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Feel the Clay in Your Hands

Updated on October 14, 2017

Hands On Experience

Sandra Rodgers pottery that is not fired yet.
Sandra Rodgers pottery that is not fired yet.

Forming Pottery on Potter's Wheel

All Rights Reserved
All Rights Reserved

Making Pottery Using Your Creative Hands

I can say that dirt and clay always did interest me from a young age, when I would often make mud pies and play with them. My mother had to get onto me about eating the stuff too. Now they say that might have to do with nutrition deficits, but that has not been proven to me as part of my behavior. That is what a kid does, when they do not have lots of toys, pots and pans, and little play tea sets and all. Maybe you can say that is what made me feel the need in college to start to create with this material.

My love of clay and pottery advanced through the years, as I completed my fine arts degree and became an art educator. I won numerous awards for my pottery, and continued on the graduate level in taking advanced level courses in the area. I went from beginning pottery to intermediate, advanced and then graduate level. By the time I was on the graduate level my work was being reviewed for the famed Georgia Designer Craftsman. I was voted into the group by recommendation from my instructor. He was considered to be one of the top ten potters in the world. He went to Africa and studied under Daniel Rhodes the potter and author of many books on making pottery. My professor was Donald Penny, professor of art at the University of Valdosta State in Georgia. He also served as an officer on the American Craftsman Council, and he was well known for his pottery. He competed worldwide, and I felt honored to have studied under this man. He taught me a lot about architecture, and he had a degree in that from Georgia Tech. I learned many things from Don, but the most important things I learned from him was to take the clay, design it, and control the outcome of what happened. He was strict and also caring. Although this article is not about Don, it is about my love of the clay and making things with it.

There are times, when I look back at having to sit and make 40 cylinders that were exactly 8 inches tall and 4 inches wide and 1/4 inch thick. I remember, when I almost gave up, because I could not make it work. I went home and told my mother that I was about to drop the class, because I could not make it work. I tried and tried but had nothing but failure. My mother looked me in the eye, and she said you go back to your professor and you tell him that you have tried and it will not work. She said to me that if you cannot do it, then no one can. She was right. My professor put our clay back in the pug mill and ran it with some dryer clay to make it work. Thanks to my mother I did not give up that day. I did not leave my education for failure to complete the assignments.

I ended up selling a lot of my clay pieces, and now that they are gone, and I no longer make them, then I miss the fact I did not keep some of my work. My pottery was sold before it ever left the classroom. I had professors who wanted my pottery for their homes. My last year I was determined to outdo all the male potters that produced larger pieces than I ever had in my life. So my pieces went fast. I can remember it took me an hour to center a mass of about 45 pounds of clay on a potters wheel and almost snapping my wrist. I am thankful I did not break it, but that did not stop my effort to improve my production of massive pieces.

There are times, when you sit at a potters wheel and kick it around, and nothing you do seems to work. I remember taking out my frustration on the clay under my carport, and picking it up and throwing it up against the wall. That felt good for the moment, and later I kinda wished I had not done that. I had to clean it all up again. Most of the time, I wore an apron that was covered in mud. I spent 8 hours a day in the lab at the college trying to improve my skills in pottery.

One day I donated my kiln, and my pottery wheel to the high school that I taught at, because I had two major surgical operations that I was afraid I would develop scar tissue, if I continued to make clay pots. So with regret I gave up the thing I loved doing the most in art. Instead, I introduced it to my students to have fun and learn about clay. I can say over the years I missed that time sitting on a wheel and making clay pots that everyone wanted. My professor often said to make your pots by the "form follows the function" of design. So I always kept that in mind.

In conclusion, I would like to recommend a little bit of earth, and hands-on clay feeling you get from creating something with it. I think you will find a way you can actually realize you control a substance that allows you to create shapes, forms, and designs that are unique. I always remember in my thoughts that ..............."I am the potter and you are the clay." Those of you that read a bible, then you know what I am talking about. Hope you will someday pick up the clay and have fun. Creating something is like really unique to do.

Update Information:

This year in 2012, I have once more picked up my title as pottery master. I am going to pass on my love of the clay and pottery making to my children. I am throwing pots after 35 years on a potter's wheel, and although I can throw pots on either electric wheel or a kick wheel. I am going back to once more to make those pieces that make me feel creative. My goal this year is to produce enough clay pots or clay works to compete in shows across the country. I want to be able for once to join the Paseo in the Arts and Craft Show for 2013. I will be putting up a demonstration in the near future, if all goes well. My goal is to go where I have never taken my pottery level before. It is like going beyond the mastery of my past. I want to commend my professor for his ability to continue to produce pottery and to enter his work into the National scene for 2012. He was my inspiration as an instructor to lead me to find the joy of creation in the clay. Thanks to former professor Donald Penny, a well-known potter across the country for teaching me all the things I should know. He is retired, but I do not think he left the clay. The clay has a way of making you pick it up. It is a dream of creation that it leads you to.

Update in 2017, I have now battled cancer, and I have not given up the feel of clay in my hands. I have a potter's wheel, and I am challenged to yet again produce my unique designs in clay. I am at this point looking to apprentice others in my area in learning the skill. I live in a region of talent, and the medium is certainly one of the best to work with. I am challenged to not let things like older age and cancer keep me down. I have been cancer free for almost 4 years. I tip my hat to all my students and to young people that know me, and they made me fight back against that cancer. They would not take no for an answer. I am proud of all the 29 years of my effort to make their lives something special. Many have gone on to have wonderful families and college degrees. The clay feels special to me. It is one of my sources of creativity. I am glad I am still living to consider once more touching that clay in my hands.

Winning the Show in Valdosta, Ga.

All Rights Reserved by Artist
All Rights Reserved by Artist

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