Lucky duck that I am, I got to spend Memorial Day weekend at Touchstone Center for Crafts in Farmington, PA. I enrolled in the “Creating Pottery for Everyday Use” extended weekend workshop with Amanda Wolf (view her work at http://wolfsdenpottery.com/) and arrived to campus Friday evening.
I was assigned to Cabin #1. This cabin became my humble abode for the next three nights and four days:
The first thing I noticed about my cabin’s interior was the smell. To my delight, it smelled exactly like the clubhouse in my parents’ backyard that my dad built for my sister and me when we were little! It was practically an adult-sized, squarer version of our triangular clubhouse; for that reason alone, I felt quite comfortable . . .
. . . but maybe not so comfortable at night. The first night was the worst. I slept cocoon-like in a sleeping bag. And when I say cocoon-like, I mean it. I was wrapped up as tight as possible in that thing, trying my best to retain all my body heat so I could get some sleep. Night number two was probably the warmest, and night number three was slightly colder than I had anticipated. Alas, staying in the cabin made me appreciate my own warm bed at home. And even though I had the option to upgrade to a dorm, I’m glad I didn’t. It was a true summer camp-esque experience (I even decided to forego the meal plan so I could eat canned foods and packaged snacks!).
When I walked to the pottery studio (conveniently located about 30 steps away from my cabin) on Friday evening, I was introduced to Amanda and my two fellow students, Cindy and her daughter, Taylor. We spent the evening making clay stamps and sprigs for our pottery. Then back to my little cabin I retreated. The next morning would be my first full day at the wheel.
Our day started at 9 a.m. We learned how to wedge the porcelain clay with which we were working. The next step was to center it on the wheel. I experienced problems with centering when I took my first pottery class at my workplace back in March. Fortunately, centering came quite easy to me at Touchstone. “Pulling,” however, didn’t.
Pulling the clay basically involves lifting it up and allowing it to take shape. Silly me didn’t think to cut her crazy-long fingernails, so I couldn’t grab the clay the way I needed to in order to master the technique.
“Your nails are beautiful, but they gotta go,” Amanda said.
A few minutes later, she emerged from the glaze room with a pair of scissors. I refused. I mean, I can “go grunge,” but not that grunge. Haha. So I learned to deal with my long fingernails getting in the way (I did cut them as soon as I got home, though!) and stayed focused on the wet clay circling around in my hands.
Pottery, my friends, isn’t easy. You have to wedge the clay, center it, pull it, shape it, trim it, bisque it, decorate it, glaze it, and fire it again. It takes dedication, patience, and skill. The process itself is a long one, and it’s risky, too. You can’t get attached to a piece because it might not survive one of the many stages (I lost three mugs during the trimming stage . . . sigh). When I encountered a hiccup in the process (there were many, many times when I pulled too hard and completely ruined the piece), I wedged a new piece of clay and started over again. Despite being the kind of person who gets frustrated and discouraged quite easily, I was determined to master the pottery wheel. Luckily, our awesome studio assistant (shout out to Eric!) and two talented potters (hey, Lee and Bridget!) were kind enough to let me continue to work after our allotted open studio hours. On Saturday evening, I stayed in the studio until about 10:30 p.m., throwing and throwing and throwing until I emerged with a little jar that, I decided, I would give to my boyfriend. Amanda was also kind enough to stay with me for awhile, offering me advice and telling me what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong.
Cursive, by the way, got it right: "Art is Hard."
It was dark by the time I left the studio, and I was happy to know that the next morning I would wake up and get to do it all over again.
Here’s a photo of me late Saturday night--sticky clay hands and all!
I admired our schedule: working for a few hours, taking a small lunch break, working a few more hours, taking a supper break, and then working again until almost dark. I imagined myself hanging out with Henry David Thoreau (okay, so I should also admit that my cabin made me think of “Walden”), enjoying that type of technology-less, connected-to-nature, working-hard-all-day way of life.
Aside from making some bowls from molds that Amanda provided for us, I spent a majority of my Sunday on the wheel. I was comfortable there. Eager to learn more. Appreciative of the opportunity to have a teacher who kindly pointed out the progress I was making. So, by Sunday afternoon, I finally understood how to pull the clay. To get my clay to take shape. Gracefully.
Sunday was also the perfect day for a walk on Meditation Trail. With my notebook in hand, I walked into the woods, crossed over the creek, and sat on a rock and wrote. Here’s a photo of me enjoying that alone time:
The entire Touchstone campus is gorgeous. It’s nestled in the boondocks, where cell phone service is limited and artists gather to create art with like-minded artists. Even though I was only there for four days, it felt as if I became part of an artist’s colony. The people there talked art, made art, celebrated art. I loved it.
We spent Monday morning and afternoon decorating our pottery, adding handles to our mugs, and letting our work dry so that we could take it home. By the time check-out time rolled around, I didn't want to leave. I made some new friends. I wanted to jump back on the pottery wheel. I discovered that not only could I use my hands to write, but also to bring a lump of clay to life.
I ended up leaving Touchstone with 12 finished pieces (all of which have yet to be bisque fired, glazed, and then fired again). I created mostly mugs, as you can see:
I have a long way to go when it comes to reaching Amanda’s skill level . . . a longggggggggg way . . . but I’m grateful that she was gracious enough to teach us what she knows. She offered me the perfect mix of constructive criticism and praise; now I have the confidence to keep learning, to keep creating. This means I need to get my own pottery wheel!
From my cabin to Meditation Trail to the clay studio, my first experience at Touchstone certainly won’t be my last!
For more info: http://touchstonecrafts.org/
Fiction, poetry, and all that good stuff . . .