Volume 16 • Issue 43 | March 26 - April 1, 2004


The Wheel of Life

Finding balance at the Chambers Pottery studio

By Wickham Boyle

Amanda Mathews, right, instructing student Christine Abelman at Chambers Pottery in Tribeca

I only enrolled in the pottery class to keep a friend company. I wanted to see this young woman who had taken a leave of absence from college, because, well, it helps me to understand my own children. When I am reveling in and decoding other like-minded souls I always learn about my kids. So after calling the art teacher at The Church Street School and asking her recommendation for a pottery studio, we landed at Chambers Pottery.

Sofia and I first enrolled in the beginner class, which meets Thursday nights from 7 to 9. The class is held in the Chambers Pottery studio on bustling Chambers Street in a second floor loft that might well be preserved from 1968. I was immediately comfortable. There were hanging plants, loud chatter, wheels spinning and clay flying.

The shelves were stuffed with treasures made by students, some more evolved than others, a blue dragon or a jade coffee cup tinged with iridescent glaze hiding a small sculptured face inside the mouth of the cup. The studio was presided over by Amanda Mathews, whose fiery red hair and welcoming demeanor and long-time Tribeca history let me know we were in the right place. Chambers Pottery began eight years ago as a studio that could seamlessly mix starting potters — whether they were kids or grownups — with real ceramic artists.

Mathews says, “Pottery is a very unthreatening way to find the inner artist; with clay you are not on the spot. Some people even say the clay knows what it wants to do. Your eye develops and your craftsmanship develops and you wonderfully discover an artistic being inside that you might not realize was there.”

I thought Sofia and I would learn to throw pots and we would talk.

What I hadn’t counted on was the mesmerizing, hypnotic, pace changing, unraveling that would occur as I crouched over the wheel clay slip splattering and my hands molding a mini world.

I had thrown some pots in the 60s. “Pot” was a big part of the world at that time; smoking and throwing. But I had been drug terrified so I focused on throwing not smoking. I believed that my psyche was so fragile, my grasp on reality so tenuous that any drug, even a beer, might tip me over to never-never land.

I was a very idiosyncratic youth, teen, young adult and am still a fairly off-center middle-aged woman. I had no idea that taking a pottery class would present so many new horizons, a kind of throwback balancing act.

I encountered two very different pottery teachers at Chambers Street. My first was a young woman named Rachel who was edgy with a mane of raven hair that she snatched into a long tail. She has a Rubenesque beauty, strong hands and a snappy voice. Her praise ran to the laconic, “That’s not bad,” but her energy for assistance and inspiration seemed boundless.

She wanted us all to whirl the wheel at high speed, and she squished and restarted pots, tea cups and platters at warp speed. We were making objects to treasure right from the get go. The other teacher was a young man named Mark, whose blond hair presaged his blushing. He could be made to blush when any of his remarks were pointed out as double entendres and with pulling and shoving into holes there are many dirty clay jokes that can induce a blush.

Mark was like the strict sensei of clay. He wanted the wheel to spin at slow undulations, he wanted the wheel wiped clean between takes; he wanted everything to slow down. Mark looked to see if the rings created when the clay took shape were symmetrical and perfect. His world seemed controlled and calm. He and I went head to head the first night. My style was more what Rachel espoused, the explosion of clay turning immediately into object, but Mark held his ground and I meditated on the turning wheel and nearly fell into a clay station trance.

I found myself thinking about the wheel turning while I worked or cooked, or traveled to meetings. Inside my brain, there was a new pattern of whirling and I could feel the gushy mass of clay in my hands as it turned and I forced it into a perfect centered place. I wondered if the balancing of the clay would affect a kind of balance in me, a place somewhere between Rachel’s expansive “go get ‘em” approach and Mark’s taciturn meditation. I aspire to find my own pottery style someday at the perfect balance point between my first two teachers.

You can find your own center when the spring session begins April 12 and runs until June 21. Classes meet once a week but students are encouraged to come and use unlimited studio time.

For information contact: Chambers Pottery, 153 Chambers St; 212 619 7302


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