Pro potters and clay newbies find community at Clayworks

For potter Amy Sanders, realizing her artistic vision in clay starts with cloth. With each plate, pot and vessel forged, she honors a longstanding family tradition of sewing.

Amy Sanders (above, foreground) is one of a number of artists who have grown their talents recently thanks to Clayworks.

“I remember watching my grandmother sew and wearing the dresses my mom made for me,” she said.  Sanders works in stoneware by throwing clay on a pottery wheel or starting with a flat slab.  Once the piece is formed, she recreates the prints and patterns of that nostalgic fabric using handmade stamps.  She then glazes and fires it to vibrancy.

Like many, Sanders honed her skill at Clayworks, a nonprofit ceramic studio and education center that offers everything from beginning pottery classes to studio space for artists. Clayworks also provides community outreach, teaching ceramics to underserved children.

Located in what used to be The Purple Pickett at 4506 Monroe Road, Clayworks is the fourth largest ceramic studio in the country.  The 15,000-square-foot space features 25 pottery wheels, 10 kilns (with another on the way) and more than a dozen instructors educating 100 students at any given time.  Clayworks uses nine tons of clay each year.

Though the facility is huge, the community it gathers is close-knit.  Artists and students of all ages gather informally and formally for camps, classes, lectures and workshops.

“People come to us from all walks of life,” said Adrienne Dellinger, executive director of Clayworks.  The gamut runs from physicians and bankers, to emerging artists and stay-at-home moms.  “Some are looking for something to do; some have collected pottery all their lives. For others this might be on their bucket list,” she said.

Dellinger explained the appeal: “Clay is tactile, and you can make anything you want.”

Many prospective potters start out at Clayworks’s “Muddy Fun Saturday,” an inexpensive opportunity to get behind the wheel and “throw” a pot.  The commitment is $10 per person and two hours of time, but pre-registration is required.

“There’s a lot of laughter when people try it for the first time,” Dellinger said.  “Some take right to it, but even those that don’t still gain an appreciation.”  A ceramic artist herself, Dellinger added, “It’s harder than it looks.”  The next “Muddy Fun Saturday” will be April 13.

Dellinger has seen many students grow from hobby potters into full-time ceramic artists.  For these more serious students, Clayworks offers intermediate and advanced classes taught by professional artists like Sanders.

Each Clayworks instructor brings expertise in a certain style: figurative, functional or abstract.  Sanders is especially skilled in hand-building (working with flat slabs or coils) while others offer mastery of the wheel and specific techniques like inlaying and glazing.

For Sanders, teaching helps her grow artistically.  “I can get more experimental in classes,” she said.  “We tend to share information and give back.”

Sanders started school as a biology major but fell in love with ceramics her sophomore year.  After graduating from Centre College, an art school in Danville, Ky., she moved to Charlotte 13 years ago and heard about Clayworks from a friend.

“Amy literally showed up at our doorstep,” Dellinger recalled.  “She told me her background and that she had recently graduated from art school and was looking for a place to work.”  Dellinger hired her on the spot to be a studio assistant.

Sanders has enjoyed a successful career thus far.  She was resident artist at the McColl Center for Visual Art and has exhibited at the Mint Museum.  Today, Sanders balances her artistic career with family life and teaching.

“To learn from artists in a supportive setting like this is unlike anything else,” Dellinger said.

Sanders’ work and that of many others will be on display at the annual Spring Sale and Open House on Friday, April 5, from 6 to 9 p.m. and Saturday, April 6, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Friday evening, artists will be on-hand to talk about their work and offer demonstrations.  The event is free; pottery prices start at $5.  More information is available at www.clayworksinc.org.

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