First Time at the Wheel

Slow down, watch your wheel speed, take your time and restart if you need to. No, it’s not a driver’s ed class for this class of sophomores, but the final days of Intro to Ceramics 101, an Upper School art elective taught by new faculty member Lawrence Timmins. Though this is Lawrence’s first MB semester, from his rapport with the students, you’d think he’d been here for years.

The room literally hums with the sounds of the wheel and has the inviting aroma of woodworking (which rises from the woodshop a floor below). The banter between the students is enthusiastic, as are their discussions with Lawrence. His energy buoys that of the classroom, as he checks in with the students.

They’ve already mastered building various clay structure projects by hand, now’s their chance to work on the wheel – it’s fun but not as easy as it looks.

“But I was doing so well!” explains sophomore Bowen L. in good-natured frustration as the clay on the wheel caves in on itself.

“Don’t get caught up in the moment,” Lawrence encourages. “Stop, take a break. Take it slow. Keep breathing.”

Sophomore Sanvi R. appears very confident with the wheel and helps a couple of her peers who are a bit more unsure. She explains the importance of firmly slamming down the clay on the wheel. It keeps the clay from flying off the wheel, she says, and it needs to be dead center to maintain evenness as it spins.

The class is structured into three areas over the semester. First students learn the fundamentals of handbuilding through the technique of pinch potting, which is shaping clay by pinching it into a desired form. Next they are introduced to coil work (structures built from clay coils), which builds upon those skills. At this point students are encouraged to try to represent ideas that are more abstract conceptually. They then transition to slab techniques, rolling clay out evenly then cutting shapes, which provide even more freedom to be creative with structures that are larger in scale.

After three units that involve building with clay by hand, these artists’ skills will be put to the test as they now transition to throwing pieces on the fast-paced pottery wheel. The assignment: “Make a cup 5” tall, 3” wide with even walls.” The clay wheel process, though messy, is challenging but certainly very enjoyable based on this lively class session.

“It’s a nice way to end the class,” Lawrence adds. “I want them to understand the process of building in clay first. This is kind of a reward at the end.”

Looking forward to seeing how those cups turn out!