Once upon a time I was in high school. I took a pottery 1 class as an elective because I needed an art credit and thought that it might be fun. I was wrong about that. I was really incredibly bad at pottery. I could not keep the freaking clay centered and everything I made looked like a stupid lump of ugly crap.
Fortunately it wasn’t often that I was able to make anything at all. On top of that my teacher was scary! She was really intense and didn’t really seem to like teaching high school freshman how to center clay. We often had readings and quizzes on a number of new terms and they were actually quite challenging. It was not the easy A I was expecting at all. I think I got a low B or maybe even a C in that class? But I finished and never wanted to touch clay again.
When you are in high school, you let your friends talk you into doing things that you wouldn’t normally do. I let my friend talk me into taking pottery 2 with her. We would have the same lunch period if I did and she claimed that the other pottery teacher was really cool. So I reluctantly signed up. I was still really bad at pottery. I made this horrific vase that looked like something a Dr Seuss creature vomited up. The class wasn’t horrible though because I spent most of the class goofing around with my friend. We even learned how to make ceramic whistles. I was mostly amused that after several students made pipes, our teacher decided that only functioning whistles would be fired. I guess that policy was created in order to prevent HIM from getting fired.
I had such a good time in this class that I decided to take pottery 3 back with the original teacher. It turned out that she was actually really cool. She just hated pottery 1 because a million kids would come into her class, early in the morning, expecting easy A’s and not taking her craft very seriously. They generally lacked respect for the space and the materials and the art. The students that stuck with it and worked hard and took it seriously were treated much differently. This teacher and I ended up getting along really well. She was funny! When she taught us how to make teapots she asked all the boys to leave and told the ladies that, “Sometimes nozzles have a tendency to look like dicks. If this is happening to you, I will tap you on the shoulder and say ‘MSO’. This stands for male sex organ. Don’t tell the boys, they can’t handle it.” She also had a code word for “shut the fuck up,” had a tea kettle in the classroom and she even let me walk around barefoot because I told her I couldn’t make art as long as my feet were confined. She let me walk around barefoot even as she read the number one rule aloud to the pottery 1 kids. YOU MUST WEAR CLOSED TOED SHOES AT ALL TIMES!
FINALLY pottery began to click for me. Somewhere along the way I had developed some skill and some muscle memory. Now my pots were turning out how I had imagined them. My next attempt at a vase was passable! Not good, but passable! I was starting to enjoy pottery now. It was a nice break from my other classes where I could move and do something with my hands. It was relaxing and fun! Sometimes my teacher would even write me notes so I could skip the classes I hated and come to pottery.
I ended up taking advanced pottery and AP pottery my senior year. This was a serious commitment. We had an incredible workload to complete. This required some dedication. It was a small group of students, only about 9-10 who made it this far. We were a little pottery family. We would come into pottery before school started and sometimes our teacher would even make us breakfast! We would come in and work during lunch and we always stayed late after school. Sometimes we would all go get coffee first and then come back. On more than one occasion we stayed so late that we ended up ordering pizza and having dinner in the studio. It was my extra curricular activity and I loved it. It even became therapeutic for my arthritis.
I was legitimately good at pottery now. There were few things that I could make and I was even assistant teaching pottery 1. Now I understood why pottery 1 kids were terrible…
We had just gotten new sponges and one little boy decides, “hmmmm… I think I should grab some scissors and turn this sponge into a penis.” As punishment, he was required to pin the penis sponge to his pants whenever he entered the room for the rest of the year.
I was making the clay and the glaze, I was assisting with firings, I was on the planning committee for the big annual empty bowls event.
Unfortunately the local news came in to do a special on the event. It was this weird old dude with a camera who I guess decided, “hey, why don’t I walk over to this girl, ask her to come into the creepy back room with me, and then make her answer a lot of questions about pottery while I tape her.”
I didn’t know there was an actual purpose for this but the next week I was all over the school news. I looked terrified, like I was about to be kidnapped. I was talking a million miles an hour in a very high pitched voice and I kept looking around like I was waiting for someone to come save me. It was horrible. I am embarrassing. And they still use the same video for this event to this day! WHY?!?
Pottery was a huge part of my senior year. My work was always on display in the halls and I even ended up winning an award and having my work displayed around the city. I ended up studying ceramics in college and I just got back into it!
I work at a cute community studio in Lincoln Park and its great. Basically I am doing everything I wanted to be doing at 23. I go to work in the loop every day so I can make a living (this is ideal compared to my last job serving coffee to the general public. Sorry general public, you are terrible). Then I bike to my pottery studio and work for a while before heading back to my Andersonville apartment. The only thing that would make it better is sharing my work with you!