I stepped into the Bowen Park pottery studio with the intention of throwing a few bowls, doing some slab work, and overall just getting my hands dirty again. I imagined that the other people there would be like me, relative novices or people playing with pottery. Maybe some nice grandmotherly ladies rolling out clay like cookie dough to cut out shapes for Christmas ornaments. As I turned the corner into the studio, the first woman I saw was doing exactly that. Her little frilly apron completed the picture. Then I looked beyond her, and felt a wave of inadequacy wash over me.
The room was filled with predominately senior-age women, which was to be expected since seniors get free or very inexpensive access to a fantastic array of classes and activities at Bowen Park, ranking from lawn bowling to language classes to dance to pottery. These women, however, were not dabbling. They are artists. One was crafting an amazing clay mask wall piece that was around two feet in diameter. Another was doing slab work on a series of massive platters. To my left were a couple of women dipping their bisque wares (pottery that has gone through one firing, but still needs a glaze before a second firing) into glaze, but their pieces were gorgeous. Applique star fish on a series of mugs, bowls and casseroles. Another had tall narrow pieces that are incredibly difficult to throw. To my right was the wheel room with three women at pottery wheels throwing pieces that were taller, wider, and all around more stupendous than I had ever been able to do even when I was practicing multiple times a week.
Anyone who has thrown pottery can tell you that the more clay you have on your wheel, the bigger a piece you can make, but also the more you have to muscle the clay into submission. I had gotten proficient with smaller pieces of clay, ranging from 1 ½ to 3 lbs. at a time. Once I had tried a 5 lb. piece of clay and it just about threw me across the room. A nice, petite, grandmotherly woman dropped what looked like a good 8 to 10 lbs. of clay on her wheel and almost immediately had it centered and was pulling up an amazing deep, wide bowl. The idea of sitting with these women and practicing my “skills” that hadn’t been dusted off in years was daunting.
I mentally put on my “big girl pants,” sent up a quick prayer that I wouldn’t totally embarrass myself, grabbed my bag of clay and other tools, and sat down. Then I proceeded to get up and sit down again a good three or more times as I remembered a different tool I needed, or couldn’t get the bin around the machine on correctly, or forgot a board for my clay, or forgot to wedge my clay before throwing it… the list goes on. The lovely women on either side of me offered kind advice so that my brain slowly wrapped around the process again. Now every time I go, I am excited to see these women working too. They are a wealth of advice and inspiration with what they do. I learn so much from getting muddy with them.
As I’ve now been throwing in Nanaimo long enough to have finished pieces (thrown, set, dried to greenware, fired to bisque, dipped in glaze, and then fired again), it’s been fun to look at the differences in my pottery between Indiana and now here in Nanaimo. In Indiana (pre-Little Man) much of what I did was based on having friends over for dinners or parties; small dishes with ringed bases that are great for oil and balsamic bread dipping, appetizer plates with a circle cut out to hold a wine glass, fancy serving dishes that look like giant tropical leaves. Pieces are largely still packed away in boxes from our move in order to protect them from Little Man. They are the type of pretty, fragile pieces that he could quickly turn into thousands of pottery sherds for a future archaeologist.
The pieces that I have been making here in Nanaimo show that I’m trying to get my feet wet (or my hands dirty) again, sort of slowly flexing my pottery muscles as my brain remembers what my hands haven’t quite forgotten yet. In all honesty my thrown work has been a bit shaky, but I’m just now catching my stride. My slab work has been better. The pictures included in this post show my most recent work here in Nanaimo, while the previous Playing with Mud post shows pictures of my Indiana work. Instead of being inspired by dinner parties, I’m trying to think of what types of things we can use now with Little Man. For example, he LOVES the planets, the Moon and the stars, so I’ve started a little “series” of planet and moon plates. They aren’t anything special in terms of technique, but I hope they are fun for him to eat off of at meal times, and that they inspire his imagination in other ways. I’ve also been making more piggy bowls that I first created in Indiana.
When I first made a piggy bowl, I had been inspired by an old pottery piggy bank that a fellow student at the studio brought in. The face looked so cute, and more importantly easy to replicate. I also quickly learned that any bowl that goes a bit wonky on the wheel can be immediately saved through the transformative powers of a piggy face. When I throw pottery, unless the piece absolutely implodes on the wheel (which does happen, but less frequently the longer I practice) I don’t want to waste it. Sometimes you can slap on a handle and a slightly wonky bowl can become a nice mug. Other times, a piggy face is just what is needed to salvage an otherwise unattractive piece. The first couple bowls I threw needed some salvaging, so piggys they became. I’m planning on throwing some bowls next week at the studio, so I should probably look into expanding my animal face repertoire. Our cupboards are getting a bit full of piggys, but luckily these small bowls make great presents for little ones and a number of my friends have new additions that will be receiving piggy bowl presents soon. Little Man loves his piggy bowl, and gets to use it often at meal times (with some supervision) for soups, bread rolls, hummus/dips, cereal/oatmeal, and the like. I’ve been wanting to make some from scratch chocolate pudding, and I have to admit that his piggy bowl is the inspiration for that. I think it would be the perfect thing for that special treat.