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A Return to Clay – Hand Building with Terra Cotta

My Return to Making Clay
Left to Right: (above) Of the Earth, 1975; The Lucius Burchess Chicken Guarding the Golden Egg Cookie Jar Building, 1976; Being Female: Old Age, 1977; Looking In, 1980

The start of a new year (2018) is always a great reason to start on a new project, or in my case return to something that has been missing in my life for decades. That something is clay. Many moons ago I was a sculpture major and clay was my medium of choice. I didn’t really throw on a potter’s wheel, I hand built structures with coils, slabs of clay, and pushing/pulling the clay as I went along. My hands were my primary tool, that and my imagination.

I discovered a class being offered via the Oregon College of Arts and Crafts through their Community Programs: Terra Cotta Throw Down. It’s a 12 week class devoted to working with terra cotta clay – a deep red clay body – and different ways to glaze and decorate. What also drew me to the class was the body of work of the instructor, Chanda Zea Glendinning. She used white slips, underglazes and stains before applying a clear glaze for stunning results. I was excited! 

My Clay Tools
My Clay Tools

I was so ready to start. First I dug out all my old clay tools from way back when and gave them a good washing. I picked up a new smallish note/sketch book too.

My Clay Studio
The Ceramic Studio at the Oregon College of Arts and Crafts, Portland, Oregon

The first evening of class was all about introductions, inspiration, and an overall tour of the ceramic studio. There were 11 other students, all from different backgrounds and different levels of experience. All were interested in working with the red clay.

But what to make first? I wasn’t sure at all. I opened a new bag of terra cotta clay – we were each assigned 4 bags for the duration of the class – tore off a piece and began to roll it in the palm of my hands. I turned it over and pressed my thumb into the center, and out to the sides. It was cold and soft and oh-so-malleable. Slowly it was becoming a small vessel. I cut into it and added a thin layer of clay for decoration. Something to paint later, or not. I had just made a pinch pot.

Clay Pinch Pot
Clay Pinch Pot

The touch, the feel, it was all coming back. I felt as if I was waking up – waking up to something that was deep within my creative self. I was home.

Here is the first of several ’Spirit Animals’ I created - more to come!
Here is the first of several ’Spirit Animals’ I created – more to come!