Drop in to Learn Pottery at Makers Station in West Creek

Oct 25, 2017
Photo by: Pat Johnson Charlotte Moran, actress and teacher, learns how to hand-build a pot before tackling the pottery wheel.

A lump of clay can be a cantankerous thing when trying to harness it while it’s spinning on a wheel. One false move and the pot you were creating becomes a misshapen glob. Yet the act of centering, once mastered, is meditative. Like all creative pursuits or skills, the muscles take over, the routine is imprinted and the results are predictable – “if you follow the simple beginning steps,” said instructor Albert Gomez.

During a recent Drop-in Sunday at Makers Station in West Creek, Gomez gave a quick lesson on how to make a pot on an electric wheel.

The first thing to remember was to use just a dab of water to adhere the clay lump to the bat. The bat is attached to the wheel. There is an accelerator that you push with your foot, like a car, that gets the wheel in motion. As the clay lump spins, use your dominant hand to guide the clay in the same motion as the wheel’s centrifugal force while pushing against it with your other hand and a cone of clay will rise up like magic.

Now, get your hands in a cupped position to push the cone down again into a spinning disc. If you did it right, the lump is now “centered” – all its muddy little particles are going ’round and ’round with the wheel in complete harmony. Take a breath.

The next step is to create a hole right in the center of the spinning disc. For the beginner, this is harder than it sounds. Using just a couple fingers of your dominant hand, push in the center while holding steady and guiding the disc with the other hand and don’t push all the way to the bottom of the bat – you are making the floor of your pot. Now widen the hole—careful, careful. And once it’s wide enough to stick your hand in, and with your index finger, catch a lip of clay at the bottom and coax it up toward the top while pushing against the outside of the spinning lump with your other hand. Repeat as many times as it takes to make a tall cylinder.

This is the moment to feel a sense of accomplishment before completing the pot. If you are Gomez, you can shape the cylinder into a vase or a bowl or whatever fits your fancy. If you are a beginner, this is when the pot takes on a mind of its own and decides to return to the comfortable glob it once was.

“Don’t be discouraged,” said a more experienced student potter. “Just start over again.”

Practice, practice, practice makes for skill.

If making pottery on the wheel seems too daunting, hand-building is a great way to start getting hooked on ceramics. And this is precisely what a number of people were doing in the large and cheerful ceramic studio.

For a $5 lump of clay and a $25 fee, you can stay as long as you want between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Sunday Drop-in and play with clay. Hands-in-mud is a satisfying feeling, one you haven’t realized you’ve missed until you squish around in it again. It’s so pliable. You feel you can do anything at all with it. It’s friendly – you can be pushy and it won’t mind. Roll it out into a pancake and cut out a shape, press a doily into the surface and see a sunflower impression. Roll out some snakes (surely you did that in kindergarten) and make a pinch pot.

Pat Dagnall of Barnegat is a resident potter at Makers Station. On this day she was completing a wall hanging that will hold peacock feathers. She made the peacock body and used a ready-made mold to make the pottery feathers. After the peacock is bisque-fired she’ll glaze it in some wild colors and let her inner child out.

Charlotte Moran made a coiled pot that she was decorating with tiny Grecian heads (from a mold) and having a great time.

Dayna VonSchmidt had convinced her mom, Samantha, and friend, Al Moore, to spend an afternoon creating. She made her favorite animal, a wolf sculpture with wolf cub. Her mom made a coiled pot and Moore made a duck decoy.

Karen Ryerson is an accomplished potter and turned out a few pots in the space of two hours, as did Denise Talbot, who has been taking classes since Makers Station opened. “This is the best thing I’ve done for myself in a long time,” she said. She completed a bowl, a cup and a round mushroom object that was going to be an urchin. “Once it dries to the leather stage (takes about a day) I’ll use a squeeze bottle filled with slip (wet, runny clay) and make the spines.”

Makers Station is owned and run by Gomez. His undergraduate degree is from the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia and his master’s in ceramics and glass is from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Gomez has taught at both Tyler and Stockton University.

Besides the ceramics classes, he is at work building a glass furnace to offer glass blowing classes.

“I want this to be the place where students can come and be able to create and learn and for it to be the basis to move on with the arts,” Gomez said. “I’ve always been able to provide a very positive learning experience for my students.”

Makers Station is located at 206 Main St. (Route 9) in West Creek. Call 609 296-2042 for further information and schedule of classes.

— Pat Johnson




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