Alexis Zaccariello was delighted to find a new pottery studio in her classroom at the Rochester Alternative Learning Center (ALC) when she was hired as an art instructor seven years ago. She had taken pottery in high school, but her college didn’t offer classes, so she hadn’t been back in a studio in many years. She knew that in order to teach her students pottery, she would need to delve back into that early love. She found a mentor, invited guest instructors in and just taught the basics at first. Two summers ago, she committed herself to becoming a better potter so that she could be a better teacher. She spent hours and hours in the studio and was surprised that people wanted to purchase her work at the end of that intensive summer of study.
How do you make pottery?
The main two ways to make pottery are to hand build and to “throw” pieces on a wheel. Hand building is relatively accessible, and the basics can be taught quickly, allowing the student to see success quickly. Wheel throwing is more difficult and takes time and practice to achieve finished products that resemble mugs, bowls and other shapes.
Physical and emotional benefits of throwing pottery
Alexis explains, “The physical act of throwing is addictive.” Getting the clay ready to work with, or wedging, takes physical strength and endurance. Physical strength is required because you are using your entire body to manipulate the clay on the wheel. Feeling the clay mold and shape beneath your hands creates what Alexis believes is a mind-body connection, or a flow state. “You lose track of everything around you and are just in the moment. You have complete focus on the clay. You must be completely connected with the clay; if you think too hard, you mess up.” If you mess up, you have immediate feedback because of the responsiveness of the clay to pressure.
The meditative quality of the experience has helped Alexis, and she sees it helping her students at ALC as well. “When I throw, I experience healing from things I didn’t even know I was struggling with. It fills something that you didn’t know was missing. It also helps to prevent anxiety and stress.”
Lessons learned from throwing
Along with serving as a meditative, flow-state activity, pottery also teaches valuable lessons for those who participate. For the youth at ALC, she observes that doing the parts you don’t like so that you can do the parts you do like is a good lesson to work hard on something and be rewarded. You don’t just get to do the fun, throwing clay part. You also have to really commit to all the steps, including setting up, wedging the clay, throwing and cleaning up. It teaches you discipline, patience, humility and endurance.
Recommendations for those who want to get their hands in the mud
Alexis recommends finding an introduction to pottery class that offers two to four sessions so that you can try it out before you commit to a longer and more expensive series of classes. There are several pottery studios in Rochester who offer drop-in or ladies night sessions and brief introductory classes. Visit 125 Live in Rochester and Crossings in Zumbrota for class offerings.