Just one of the unique opportunities offered by the Coastal Arts Center of Orange Beach, Alabama, is a hands-on experience at a potter’s wheel. Resident artist Abby Leach guided Phyllis through the process.
A fist-size piece of clay is cut, like cheese, from a large block, formed into a ball and slapped onto the bat in the center of the wheel. Using her right foot on a floor pedal, Phyllis set the wheel in motion, adjusting the speed as if driving a car. Like a first time driver, there were a few jerky moments before she found just the right speed.
A grey slurry slipped between her fingers as Phyllis gently squeezed and shaped the soft, wet clay up into a cone, down into a mound,
and up into a cone again. Abby drizzled water over Phyllis’ hands with a sponge, to keep the clay moist and pliable.
The more pressure Phyllis applied with her thumbs into the middle of the clay, the more dramatic the change in the shape.
“You have to feel the bowl, the shape, the vision of what you want,” Abby said. “You will know when it is right.”
Phyllis brushed the dried bowl with a pale turquoise glaze. Abby assured her that when it came out of the kiln it would be the color she had chosen, a bright blue, and it was.
At the Coastal Arts Center Clay Studio you can get right into the “mud” the way Phyllis did, or hand build, paint and fire a ceramic piece to take home or watch Abby Leach as she designs original pieces and demonstrates traditional techniques.