An Ancient Craft Undergoes a Revival
by Diana Ungerleider
In today’s high-tech world, everything moves at an increasingly frenetic pace. Innovations in technology and communication bring us up-to-the-minute news and information on our screens, but can also leave us feeling stressed and tense. In addition, almost every object that we use daily, from dishes and clothing to computers and cars, is mass-produced in factories. Making things by hand is seen as too labor-intensive, expensive and inefficient.
In sharp contrast to all this digitally-induced tension is the resurgence in interest in hand-made crafts, especially pottery. Shaping clay with one’s hands – a process that humans discovered many centuries ago – into a useful bowl or vase or sculpture involves the eye, the mind and the hands in a way that satisfies a primal human urge to manipulate one’s environment and create with simple materials.
The most venerable is the Clayhouse in Santa Monica, the oldest continually operating pottery studio on the westside, which first opened its doors in 1971. A working studio, school and gallery, it offers classes on the potters’ wheel, as well as “handbuilding” (shaping clay by hand, without a wheel). It also offers memberships to experienced potters who use the facilities to make, glaze and fire their creations. From the street, all one sees is a small, unassuming gallery that sells the members’ work. But behind that gallery is where the real story happens.
At any time of day or night, a visitor to the studio can observe members and students at work. Electric potter’s wheels hum as balls of soft clay get “thrown” into bowls, mugs, vases and platters. At long communal work tables, others are busy constructing with flat slabs or coils of clay. Two gas kilns are almost continually in use, firing the clay objects into colorful, finished works of art.
In addition to the physical space and equipment, the Clayhouse provides something else: a sense of community. Members and students get to know each other and bond over their shared interest in ceramics, technical problems are discussed, and friendships develop in a relaxed, congenial atmosphere. As long-time member Amy Kivnick remarked, “There is a great deal of creative inspiration here”.
For over four decades, the Clayhouse has provided a welcoming space for potters of all ages and abilities, from complete beginners to advanced artists who show their work in galleries or on their own websites. Many come just to get away from their computers and workday stresses, and spend a little time enjoying the satisfaction of getting their hands into soft clay and recapturing the joy of being a 5 year old making mud pies.
If you are interested in seeing the results of these low-tech but highly creative endeavors, come to the annual Clayhouse Holiday Pottery Sale. Sale hours are Friday, December 7 from 4 to 9 pm, and Saturday, December 8 from 10 am to 5 pm. The address is 2909 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica 90404. Telephone 310-828-7071.