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.

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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.

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The more pressure Phyllis applied with her thumbs into the middle of the clay, the more dramatic the change in the shape.

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“You have to feel the bowl, the shape, the vision of what you want,” Abby said. “You will know when it is right.”

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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.

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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.