown cast and is starting to crack. But it’s striking nonetheless.
He mentioned his hobby to Miss Mattie Rials at the library and asked if he could put his work on display. Of course, she agreed.
“I’ve known Miss Mattie since before I was born,” Thames said with a smile.
As for the display, “I’m liking the feedback,” he said during an interview at the library.
As if to illustrate his point, Ellie Busby walked up with her granddaughter Heidi, who said she likes to make things with clay from Topisaw Creek. Also, “we like to cover each other with clay,” she said with a girlish grin.
Thames said he’s just feeling his way along, trying to develop his own style. He’s keeping things basic, using neither glaze nor potter’s wheel.
“I’d love to make money, but I’m not doing it for money,” said Thames, who works part-time at Tractor Supply. “It’s a human thing to make art.”
He likes the thought that he’s carrying on an ancient tradition.
“Maybe I’m doing my part to keep it alive,” he said. “In a thousand years somebody might find a piece of my pottery.”
n n n
For more information, contact Thames at email@example.com.