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Taking shape

Pottery group encourages Charlestown residents to get in touch with their creative side

Created date

December 12th, 2016
Eugenia High is part of the Charlestown pottery group that makes handmade plates, ornaments, jewelry, and other objects in the community’s on-site arts studio.

Eugenia High is part of the Charlestown pottery group that makes handmade plates, ornaments, jewelry, and other objects in the community’s on-site arts studio.

From knitting and jewelry making to hand-designed greeting cards, a do-it-yourself fever is making its way across the country.

Matt Stinchcomb, executive director of Etsy, an interactive on-line craft marketplace, believes the rise in crafts can be partly attributed to employment defined by sensory deprivation. 

“So many people have jobs sitting at a computer,” Stinchcomb said in an LA Times article. “There is no tangible product with a tactile experience at the end of the workday, so you see more people want to make something with their hands.”

Since their launch in 2005, 1.7 million sellers from around the world have opened up online Etsy shops. In 2015 alone, they reportedly brokered $2.39 billion in annual gross merchandise sales.

White collar workers aren’t the only ones interested in crafting. Craft groups made up of older Americans like the pottery group at Charlestown, an Erickson Living community based in Catonsville, Md., find crafts are not only a great creative outlet but also a great way to socialize and stay connected with friends.

Creative outlet

“I knew when I moved here I wanted to have fun, and there are plenty of fun things to do,” says Eugenia High. “I saw a pottery class listed in the Resident Life catalog, and I thought I would give it a try.” 

Eugenia had never made pottery before she moved to Charlestown two years ago, but that didn’t stop her from signing up for an eight-week course through Baltimore County Community College where she learned how to mold and shape clay into beautiful works of art. 

“At the end of the course, some of us wanted to continue on,” says Eugenia. “A small group of us still get together once a week. We make plates, ornaments, jewelry, all kinds of things by hand. Some people are serious about their work and even sell the items they make. I really just do it for the fun of it.”

Sondra Tucker, the group’s facilitator, learned the art of pottery-making a few years ago from fellow Charlestown resident and retired high school art teacher Stephanie Weiss. Now Sondra shares the practices she learned from Stephanie in the community’s Main Street Art Studio every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to noon. 

“Everyone does their own thing,” says Sondra. “I give them tips and suggestions, but most people are being creative in their own way.” 

There are two methods of making pottery—hand built and wheel thrown. Hand-built pottery, the method of choice for Sondra and the Charlestown pottery group, uses three different techniques: the pinch pot method, which uses your thumb and forefinger to thin and mold the clay; the coil method, which rolls clay into thin ropes to be used as a base or rim; and the slab method by which a rolling pin is used to flatten the clay, similar to rolling out a pie crust. 

“I really enjoy the creativity of it and getting my hands in the clay,” says Sondra. “I’ve done mostly plates for the last few months, but I also do plaques, sculptures, and vases. Some of the things I make I give away as gifts, some things I use myself, and others I have for sale in one of the display cases outside the studio.”

One-of-a-kind finds

This month, Charlestown residents will have the opportunity to sell their crafts in the annual craft show, a two-day event showcasing the community’s artisans. Everything from fine needlecrafts and seasonal greeting cards to hand-painted clothing, handbags, and jewelry will be featured. 

“It’s one of our most popular events,” says Mary Evans, community resources manager at Charlestown. “We’ve got such a talented group of people living here. The craft show allows them to showcase their talents and share their creativity.”

As for Eugenia, pottery isn’t the only thing she has on her plate. 

“I’m also taking ELLIC (Elderhostel Lifelong Learning Institute at Charlestown) classes. I’m in a walking club, the computer club, a jewelry-making group called the Bead Boopers. I volunteer with the community’s Treasure [Chest] sale,” says Eugenia. “There are so many wonderful things you can become involved in at Charlestown if that’s what you want to do.”