Messing with Mud


Take a blob of wet clay looking like an uncooked burger (or a giant mushy M&M), splat it onto a potter’s wheel, and… …almost anything can happen next.

That’s what seven school kids discovered through a weeklong class with master potter Ara Cardew, in partnership with VSA Vermont. All seven had lived in the Haven’s Family Shelter, and continue to participate in programs once their families were reestablished in homes in the community.

Rik Rolla, a Shelburne-based potter who has worked with children for years, says that “Kids love to touch clay – they’re like moths to a flame with it.” Participants in the Haven program had other motivations as well. Peter, for example, wanted to try pottery “because I was wondering how they made the stuff like the Egyptian artifacts they find, or like the jars, or like in Pompeii.” As the group made pottery of their own, “We sort of explained it a tiny bit.” Like everyone, Peter (at the kids’ request, I’m not using their real names) made a fish and a pig, along with other creations.

Allison’s reason to do the course was a bit different. She likes to sing, draw, and paint, and says “I also wanted to try pottery because I’ve never done it before – I’m always trying to do new art things. A lot of people say I have a creative side, and I wanted to work on that more.” Her creative side emerges most vividly in the bright colors of her glazes.

Joe had made pottery at school before and thought it would be fun to try again.
As everyone knows who has tried to “throw a pot,” even centering the clay on the pottery wheel can be a challenge.

Fortunately, Ara was always there. According to Peter, “He was funny and would mess around with us a little bit, but whenever we’d mess up on something, he would come and help us.”

When the week was over, the participants staged a show of their work for friends and families, explaining the techniques they’d used to create their pieces. According to Janine Moretti, the children’s services associate at the Haven who supervised the pottery program, “It was great to see them showing pride in what they did. It was a new outlet for them, something they wouldn’t have been able to do if it hadn’t been for the support provided by VSA Vermont.”

It wasn’t just the ceramic pigs and pots that mattered at the end; it was the opportunity through the course to maintain a link with the Haven, which had provided the kids with opportunities in many forms over the years. “We’re something that’s very consistent in their life,” says Janine, “and that’s important. We’re a good support.” It’s the kind of support VSA Vermont tries to provide through its programs for disabled and disadvantaged children and adults throughout the state.

Perhaps the last word should go to Joe. What he had to say about Ara Cardew reflected what all the participants seemed to feel about their week of pottery: “Bloody marvelous!!”

Written by David French, VSA Communications Volunteer

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