Clay and potatoes become art

Created date

August 1st, 2009

Florence D Avella, who lives at Brooksby Village, adds some edges to her spoon holder during the community s weekly pottery workshop. On one side of the table, an artist molds her clay into what will eventually be a large dish, while her neighbor delicately paints flowers onto a smaller clay dish. Beside them, three women hover over a potato that will generate beads for a colorful necklace.

Creativity abounds in Brooksby s Towne Centre crafts studio during these weekly two-hour pottery workshops, which have gained popularity since Lois Robblee began organizing them late last year.

"I guess I m the instigator," Robblee admits, meanwhile picking apart bits of clay for use by the eight regular workshop participants.

New formations

An outside instructor used to teach pottery classes at Brooksby, but most of the interest for the classes faded a couple of years ago. That was, until Robblee, who had taken the classes, started up the pottery workshop on her own last year. When she featured it in last year s activity fair at Brooksby, Robblee was able to entice newcomers like Florence D Avella.

"I m not artistic in any way, but I thought it would be fun," D Avella says. She was right. After successfully making a planter and beaded necklace, D Avella was at work on a kitchen spoon holder.

Participants work individually, using various techniques to hand-mold clay into useful household pieces and jewelry beads that then go into the craft room s large kiln for firing (baking). The pieces are fired once ("bisque" firing) before the artist paints them and fires them again.

Playing with clay

"You start with a block of clay, which looks like nothing, and we make it into beautiful and useful objects," says Robblee, who walks around lending a hand to those who need assistance. Though she has been molding clay for the past few years and has taken two years of classes, giving her the know-how to teach others, she still considers herself a beginner.

Even for those with experience in pottery making like Luci Leaf, who taught art for 30 years Brooksby s pottery workshop is a relaxed place to create.

"Now that I m retired, I play all the time," Leaf says as she swishes glaze around the inside of her carefully painted dish. "I really wouldn t live any other place than this."

Beside her, Eleanor Meyer, who also has experience in pottery-making, creates a larger dish with a very different look.

"I m making it mottled brown so it looks like it came out of a tomb," Meyer says. Of the art, she adds, "It s fascinating I love it."

Potato wear

With one meal a day included in the monthly service package, many Brooksby residents find little need for culinary activity. Even so, Evelyn Frankel, who lives in the community, still makes good use of potatoes.

Alongside those making pottery, Frankel oversees the making of potato necklaces, which she and others wear. First, they peel the potatoes and cut them into small pieces. After letting them dry for about a week, they paint and glaze the pieces before stringing them into necklaces. The end result bears no resemblance to the original potato.

"One potato goes a long way," Frankel says.

From archaeological dishes to potato necklaces, there are plenty of eye-catching pieces coming from Brooksby s pottery workshop, which is open to all. The only requirement is that participants pay a small fee for materials. No background in art is necessary.

"It s a total creative thing," Robblee says. "We might all start to make a vase, but when we re finished, everybody s product is totally different."