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Learning to throw: Pottery as therapy

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ver since I was a small girl, I was attracted to clay. Having grown up in the country, we explored the stream beds and found the clay which made excellent mud pies.
I wonder how many kids have that experience in this somewhat sterile environment they grow up in today.

As a teen I took classes in ceramics, but it wasn't enough for me to clean up a mold and paint it - that was someone else's design. I found another class on wheel thrown pottery and fell in love. I struggled at first, trying to control the clay, trying too hard to push the clay into center. Then- I discovered an old, used wheel and sat down for hours determined to learn what the process of centering is, until finally I learned to use my whole body to lean into the clay, relax and feel it. What a break though! It's about letting go - relaxing- feeling.

Once I felt that - I had it. It's like riding a bike. You just know what it is to be balanced and you relax and take off. I found the time to throw in between raising kids, working full time, and finally began to share with others. I find that most people want to at least try to throw a pot. It's an experience of creating from nothing but a lump of moist earth, a vessel that has definition, and purpose, and because it's made complete with only the bare hands and a few simple tools, it feels so satisfying.

I learned from a blind potter how to teach others to center the clay. Placing my hands on theirs, I position myself so that they feel my strength through their hands. I actually give them the strength until they understand and sense it. Then they practice over and over again, feeling the wheel move the lump of clay and the slip or mud on their hands, as the wheel moves at a medium speed. They are lulled into a state of relaxation. They become relaxed and learn to feel again. I find that the process also brings them into a peaceful state of mind, as they open up and share with fellow potters. They all have a style of their own and they all become teachers, helping each other through the processes of pulling the pot, defining and decorating and complimenting each other. It's not a competitive experience, it's more unique than many art and craft projects, as no pot is the same.

Most professionals in business today don't have much outlet for creativity and they crave time in the studio. My dream is to build a studio where people can retreat to work on their art and escape from the stress of life every once in a while. It's not that we need another pot or bowl, but a piece of clay that is handmade by a new potter is a treasure, it holds the memory of the experience, the whole process of preparing the clay, throwing and molding, firing, glazing and firing again. It's not instant gratification, it's a two or three week process start to finish. Good things come from hard work and determination, and to use the pot creates a relationship. My husband accidentally broke my favorite cup, I was devastated, as it had the perfect shape, it fit in my hands, the glaze was a deep chocolate red called blood red, gas fired, and just the right weight. It was me. I miss that cup as I write about it.

People need to have experiences in creating things of value. We have become a throw away society. We can buy a full set of dinnerware and when we tire of it, toss it out with no thought. As I see cookie cutter houses in developments that look the same, furniture and artwork in the Home Centers made in other countries - mass produced and all the same - there is value in the hand crafted pot. It is warm and inviting to touch. I want to use it and share it and it feels like home to me.
Pottery has outlasted many other items in civilization and I hope that those I have taught hold on to their treasures and pass them on to their family and share the experience of how they came to be.

Deb Sarles


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