The reasons people sign up for the community ceramics class through the Turlock Adult School is as diverse as the people themselves.
For the last five years, Titia Barnett has taught beginning ceramics to locals of all backgrounds. The class draws a variety of people, from young moms to retirees. For some students it’s their first foray into pottery, while others have taken the class since it was first offered five years ago, like Joel Place.
Frustrated with the long waiting list for the one ceramics class offered through the adult school, Place inquired about adding another class. When his request was granted, Barnett was brought in to teach beginning ceramics and Place was there.
“I went and I said to my wife, you have to come and meet this lady, she is so special,” Place said.
Together Joel and his wife Janae formed two of the first seven students in Barnett’s beginning ceramics class, the majority of whom still meet on Wednesday evenings, although the class has now grown to wait list capacity.
Barnett, who is originally from Holland, specializes in wood and stone carving. After teaching art courses at Stanislaus State for 18 years, she was semi-retired but open to teaching local community members.
“What is different about this class, versus the university, is that in the beginning I teach the students the techniques and then they have to come up with something they want to create, and I will help them with that. I don’t assign them their projects,” Barnett said. “One nice thing about the class is that everyone is willing to help each other.”
The comradery of the class may just be its hallmark.
On Wednesday evenings, potters of all abilities file into the Turlock High School arts room and get to work. Some throw clay on the wheel, others hand-build cups and bowls, while more still glaze their items that have been fired in the kiln, which sits a stone’s throw from the classroom.
It’s organized chaos and the best part? No one takes themselves too seriously.
“These five years for me have been more about exploring myself than building things,” Janae Place said. “I’ve really learned I am not a detailed person and I am really abstract and I’m learning what abstract means in ceramics.”
While some students may be tempted to make the perfect piece, they quickly learn that their work doesn’t always come out as expected.
“You need to come with an open mind, that’s the hardest thing,” said John Vallerga, a retired Turlock Unified School District teacher who has taken the class for several years. “I find myself wanting to make that precious item, but because it’s a process, you don’t always know what you’ll end up with. Crafting something perfect is an unrealistic expectation. You need to work through the process and then maybe at the end you’ll have something special to save.”
Each piece takes two firings — one to make the clay hard and a second to set the glaze. Between the initial firing and the second, the pieces can change in texture or color. For the students, it’s always a surprise to see what the final result will be.
Josh Ebersole is the ceramics teacher at Turlock High School who manages the kiln. He fires the adult school students’ work consistently, so they always have something to work on in class.
Whether it’s glazing a piece that has been fired or throwing a new one on the wheel, for Barnett’s ceramics students Wednesday nights have become a weekly appointment that is rarely missed.
“It’s the cheapest therapy,” Barnett said with a chuckle. “That’s what the students say.”
For more information about the ceramics course and other classes at Turlock Adult School, visit www.turlock.k12.ca.us/tas.