Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Pottery Class 101, Working with a Wheel

By Christina VanGinkel

Working on a wheel sure looks like fun, and it is if you have a clue in the world what you are doing. The first time I saw one other than from afar, was when a good friend of mine was teaching a class, a two-hour session, to a group of assorted aged youngsters a few summers ago, and invited me, and my then ten-year-old son up so that he could participate.

The class was being held in the town's contemporary center, which is a building used for various art related activities, including summer arts and crafting classes. The basement, a walk out style room facing a side street, as the building itself is situated on a hill, was set up with long tables for the kids to sit at. When a person entered from this side door, they could go three ways, straight ahead up the stairs, to the far end of the room in one direction towards a kiln, or in the opposite direction where two pottery wheels, one electric, and one a kick pottery wheel. Powered by, you guessed it, kicking the wheel in a uniform fashion with the user's foot.

When we arrived the day of the first class, we were running a bit late and most of the class had arrived. The electric powered wheel had a line of kids by it, asking the instructors, my friend, and one other woman working as an extra pair of adult hands basically, if they were going to get to run it. My son, on the other hand, headed straight towards the manually powered wheel.

As the kids were asked to take their seats, I found a spot off in a corner where no one was sitting and pulled out a book I had brought along to read. It was hard not to notice as she started the class that she has a way with kids, and before I knew it, every child had a pile of clay in front of them and they were busily working away, working the clay in some manner or other. A number kids were readying clay to throw on the wheel, while others, some just too young to even consider putting on the wheel, were being shown how to make shapes with the clay, flattening it out with the teachers help and a rolling pin, along with the help of plastic knifes, cutting out shapes.

As she came towards my son a while alter, I could hear him ask if he could use the older wheel, the one that did not plug in. She considered his question for a moment and then told him that if he thought he was strong enough, yes he could. His smile lit up his face, and not long after, as she moved from child to child, getting some of them working on the electrically powered wheel, I started to see small pieces of artwork start to take shape. A simple shaped bowl, a mug, a vase. The kids too small, to work even on the electric wheel began turning out hand-molded objects, each and every one a piece of art in itself.

As the class rolled along, my friend worked her way back to my child, where he sat working the clay he had been given. I heard her ask him if he still wanted to try the wheel, and he smiled brightly and shook his head yes. Before we knew it, she had him at the wheel, instructed him how to work it, and though she later told me she thought he would tire quickly, or need a lot of instruction, he soon turned out several pieces that to this day I treasure. At ten years old, he was big for his age, with strong legs, and just took naturally to the wheel almost as if he had been born just for the task. He made several bowls which he also dipped in glaze and that she then fired in the kiln.

Every time I look at the pieces he made that day, I am amazed that he turned them out his very first time at the wheel. Now several years later, amidst football, motocross, snowboarding, and a busy social life, he has asked his father and me if we could buy him a wheel of his own. There is just something about sitting with a hulk of clay and with nothing much more than water and clay, time, and the swooshing of the wheel, to be able to turn out such beautiful, useable pieces.

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