Working with clay
I stopped myself just in time.
My 7 year old son and I were taking a family ceramics class at the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis. He was rolling out a rope of red brown clay as a handle for a mug, and I was about to tell him it was way too big. Instead, I bit my tongue and bent over my own lump of clay.
Taking a class with your child is a lesson in nonintervention. After three hours of molding and sculpting, I learned as much about my parenting style as I did about making cups and figurines. I like to be in control. I have firm ideas about aesthetics. But once I realized I was creating alongside my child, not supervising him, the whole feeling changed. And we ended up having a delightful time.
Founded nearly two decades ago, the Northern Clay Center operates with the premise that the act of creating art should be accessible to everyone, from professional ceramic artists to children.
In addition to artist studio space, adult classes, a sales gallery and nationally juried exhibitions, the center runs a thriving education program for kids. Last year, more than 700 kids came to the center for summer camps, after school sessions and the monthly family classes. Several thousand more kids got their hands dirty through the ClayMobile, which brings ceramic classes to schools.
“Some of the most inventive stuff comes out of the youngest kids,” says clay center’s director Emily Galusha. “I think a lot of people feel they can produce something worthwhile out of clay, whereas if you’re drawing, for example, there is an expectation of what something is supposed to look like. It’s not as intimidating to make a bowl or a tile with some imagery.”
TO EACH HIS OWN
Leah Orman, 6, of Shoreview talks to her father, Jesse, while making a mug for the Thanksgiving table.
(Pioneer Press: Chris Polydoroff)
My son certainly had his own ideas of what he wanted to make when we walked into the family class. The theme for the afternoon was Cornucopia of Clay Creations, and we were invited to make decorations and dishes for the Thanksgiving table. He wanted to make “something big,” the platter for the turkey.
Five children and six adults perched on stools around waist high tables covered with rough burlap. Our instructor, Eileen Cohen, already had rolled out slabs of clay that looked like gingerbread dough.
Around the edges of the room, other people’s creations sat on wide shelves waiting to be fired or glazed. There were bowls, mugs, sculptures of trees and people and a soup tureen in the shape of a dog. In an adjacent studio, several adults were throwing pots on wheels.
“What were you thinking of making?” Cohen asked the group.
“A turkey,” said a girl. “One that’s roasted not alive.”
Cohen showed us how to slice a rectangle from the slap and roll it into a cylinder to make a mug.
“I always think about how big it should be,” she said, as she cut a circle for the bottom. “I don’t want a bucket, but I don’t want it to be too tiny to drink out of.”
She showed us how to thin the edge of the lip of the mug so it wouldn’t feel too thick. After demonstrating a few more techniques, she let us get started.
My son immediately sliced his slab into a rectangle to make a mug. I told him it would be crooked and leaned across the table with a clay cutting tool to trim a bit off the top. He looked irritated, like he wanted to stab me with nike mercurial superfly the clay tool.
I decided I better find my own project to work on. I thought about making a centerpiece with a candleholder, but visions of Pottery Barn perfection stopped me in my tracks.
I started rolling a lump of clay between my fingers. Hmmm. I decided to make an acorn. I made a little cap and stem for my acorn, and then I decided to make several more to scatter on the Thanksgiving table.
I became so absorbed in getting my acorns the way I wanted them to look that I felt only a slight urge to jump up and follow my son when he took his mug to the table where the buckets of slips were set out. (The finish on most pottery is a glaze applied after the piece is fired. Since this class would meet only once, we colored our work with slips, liquefied clay with pigment that can be applied to an unfired, wet surface.)
Northern Clay Center instructor Eileen Cohen talks with Leah Orman, 6 about how she might finish her mug.
(Pioneer Press: Chris Polydoroff)
He painted his mug with black stripes. Not my choice of color, but . it was his mug, right?
Around us, other parents and children were negotiating their own creative process. Lily Suckow, the 5 year old who wanted to make a roasted turkey, was working with her father, Steve Suckow, on a pilgrim figure.
“I think once we accomplished our turkey, all the pressure was off,” said the Edina attorney. “Now, we are in complete relaxation mode.”
Rick Schuster and his son Gavin, 8, had signed up for the class after Gavin enjoyed a clay nike mercurial superfly session at school. Gavin made a cool mug and a goose figurine. Schuster made a lovely sunflower candleholder. (It cou nike mercurial superfly ld have been in Pottery B nike mercurial superfly arn.)
“He takes a lot of classes,” Schuster said of his son. “But this is the first class we’ve really taken together, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Before we left, my son made his platter. Instead of telling him he couldn’t make something that large, I suggested he ask Cohen for help. She didn’t bat an eye and simply showed him how to cut the corners of a slab and turn up the edges to make a lip.