LINCOLN, Calif. — One of California’s oldest factories looks abandoned, but on the inside workers are busy restoring art that adorns some of the nation’s most historic buildings.
Gladding, McBean in Lincoln, Calif. makes a variety of clay products. Their most specialized clay product is terracotta, an age-old architectural art form that takes a skilled sculptor.
Terracotta cannot be repaired; it has to be replicated and replaced. Victor Vereodod is one of the company's leading artists.
"Machines can't do this--only human fingers, human hands," said Vereodod. "Every piece has its own character, style, and technique."
Vereodod went to art school in Uzbekistan, then worked for the Kyrgyzstan government for more than 15 years. Gladding, McBean picked him up 13 years ago. Since then, he has replicated art on hundreds of buildings across the U.S.
"I am proud to be part of a team that saves the past for future generations," Vereodod said.
The sculptor's work is only part of the process. It takes a team of about 20 people to keep the terracotta department running. When completed, Vereodod's sculpture will be made into a mold and then that mold will be filled with clay.
Once dry, the clay is sent to the kiln for firing. Massive house-sized brick kilns hold a variety of clay products including sewer pipes, tiles, pots and terracotta.
Senior manager Joe Parker says the temperature in the kilns can exceed 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The entire heating and cooling process can take about a month. Even though these kilns are decades old.
"They are still the most efficient way to fire clay pipe, or anything ceramic," said Parker.
Gladding, McBean is one of the leading clay pipe makers in the U.S. and the clay comes from deposits right down the road from the factory, in Lincoln. Cities all across the nation use these clay pipes for sewer and storm drain systems.
It takes several weeks or months to make each pipe -- making them expensive, but durable. The pipes have a lifespan of more than 100 years.
"If you do it right with clay you only have to do it once unless you upsize," said Parker.
Clay, water, and fire. Those are the ingredients that Charles Gladding and Peter McBean built their company on back in 1875, but it’s the people who work at Glading, McBean who keep this company moving forward.
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