hands are molding a piece of clay on a spinning pottery board.
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The Culture of Crafters

The bell rings, and I quickly pile my things together and shove them in my backpack, just itching to escape from my third-period Econ class. I swing my backpack over my shoulder and rush to the hallway gasping for the non-economic air, having been tormented by countless aggregate supply-and-demand graphs for an hour straight.

My mood lifts as I realize that my school day is coming to an end, and I head for my fourth-period ceramics class. One earbud is in with the just-right song that I selected before the haul over to ceramics because I like pretending I’m in a movie scene making my way down the halls of a typical teen-high school flick.

I pass by the display class that houses some of the best ceramics pieces that students have made. Every day, I glance into the case to see whether any new pieces have been added, or whether I’ll spot a new detail about one of them that I missed the day before.

Ms. Hendricks, my ceramics teacher, is standing by the classroom door ready to greet me. I put my belongings on one of the storage shelves and make my way to the aprons. As my friend Marangeley and I are adjusting the clay-covered denim smocks, we hear a familiar song come on.

“Is this really playing in class?” says Marangeley. She struts towards our table, mocking the viral video “Walk a mile in these Louis Vuittons!”

Unlike any of my other classes, in this one we feel comfortable enough to be goofy and crack jokes. We can be vulnerable, and that has contributed to our ability to create art because different ways of thinking and doing are actually encouraged and tested.


Uncharted territory

This is just about the only class where I walk in and I’m actually looking forward to working on my assignment. Before taking ceramics this year, I hadn’t taken a creative class since arts and crafts in elementary school. Since starting high school, I have always been focused on taking advanced classes to get my GPA up, but this is different in the best way possible.

The first day I got to make something in ceramics I was shocked. I was stimulating the creative, the artistic lobes of my brain – parts that I had been neglecting for some time. No, I’m not learning how to do my taxes or how to identify the six noble gases or any of those other “necessary life skills” that college programs insist I need.

Yet I’m learning important lessons. I can feel my mind expands as I create. I’m testing my creativity, planning out various ways to build my ideas, collaborating with others. Ceramics is a type of learning that lets me explore my style and what I’m interested in, a type of learning and growth that was foreign to me before but that I have come to love.


Losing track of time

After about fifteen minutes of working on our projects, we hear Ms. Hendricks shout, “All right everyone up! Form a circle around the class!” As with every project, we circulate around and look at everyone’s progress, checking out what people make and how they made it. Afterward, she asks if anyone would like to give a shout out to a fellow classmate or simply point out something they admired.

Finally, one brave soul raises her hand, then more hands begin to pop up. One by one, we talk about someone’s art and give them a round of applause. My mug (we’re working on mugs) is even mentioned, and the recognition of my hard work and what I had thought up feels pretty good. 

After the peer-evaluation activity, I jump back into working on my project at my seat. Slightly frustrated, my friend Camila says, “I don’t know what to do. How do I make flowers?” She has a vine branch carved into her mugs and is stuck on what to do next. Marangeley has suggested cherry blossoms, and Camilia likes the idea but has no clue how to make them in smooth clay.

I pull a paintbrush from the cup on the table and flip it bristles down, suggesting she use it to make little impressions along the vines. It was a collaborative effort, fellow artists and friends helping each other out, bouncing ideas off of each other, giving feedback and support. I only know Marangeley and Camila from sitting next to them in class this year, yet I look forward to seeing them, talking to them, watching them and their art progress day by day.

Ms. Hendricks stops by our table to tell Lauren that her mug “really stands out.”

Time passes unnoticed. Marangeley and Camilia are busy working on their pieces. I’ve got clay all over my hands and am focused on shaping what’s in my hands to what’s in my head. The pottery wheel buzzes as someone embraces their wet lump of clay. Small talk and “clay farts” drift from the wedging table as people from different tables roll up their sleeves to wedge some clay after they’ve run out of their supply.

Reggae or 90’s hip-hop, Ms. Hendricks preferred genres, alternate on the stereo at the back of the room. “Out in the streets we call it murder!” blares from the speakers. I look up and see people laughing, working – no cellphones or computers, just people and possibilities.


More than an art

Ceramics is more than an art; it’s a culture. It’s the appreciation I now have for a freshly wedged chunk of clay, the new friends I’ve met, the Instagram artists that I’ve become obsessed with while looking for inspiration, the encouragement of self-expression and the support that I get from my teacher.

Ceramics is a community of creators who know that the sky’s the limit as to what they can mold with this ground wet stone, from something useful, like a pot or bowl, to something purely for pleasure, like a sculpture. Ms. Hendricks once said, “What is more satisfying than being able to drink coffee out of a cup you made yourself?”

Yes, what was once soft, malleable mud is now a piece of art. Ceramics allows people like me to explore our style and abilities, to discover what we like and dislike, to relish our improvement and growth. We are making something, solving problems, thinking. We are creating!

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