I recently spent a week up on Lake Erie at the Lakeside resort, which is a Chautauqua community owned by the Methodist church, where like-minded individuals gather for education, as well as spiritual and emotional development (at least that’s what it says on the brochure). Really, it feels more like summer camp.
Little cottages with picket fences line the streets in a grid down to the lakefront, where a park stretches the length of the shore and is lined with putt-putt golf, shuffleboard courts, tennis courts, a historic lakefront hotel, a foot trail, a playground or two, an ice cream parlor, a pizza joint, sunfish sailing, kayaks, a swimming beach, and various sundry diversions. Essentially, there’s just fun stuff to do all day long.
My daughter’s schedule was beyond my ability to keep straight. Thank God for her Nana, who played Julie, the cruise director for the week (“And now, on the Lido deck, Siena has Rock Painting, followed by a scavenger hunt, then supervised playground games, before the hot dog roast at 6:00 and the country-western dance at 7:00.” I’m not kidding.)
So I decided to sign up for two week-long classes – pottery wheel throwing and soapstone sculpture. I started both on the same morning.
3 Steps To Throwing A Pot
I had never touched a pottery wheel before, but I had always wanted to, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to do it. As we sat down to get started, our teacher Dan explained that there are three steps.
- Centering. After kneading the clay until it’s free of air holes, you lump it into a ball, throw it on the wheel, and spin the wheel while manipulating the clay with your hands to make sure it’s centered on the wheel. Otherwise, you wind up with a lopsided pot.
- Opening up. Once you’re convinced that your clay is centered, it’s time to dig your thumbs into the center of the mound and pull out the edges into something decidedly bowl-shaped.
- Finishing. After “throwing” your pot, you have to let it dry, flip it upside down, and carve the “foot” of the bowl, flattening it out to make it level and removing the extra clay.
Surprisingly, the centering part came easily for me on day one. Most of the students found their mounds of clay wobbling around from side to side, but somehow I got lucky, and my clay pretty much started out centered and didn’t need much adjusting.
Opening up, however, was another matter. I dug my thumbs in, no problem, but one side of the pot rocked and rolled like it was about to flip over. And then the pedal on my wheel got stuck and the whole thing sort of keeled over. So I had to go back to square one. Centering. Do over. Take a deep breath. Remember that it’s the process, not the product, that matters the most. Breathe in. Breathe out. Center. Then open up again.
The second time went much better. I was able to open up the pot more evenly, and it went smoothly enough for me to really enjoy the meditative process of holding the wet clay in my hands and watching how the subtle movements of my hands changed the whole shape of the vessel I was forming. Curving my thumbs inwards gave the bowl an inward facing lip. Pushing my pinkies down towards the wheel, and spreading my thumbs wide, opened up the top more. And if I lost my focus, I lost my center, and the whole thing started to go splat.
After a lot of kanoodling, my first pot was finally finished. All I had to do was take a wire looped between two pieces of wood, cut it off the wheel, and scoot the bowl onto a piece of wood where it could dry overnight. But somehow, in the process, my smooth bowl wound up with a gaping gash marring the side.