When I was 11, I was home from school with a bad cold. My dad asked if there was something he could bring to cheer me up. I asked for modeling clay. I loved to draw and make things, and that seemed like something I would enjoy. He returned home with a heart-shaped necklace featuring a picture of Elvis Presley on it. He said, “You’re a young lady now and much to old to be playing with clay.” I thanked him and pretended to like it but never wore it.
I didn’t give clay more thought until the end of my freshman year at Antioch College. It was a hot, muggy, day. I wandered into the pottery studio where the air was damp and cool and magic was happening all around me. I was mesmerized. I signed up for Ceramics 1 and never looked back. Thankfully, my folks did not roll their eyes when I announced I was now an Art Major. I grew up in a family that valued creativity but I never appreciated what a leap of faith they took on my behalf until much later. I wonder if I ever thanked them enough. I hope so.
During college, I got to apprentice with a potter in St Lucia, decades before it was a tourist destination. As a rank beginner, I did the grunt work. Clay was dug up out of the jungle and dumped on our patio. My job was hitting the dried lumps with a 2 x 4, soaking them in buckets of water, sieving the mush to remove rocks and leaves, and pouring it out on plaster slabs until semi-dry. Then I wedged it into usable clay. My very kind employer tried to dissuade me from a career in clay, emphasizing the hard work. But on a tropical island, everything seems possible.
Despite (or because?) my dad did not bring me clay back in the 5th grade, I have been a full time studio potter in West Chester, PA for over 30 years. My work is sold through galleries and museum shops around the U.S. I am a member of the Wallingford Potters Guild, a wonderful clay community and exhibit with them twice a year.
When not working, I bike with the West Chester Cycling Club and challenge myself at Cross Fit West Chester …anything to stay in shape and be able to keep lifting those clay boxes and kiln shelves!
In a world flooded with mass-produced goods, it is gratifying…remarkable, even… that people still value using things made by human hands.
Everyone has a story, and now you know a little bit of mine.