Jan. 28, Grove Creek Drive, Pleasant Grove. Have been wanting to do a painting of Veloy's Grandpa's brickyard for some time. The view I envision is a panoramic one, with Mt. Timpanogos dominating the composition.
At the base of the foothills, tiny kilns and buildings sprawl in miniature scale. It seems comfortable to have them that way, because even though feats of the early settlers were Herculean, the whole culture seemed to be dwarfed by the land.Tiny men labor in a small gash in the clay hillside. The fires of their kilns burn white hot, turning the stacks of rectangular adobes a warm terra cotta color. A pure, thin flame and a sliver of smoke wafts through the mountain air, barely noticed in the massive landscape.
To paint it as I picture it, I must get a good sense of how all this really looked. Only then can I attempt to rearrange it into a more personal vision.
So I spent some time today at Veloy's mother's house, with a big sheet of paper laid out on the kitchen table and a large magic marker. With her dim eyesight, Mildred drew from memory a sketchy blueprint of her father's brickyard as she remembers it.
As she drew, I studied the dozen or so photos her father took of the area in about 1915 from several different positions on the hill. Slowly the configurations began to make sense; the location of the pugmill that mixed the clay, how and where the kilns were built, and at what point the lane entered the brickyard from Grove Creek Drive.
Later, I drove up where the brickyard had been. A few years ago, Mildred showed us the exact location, so I had a good idea where to look for it. It was a good thing she had shown us the place before, or I might never have found it. Now the area is totally covered by houses.
I parked by the edge of an asphalt road with new houses on every side.
Straight ahead, the road curls to the left toward the foot of the mountain, where another cluster of houses dramatically changes the view shown on the 80-year-old photographs.
For the past half hour, I have been doing a small drawing of Mt. Timpanogos to use as a reference when I start painting. As I draw, kids are returning home from school. Cars back out of driveways from time to time, off on grocery errands, maybe, or to take kids to ballet lessons.
I would guess that few of these people ever think much about what used to be here. Not many, surely, know they live on the spot where a brickyard once was.
Yet as hard as it is to envision what once was here, it must have been even harder in 1910 to picture what might be here in 1991.
On those hot summer days when Alma and his partners labored from morning to nightfall to make the buff-colored bricks that now grace the facades of many of our pioneer homes, they had no way of comprehending how altered the landscape would someday be as it developed a suburban face. What to Alma Christiansen and his friends was a quarry of clay with a perfect consistency for brickmaking is nothing more now than sticky mud that kids track into these new houses on rainy days.
Only the mountains, which have changed little over the years, see the whole picture. They speak to us, though, only when the reality of their presence is used as a crystal, a backdrop to what was, but no longer is.
Where a broad concrete driveway drops toward the road from a double garage . . . there, where the blue Toyota is parked . . . drying racks once stood, stacked with palettes of adobes drying in the sun. In the same place where that ornamental plum is planted, several men stood day after day, tamping heavy, wet clay into wooden molds. Near where an RV is parked, a coal-fired kiln rumbled through summer nights, sending an iridescent glow into the dark, moonless sky.
Yet, this is not a particularly unique place. For it is only one of many brickyards along the Wasatch Front, most of which disappeared over the years without a trace, except for maybe a clay embankment here and there where neighborhood kids gather on four-wheelers and Kawasakis to ride the scoops and hollows of the abandoned clay pits.