The shape of things to come

Pottery classes give students chance to get their hands dirty

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2008



A new crop of clay artists is budding at the Kenai Fine Arts Center. As of last Friday, the Kenai Potters Guild began its most recent eight-week pottery course for artists of all levels.

Ida Cockcroft, studio coordinator for the Kenai Potters Guild, has been involved with the organization for about 20 years. The Guild shares space with the Peninsula Art Guild at the arts center in Old Town Kenai, so space is somewhat limited.

"Eight is all we're allowed to have in there. We have just eight wheels," Cockcroft said.

Cockcroft has taught many classes through the Guild, as well as through Kenai Peninsula College. In recent years, other instructors for the Guild have included Charlie LaForge and Forest McDaniels.

Most recently, LaForge taught a class, and the Guild ended up with a waiting list.

"There was such a demand with names on the list, that I went on with a class after his," Cockcroft said.

The Guild meets regularly to determine what upcoming events and classes it will offer.

The question of to have or not have a class often is answered by demand. Though Cockcroft's current class is full, it doesn't hurt to contact the guild to sign-up on a notification list for classes. It doesn't matter whether a student is brand new to clay art or already has some training, the instructors tend to work with a variety of levels in each class.

"Usually the ones that are a little more advanced go out on their own, and when they need to know how something is done I'll go and demonstrate that for them, and then everybody wants to look," Cockcroft said.

She also encourages students to try new techniques. For students who have only done handbuilding, they might take the opportunity to start working on the pottery wheel. For students who have spent more time on the wheel, they may want to learn more handbuilding.

"I tell them, 'You can do anything you can do on the wheel, by hand.' It takes a little longer, and the steps are a little different. So I try to show them how you can create different things," Cockcroft said.

Peggy Gill Thompson, secretary for the Kenai Potters Guild, suggests that classes, or any of the workshops at the Guild, are a great way to get started.

"You don't have to qualify or anything, you just have to be interested in potting, making something out of clay. ... I would say the best way is to get your hands into it. A lot of people, they start playing with clay and they're hooked. Others aren't, but that's what usually happens," Gill said.

Thompson mentioned an upcoming opportunity for interested parties who may have missed the start of Cockcroft's class but want to get their hands into it. Marie Herdegan, a clay artist from Homer, will give a workshop from noon to 5 p.m. April 12. The cost is $20 for nonguild members and free for guild members. The workshop will be a demonstration emphasizing the differences between handbuilding and wheel throwing.

Donna Steele, Guild president, is one example of a potter who got hooked by taking classes.

"I took one with Ahna Iredale, who's now in Homer, and then when I came back, I took one with Ida Cockcroft. The people at the Guild, the potters, are very helpful for new people. There's a lot of instruction through the Guild," Steele said.

Membership is $20 for a year. Benefits include participation in bulk supply ordering and the ability to rent studio space at the arts center.

"You can come in and work whenever you feel like it, which is very helpful for people who work during the day," Steele said.

The Guild strives to keep costs reasonable for members, and Steele said they have room for more clay artists in the organization.

"We have kick wheels, which are nonelectric. We have a slab roller, which you can roll out a slab of clay and handbuild, whatever. And then we have two electric kilns, and the one big gas kiln, which was just rebuilt," Steele said of the equipment currently available at the center.

The organization is raising money to build a large outdoor kiln. Most of the Guild's fees for membership, classes and studio rental cover operating costs, so it is selling its group project, "The Obelisk," to raise money.

"We're still trying to find a permanent home for it. The (Kenai) visitors center has kindly allowed us to leave it there. It gets good exposure there," Steele said.

The piece is a large, tiled piece, which tells the story of Alaska. Eight Guild artists worked on it and are all willing to donate the proceeds of the sale to the Guild.

For more information on the Kenai Potters Guild or upcoming events, contact Donna Steele at 283-3183 or the Kenai Fine Arts Center at 283-7040.

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