Friday, September 08, 2006

Learning from Clay

A couple weeks ago I began teaching a beginning wheel-throwing class at the Union Project. This is very exciting for me for a couple reasons. First, creating a community clay studio at the UP has been an important dream for me for almost five years now, so having it finally come to fruition and teaching a group of students there for the first time is wonderful.

Second, I happen to have students who are truly excited to learn clay. They rock! Each of them has said they can hardly wait for the week to pass in between class sessions, because they are so enthusiastic about working in the studio. And they each are making progress with their skills on the wheel. As of last night, with a satisfying finish, we filled a shelf in the studio with our first batch of mugs ready for the kiln. A great accomplishment!

I have not taught wheel-throwing to adults for several years, so I had forgotten some of the great emotions of learning to work with clay. At times my students are very proud of themselves for making a key breakthrough in the technical process of crafting a cylinder. At times they are frustrated and dispair at the growing mound of abandoned clay experiments beside their wheel. At times they are simply happy to be working with their hands in such a basic, raw material after a long day at the office.

Serendipitously, a few days before class a friend returned a book I had given up for lost. It's one of my favorites about working with clay (A Potter's Workbook, by Clary Illian). And I rediscovered this quote:

"What is the heart of the matter in pottery making? To call into being an object and to ask the object to have qualities that evoke in the viewer a sense of rightness, beauty, or vitality is to tinker with the divine. Making pots offers a constant challenge to search for the mysterious underpinnings of the physical world itself. It is no wonder that 'structure, most easily understood when presented visually, has much of the character of a universal metaphor. (p. 7)'"


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