A Story of Hope and Creativity out of Hardship

One of the greatest opportunities that I have had as an apprentice is the chance to teach pottery classes, specifically teaching beginners. There is no greater feeling than teaching someone who has never touched clay how to throw, and see them pull up their first pot.  The progress that I’ve seen students make in six short weeks of my class fills me up with pride.  When I see their progress, I feel like I am making a difference. I am adding a little bit of joy to their life.

I am currently completing my apprenticeship and the Independent Study and Mentoring program, and I have graciously accepted Sarah’s offer to become a Resident Potter at the end of my program.  That means in November I get to stay, take on more responsibilities, and continue to grow my own business under the wing of The Village Potters.  Because this transition period is happening during Covid and The Village Potters’ Vessels of Hope fundraiser, I wanted to help out my studio to the best of my ability.  Here at The Village Potters we constantly say, “It takes a village!”, so when we launched Chapter 2 of the fundraiser, Sarah stepped back and let the other residents be the focus, and that included me.  However, since I am still an apprentice, I decided to pick up where my mentor Sarah left off.  Whereas the other residents will be donating work in one of their signature forms or styles, I wanted to challenge myself creatively and take on Sarah’s original VOH forms of vases made with 2.5 lbs. of clay.  They will each be thrown and glazed uniquely, no two alike.  I hope to try some of Sarah’s techniques to add motion and dimension to my pots, and I will also incorporate some of my recent slip-trailing dot and cut-out work in these 100 Vessels of Hope vases.

So why is this Vessels of Hope sale and the survival of The Village Potters so important?  Because of the genuine community that Sarah and her fellow residents, Judi Harwood, Lori Theriault, Julia Mann, Christine Henry, and Tori Motyl, have spent years to cultivate.  It is the rare type of community where every person truly wants others to succeed.  It is genuine, warm, and built from the collective agreement that we want to learn and grow in clay together.  Because every person who takes a class is a seed planted in our community garden.  If you take the time to stay, the residents will water you with their knowledge and expertise. They will take the time to nurture you and help you succeed.  They’ll make way for you to soak up the sun; the light that comes from success, all the while fondly watching you prosper, cheering you on from the sidelines. Before you know it, you’ve grown roots and are here to stay.  You are a part of something bigger than yourself and become one of many flowers in the flourishing garden that is The Village Potters.”

Read on to learn a bit more of the journey that has led me to The Village Potters Clay Center. “Concussions are no joke; I suffered two serious concussions that caused me to leave college, and those two head traumas have changed how I process and view everything. I like to say that those conks to my head just brought out my artsy side.  I believe that everything happens for a reason and in this case, it’s true because those concussions are what led me to The Village Potters Clay Center.

After a stint at university and moving back home, I found myself going through the typical, young-twenties quarter life crisis, and taking pottery classes at AB Tech and babysitting, trying not to dwell on leaving my social bubble that was undergrad. I wanted to grow my throwing skills more so I looked for more advanced pottery classes in the area.

The first thing I noticed about The Village was the warm and friendly energy that I felt when I walked in the door.  Resident potter Judi Harwood greeted me with a genuine smile as soon as I stepped inside, and when I expressed interest in the classes and programs they offered, she took me on a tour of The Village Potters’ vast facility.  As she took me around, I could tell that she was proud to show off the home she and her fellow resident potters had built together.  I signed up for Sarah Wells Rolland’s 12-week Advanced Throwing class that same day.

Through Sarah’s class, I started to feel hopeful again.  After years of experiencing a deteriorating processing speed, and many failures from my concussions, I found something at which I could once again excel.  Needless to say, 12 weeks at The Village Potters was not enough and so I applied for their Independent Study and Mentoring program.  I also applied to be an apprentice, which means I do a work trade for my tuition to the program.  There are many other benefits laid out in my apprentice agreement but the most important privileges aren’t easily quantifiable.

Being an apprentice means that I get to work for and learn the inner workings of a functioning studio.  I am learning how to load kilns, mix glazes, fire kilns, maintain a clean studio, and more.  I only work 8 hours a week for TVP but those hours mean that the resident potters, who at first seemed to be intimidating business women, began morphing into so much more in my eyes.  They are accessible and receptive to my curious questions, and became my library for pottery and business advice.  They are my mentors in clay but also, suddenly, in life. 

Katie Meili Messersmith
Apprentice and future resident potter
The Village Potters Clay Center: