Clay Is Not Dirt

A Primal Meeting
by Lynn Terpstra

In 1969, when I was 19 and living in Los Angeles, I had taken five pottery lessons and knew practically nothing.  So, when I moved to Ottawa in 1970 and found Pestalozzi, a 22-story experimental co-op “college” (and residential hippie heaven), with a marginally equipped non-operational pottery studio, the 19-year-old me convinced the co-op board that I could certainly run a pottery studio in exchange for free rent. I taught classes and always managed to be at least one step ahead of my students. But when we left Ottawa, in 1972, I gave up pottery completely. It was only last September, 44 years later, that I decided that it was time to get reacquainted with clay. 

I stumbled into a fantastic studio, Saltstone Ceramics, that had just opened in Wallingford. There were six available studio member spots and I was fortunate enough to become Member Number Four (they also offer lots of classes and workshops). Some of the muscle memory of throwing clay remained after all those years, but I approached it with a beginner’s mind and have worked almost obsessively over the past nine months to improve my skills and techniques, work with more intention, and develop my own quirky artistic vision. 

It’s hard work and humbling. It’s back breaking. It’s destroying my fingernails. It’s frequently on my mind. Daydreams now involve throwing, trimming and glazing pots. I neglect errands and chores. I’m critical of my own work and, so far, I don’t treasure the results. But I do treasure the process of creation. 

I love giving my pots away. I love the community of potters in the studio, a remarkable eclectic group of creative folks who, when not throwing pots, work as scientists, doctors, writers, genetic counselors, software developers. A few of us are retired. We have delightful, sometimes insightful conversations and sometimes it’s quiet contemplative work. It’s a special place and I am so grateful to have found it. 

Pottery starts with dirt. Nothing else is more basic, a primal meeting of gravity with earth, air, fire and water. Last September, I couldn’t have imagined how much I love clay.  

Seattle-area Ceramics & Pottery Studios:

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