In conjunction with the Crafts Council and due to the great success of “The Great Pottery Throw down” on BBC 2, I recently decided to throw open the doors of the Ceramics department and encourage teaching and non-teaching staff to get creative with clay.
When my new ‘students’ arrived it transpired that only two of them had experience of working with clay before. Was I heading towards a “Clay Disaster” I asked myself, could I teach them how to throw on the potters wheel and create independently? Thankfully, it transpired that I could, and I was very surprised with the skills developed by all who took part.
First up to explore throwing was Learning Enhancement teacher Paddy Green and Head of PE Mary-Jane Newberry. Concentration and determination to master this ancient art was evident from the first minute.
It was great to see so much enjoyment gained from both of these new ceramics students. They created some excellent functional pieces of work that when glazed will be great adornments to their home.
Next to get creative was Dorms Matron Alicia Johnson and Maths teacher Elizabeth Shepherd. The award for the smallest pieces thrown went to Elizabeth and she was determined to use all the clay on the wheel until there was none left!
Alicia’s enthusiasm for having a go at throwing was evident for the full one and a half hours. She created a wide range of shapes and forms but showed that she was able to consistently centre the clay and open out into a symmetrical form.
It was a pleasure to welcome Jason Henham, Head of Sixth Form and Maths teacher into the kennels for a bit of creativity. Over the past few years, Mr Henham has been very kind in sending students to me to teach on the A Level course. In order for him to get some hands-on experience and to see what skills his students are learning, I set him the task of coiling and hand building.
I have to say that he was brilliant. Gentle making skills and he came up with a great pattern to adorn the surface of his vessel.
The final throwing session on Friday evening saw Caroline Harms from Admissions and Karen Tate from the school library don their aprons and develop their throwing skills. Karen had some experience of throwing and working with clay but had never been taught how to throw before. Confident centering and pulling up allowed for some fabulous piece of ceramic to be created.
Caroline wins the award for most improved student. She gained a huge amount of confidence on the wheel and in a short amount of time she was creating outstanding vessels. I am thinking of poaching her from Admissions so she can teach a few lessons next term!
The final set of Bede’s staff came through the door on a Saturday morning to join my Upper Fifth Ceramicists. Principal Deputy Head Jerry Lewis, Languages teacher Eli Lopez and John Kittos from Helpdesk and IT Services learned the art of throwing and demonstrated that in a short amount of time this ancient past time can be learnt with a strong pair of shoulders, steady arms and great focus.
Eli Lopez wins the award for fastest potter – I have never seen the wheel reach the speed she got it to go to! She created some great pieces of work and demonstrated strong opening out skills.
John Kittos got to grips with this skill really well too, with every stage analysed and reflected upon in order for him to improve during the throwing of the next vessel.
Finally, the award for “Top Potter” for creation of fluent form, strong rhythm and symmetrical vessels goes to Mr Lewis. With a few more lessons and a bit more practise, I think that next academic year his name maybe appearing on the Ceramics timetable rather than Business Studies one!
Unlike Keith Brymer Jones (Judge on the Great Pottery Throw Down) there were no tears shown by me as my new ceramics students took their first lesson. I have to say that I was, however, extremely proud of each member of Bede’s staff that chose to take up my offer of a ceramics class. The pieces created were far better than I could have ever hoped for.
After the success of TV shows like Bake Off, Great Sewing Bee and Great Allotment Challenge, The Great Pottery Throw Down placed the word clay back on the lips of the general public. One can see it is not an easy skill to master but, as the contestants showed, anything is possible with clay provided you practise and inject enthusiasm.