Afterschool Adventures: A Potter's Wheel Dizzying for Some, Calming for Others
Owners of Bristol Gallery: Teaching Is Hard to Give Up
March 08, 2009*** Published: March 5, 2009 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier. ***
BRISTOL, Tenn. — Running a potter's wheel is kind of like driving a car. To make it run, you step on a pedal – or what artist Ed Lockett simply called "the gas."
Enthusiastically, I cruised into the beginner's lane as one of Lockett's students at Bristol's One of Kind Gallery.
Left alone to play with clay, however, I probably should have been wearing a seatbelt: I floored the potter's wheel pedal like I was headed up an on-ramp to I-81, trying to gain speed before I was smashed by an oncoming 18-wheeler. My clay, meanwhile, kind of crashed.
And that potter's wheel – well, it started rolling so fast and that clay started spinning at such a dizzying rate, let's just say we were all lucky that none of it left that wheel and splattered the fine art of this State Street gallery.
My daughter, Abigail, meanwhile, worked more slowly – and much more carefully – on her own piece of clay.
On a snowy afternoon, the second-grader had tagged along with me to this gallery, and she warmed to the life lessons of Lockett in what turned out to be the beginning of an after-school adventure.
"DIDN'T RUSH IT'
Abigail took to pottery naturally, just as she does at home – making shapes with Play-Doh.
"That's good. You're very calm," Lockett observed. "You have to be very calm to be a potter."
"She didn't rush it," said Lockett, 62, a retired public school teacher. "Boys tend to rush more than girls."
My daughter also made pottery look so easy.
Grabbing a glob of clay, a potter starts making a pyramid. Then that pyramid starts to look like a volcano as it spins on the potter's wheel and rises between your fingers.
Lockett helped Abigail push the cone down in the middle until it looked like a cake. Next, Lockett flipped it. And, as a bowl took shape, Abigail continued to smooth the sides, careful not to drive the potter's wheel too fast.
A few days later, as the pottery had some time to dry, we made it back to One of a Kind Gallery for trimming. But first, Lockett had to locate our work.
This was like a hushed unveiling. Lockett pulled back a heavy sheet of plastic. And you could almost hear all of State Street raving about what Abigail had created – a seemingly perfect bowl, ready for cherry tomatoes from the garden or sugar for Mama's coffee.
But no one clapped when they saw what I had left behind on the potter's wheel. "Here's Dad's thing here," Lockett said, appearing polite so as not to smile or snicker.
My so-called bowl was flat. It looked almost like a pancake. And yet it wasn't even good enough to be called an ashtray. Mimi Kind, the gallery owner, suggested I could use it to make "a coaster for a bumpy glass."
Abigail forged on, using special tools for trimming. In turn, she had to get used to working with wire, as she cut off the bottom of her clay pot. Lockett said she did a "great job." But that wire, Abigail said, kind of hurt her hands.
At age 7, Abigail is much younger than the cluster of fifth-and-sixth graders, or adults, that Lockett normally teaches. A 28-year-old pharmacy technician in Johnson City, Ben Eason signed up to take a potter's class with Lockett earlier this year. "And I really just kind of fell in love with it," Eason said.
Abigail, too, loved the pottery lessons. She easily completed the trimming. Then we bid bye-bye to our bowls, this time knowing that we wouldn't see them again until they were cooked – at nearly 2,000 degrees – in a kiln.
"LIKE PAINTING IT'
Firing clay in a kiln fuses the body together under high heat, changing it from something that is drying out to a permanent vessel, Lockett said.
After that, it's time to glaze. "Glazing is like painting it," Lockett explained. "But, you're putting a glass coating over it."
Abigail glazed her bowl a couple of colors with a brush. Lockett advised her to use "two coats." And, at first, she seemed puzzled. "When you say two coats," she asked, "does that mean go around two times?" Lockett nodded and smiled.
Following that glazing, the pieces would be placed in a kiln again – and, this time, the glaze would melt at a high temperature.
In the meantime, Abigail drove on at the potter's wheel, taking Lockett's suggestion to make another bowl. Actually, I think she just wanted to dig her hands in some more clay.
"It's squishy," she said. Lockett nodded. "It is squishy," Lockett returned, "but I gave you warm water. Isn't that fun?"
A few moments later, Lockett praised his young student. "That's a beautiful bowl," he said. "You did a great job with it." Abigail smiled. And so did I, like a proud papa.
TEACHING IS HARD TO GIVE UP
Like she was revealing a secret, Mimi Kind said an art teacher's job was the best.
Why's that? "Because they got to play with stuff and be with kids," Kind said. "It was wonderful."
Kind should know. She spent 32 years as an art teacher at Tennessee High School.
Still, until she retired last year, Kind hardly found time enough to draw or paint with watercolors. "And that's the biggest complaint that art teachers have – of not having enough time to do their own stuff," Kind said. "Every time I would teach portraiture, no matter how many times I taught it, I would get fired up and want to do it on my own."
Now retired, Kind could easily spend her days creating art then hitting the road on the weekend, selling it at shows.
Instead, she has launched One of a Kind Gallery on State Street with a fellow teacher, Ed Lockett, also recently retired from Tennessee High.
"I felt very, very strongly about a place for Bristol, for downtown," Kind said, "so people didn't have to drive to get their art supplies, so people could see and appreciate and afford fine art."
Lockett, 62, is both an artist and potter. In a 40-year career, he taught art at both Tennessee High and Vance Middle schools, and he was named Art Educator of the Year for the State of Tennessee in 2007.
Kind, 54, has won her own share of accolades. In 2004, she received one of three National Awards of Excellence from the Council for Art Education.
Grinning, Kind said she opened her new gallery "to prove that there is life after retirement."
During afternoons and evenings, Kind teaches a flock of students how to paint or draw. In between, she finds time to paint.
Lockett, meanwhile, specializes in pottery. Smiling, he said, "I have to teach until I die. It makes me feel good to see somebody excited about what they've done.."
YOU SHOULD KNOW
What: One of a Kind Gallery
Where: 604 State Street, Bristol, Tenn.
Info: (423) 652-2648