Ceramics is one studio class I wanted to take in college, but couldn’t because it didn’t fit in my schedule. So, when potter extraordinaire Cynthia Gurreri offered to teach me at the Little Yellow House in Dunmore, I jumped at the chance.
The Pocahontas County Arts Council opened the Little Yellow House in 2009 as a way to offer classes in several mediums from accomplished local artists.
As a member of the PCAC Cynthia teaches pottery, but the Little Yellow House also offers painting, drawing, pastel and pen and ink classes.
Over the span of two weeks, I had one-on-one classes with Cynthia who taught me the basics in making pinch pots and throwing pots on the wheel.
Day one we jumped right in and got dirty. We took the raw clay and kneaded it much like bread dough to get out air bubbles and to make it more malleable. We quickly made a pair of pinch pots. The name says it all. You stick your thumb through the middle of a mound of clay and pinch the ends out to create the shape you want.
As I watched Cynthia’s skillful hands whisk up a pot in seconds, I managed to make something resembling a small vase or pot. To throw in another technique, we rolled out “snakes” to create rings around the top of the pots.
It was fun and calming to dig in and create something with just my hands. I was getting the hang of it but at the same time, I was nervous about throwing on the wheel.
For those who don’t know me, my biggest talent is my clumsiness. I figured trying to mold a bowl or pot on a moving wheel would be too much for me, but Cynthia had faith I could figure it out.
Cynthia sat at the wheel and showed me step-by-step how to form a pot and when to use which tool. Again, she did it effortlessly and all I could think is “I’m going to waste a lot of clay.”
Regardless of my hesitation, I took my spot at the wheel, plopped a pound of clay down and Cynthia helped me center.
Now, centering may sound easy – all you have to do is get the clay in the exact center of the wheel to get rid of wobble – but needless to say, I struggled with it. The combination of having the wheel at high speed and moving my hands up and down the clay, and pushing it around to find the center was a little overwhelming.
For my first few pots, Cynthia centered for me and then let me go.
My first pot was a flop. It started out well. I got the basic shape going but then when I tried to raise the walls of the pot, I didn’t have a good grip and, well, the best way to put is, the walls went wonky.
Although it was a failure, Cynthia said we would keep it to fire anyway because it was my first attempt on the wheel.
As the evening progressed, I managed to get in a groove and ended the day with four uniquely shaped pots. My favorite one was kind of an accident. I started it as a regular votive holder and again, the walls went wonky, but this time, it looked like a Calla Lily. I decided to say I did it on purpose and kept it the way it was.
Day two, before I got into throwing more pots, Cynthia showed me how to trim the pots from the previous session.
The pots were all in a different state of dryness. There were no longer hand malleable but with the use of the wheel and a few sharp tools, the pots could be trimmed and evened out.
Again, Cynthia demonstrated before turning the wheel over the me. She placed the pot upside down on the wheel and held it in place with slivers of wet clay. Once the pot was centered, Cynthia turned on the wheel and held a trimming tool in place as it made a circle in the pot.
She then trimmed the bottom to give it a circular foot and a rounded shape. After the bottom, Cynthia moved on to the side of the pot and smoothed out the shape she wanted.
If centering is the thing I’m the worst at, then trimming is second. My biggest issue was that I couldn’t keep my arm steady as I tried to drag the trimming tool on the pots. Instead of making circles and trimming smoothly, I made jagged cuts and oblong shapes.
Cynthia assured me that it is something that comes easier after lots of practice. I trimmed/tortured a few more pots and then moved on to throwing.
Although it was only my second day at the wheel, I managed to center and throw an adorable little bowl without any help from Cynthia. It was a huge accomplishment. It was, of course, the only pot I was able to center by myself, but hey, it was still pretty awesome.
After the two days at the wheel, I managed to have a total of seven pots, including the one pinch pot. It sounds like a lot except I probably threw between 14 and 15 pots. But half isn’t bad for a first timer, at least in my opinion.
Of the seven pots, I carved designs into two of them. Cynthia showed me examples of her work and gave me several different tools to make shapes. I attempted to make a ring of crescent moons in one pot. It isn’t perfect, but it’s there. The other pot has my version of a leafless tree on it.
My next day at the studio we worked with glazes. There are so many color options and ways to glaze, I was a little overwhelmed. Luckily, Cynthia had a game plan.
I painted one pot with three separate glazes that made the pot a deep burnt red. For other pots we used the dipping method. It’s hard to know what the pots will look like just by looking at the glaze, but with Cynthia’s help, I could imagine what the blues, greens, lavenders and yellows would look like once the pots were finished.
After just three days over the past two weeks, I’ve been bitten by the ceramics bug. My favorite part is sitting at the wheel, feeling the clay form between my fingers. It’s soothing and therapeutic. I was able to lose myself in what I was doing and came up with some interesting shapes.
I look forward to continuing my classes with Cynthia to see where my talents take me.
For information on classes offered at the Little Yellow House, visit www.pocahontasarts.org or call 304-456-4600.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at email@example.com