Our leader, Croft Elsaesser, President and CEO, is a unique blend of left and right brain, he loved chemistry in high school, but never saw it as his end goal. He had his first "finishing" job in 1994 — learning a lot of old world finishing techniques. The toxic impact of these old world techniques became more of a problem for Croft. He increasingly used more natural plasters and loved the idea of building with original materials from history, i.e. clay. He wanted to make the product he was using better.
Through two years of experimentation American Clay Earth Plasters became a viable, mass-produced product. Applying for a provisional patent in June of 2002, American Clay was awarded the "Patent Pending"
in July of 2002, and the Patent (United States Patent 7485186) in February 2009. With this first patent under his belt, Croft officially inherits the inventor title from his grandfather, Edward M. Sorensen, who held 21 patents and whose key creations are still in use today.
In September 2022, American Clay celebrated its 20 year anniversary of being in business. Croft spoke recently about the 20th anniversary, saying, "I am beyond grateful to have made it 20 years. Thank you to all who have supported us through the trying times...together, we have made it out the other side stronger. Our clay community is so inspiring! We plan on an even greater 20 years to come."
The Story According to Croft
The beginning of American Clay still seems like yesterday; my work was fraught with samples of cracked materials that didn't work and others that were cement grey and that would simply defeat my goal of having more color potential. All of it is such a vivid memory! When I finally had a workable mix, the real tests began. Would this mix work in a house? I was sure it would, but secretly I was just as worried as our guinea pigs, John and Carol Baumgartel. My mom and her husband never knew what hit them. It took two and a half month’s work from a force of their combined children and a great deal of weighing and mixing to pull off the 2,000 square feet of walls. It was as if we had never done any of this before. The great thing is it worked — it worked beyond all expectations. That was really the beginning. The start of a journey through manufacturing...and marketing...and training...and (insert anything else you might think of). We were ready to re-provide the oldest building material used, but first we had to be able to make it.
The first manufacturing facility was a barn, but when I think back it was more like a shed…a very breezy shed. My brothers, Shaylor and Niko, along with some of their friends, became the first production crew. They made 80 buckets in two weeks for a project in Southern California that I was going to be installing. Needless to say, 80 buckets a week would not have sufficed for long. In January of 2003 we moved into 3,600 square feet of manufacturing space. We were a “real” business. It was a space for impromptu trainings, sample production parties, and we kicked production up to 85 buckets a day by using two people. Our first electric mixer was really pumping this stuff out. (Today, we still use the tumble mixer for single unit, custom pre-blends.) American Clay was on its way to being a “manufacturing” company, but we needed more space. We moved to Albuquerque, and doubled our space to 7,500 square feet, with a production system that could make 224 units of plaster every five hours. We also moved from packaging in buckets to using bags; burlap with a liner that allowed it to hold clay plaster. It felt like we were really covering some ground (walls would be more like it). We had more space than we would ever need. At least at the time that was what it felt like.
During the next three years the changes we made were dramatic. After the move, we introduced more colors (than I ever wanted to!) and switched to cotton flour sacks to get away from the plastic liner on the burlap bags. We started tying our bags instead of stitching them after our production manager had a dream about it. We trained 12 people at a time in an 8' by 20' room, “cooking show” style so that we wouldn’t have to wait for layers to dry. It was crazy, exhilarating, and inspiring. Yet, letting things settle down was just not going to happen. We moved again, to a 15,000 square foot location in Albuquerque, and continued to improve our production. We would be able to produce 2 truckloads, or 1,800 bags of plaster every five hours. Now we were really slinging some mud! American Clay was growing more and more, offering new colors, and introducing new products. We brought our color line to 43, and introduced Enjarre™. As a company we continued to make changes to lessen our impact on the environment by changing packaging, and started looking into more effective and easier ways to install the products. We focused on training more applicators and increasing the awareness of clay plasters in modern construction. If American Clay thought it was a “real” business in 3,600 square feet, then surely we had been dreaming, and it is a good thing, because that dreaming is what moved us to where we are today.
As the building industry crumbled, American Clay has had to adjust through the recent years. Yet, even with this downturn, we continue to produce products that have changed very little from the first bucket of “Clayote” we offered. Today, we have eight clay plaster finishes, 239 color combinations, and multiple application processes that allow our material to go on almost any substrate and allow our material to enhance any designer’s inspiration. Even with all of that, there are still more possibilities for us in the future. Natural plaster is bigger than just the clay materials. We are exploring other minerals to pull from and provide greater solutions for our customers. American Clay looks forward to the future as we adjust to our new location, and anticipate what is next. I am grateful to all that have been along for the ride and we look forward to being a part of more “sustainable solutions”.