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Pottery students make a kil'n for the needy

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Colorful pottery metaphors are hard to avoid when describing the clay artisans at Taylor Books Annex Gallery. The students mold truly great things out of simple clay in more ways than just on the potter's wheel.

Dozens of bowls, mugs, trivets and ornaments are created by a group of artists in a pottery class each week. From wheel to kiln, each piece is created by hand, and then donated to charitable organizations.

"We give it to them, and they sell it," explained Pam Goldfarb, the group's head cheerleader.

"We truly love Hospice and their outlook. For them, we make trivets, ornaments, bowls and cups. We asked them what they wanted us to make, and they asked that each piece be different, not from a mold, because everyone handles grief differently. So we cut every piece by hand."

The colorful trivets are modeled after the HospiceCare logo, a house with a heart in the center.

"For Manna Meal, we want to make 100 bowls for them to sell," Goldfarb said. The Southern Appalachian Labor School is the third charity currently receiving pottery -- mugs embellished with "SALS."

"We want to add the YWCA women's shelter too," Goldfarb said.

At ArtWalk each month, the class sells individually created pieces for modest sums -- nothing's sold for more than $20. The profits from the monthly venture are split in half: 50 percent goes to one of their favorite charities and 50 percent goes into supplies for the next round of creations.

Visitors descend the stairs from the back of Taylor Books into the intimate and cavelike basement studio. Whitewashed walls are lined with shelves, full of clay, half-finished pieces and tools. There's a section of shelves filled with wares awaiting the heat of the kiln or the magic of the glaze.

"It didn't look like this before. Pam donated all of those containers [holding glazes], and she named them all and put them in alphabetical order," Jayasree Mukkamala said. Each of the potters is quick to point out the talents of the others, and slow to take credit for their own generosity.

Students include Mukkamala, Goldfarb, Debra Levine, Betty Connaly, Lakshmi Gogineni, Bobby Hess and Tracy Matthews.

There are no artistic egos in this warm studio. The spirit in the room is peaceful, engaged, energetic. Jokes fly.

"Very few people think about 'Ghost,'" Goldfarb said with a laugh, referring to the steamy pottery scene in the romantic movie. The pottery class is stress-free, and all involved uses the word "therapeutic" when describing the atmosphere.

"We all collaborate," Goldfarb said.

Mukkamala chimes in: "Ahhh ... we teach and share."

Teacher Jim Hores explained his relationship with the art.

"Not to be philosophical, but when I'm centering the clay, I'm centering myself." A building contractor by profession, Hores is a kind and patient teacher.

"He's the best," Gogineni said, smiling at the instructor.

"All of the credit goes to him," Mukkamala added.

Humbly, Hores said he is merely the vehicle to help them. He's studied in Italy and at the University of Georgia and has continued attending workshops and other classes. At one point, Hores worked for a potter in West Virginia and made 300 identical mugs every Thursday through Friday.

"I promised myself I would never make the same thing twice, but it's very easy to make 100 different pieces. The control it takes to make 100 identical pieces is harder," he said.

Did any of the members of the Taylor Books class have artistic training before getting involved with the pottery?

A big laugh goes up from all of the folks gathered around the wheels. Although their pottery is professional and artistic, they claim to be novices. Mukkamala and Gogineni have been taking the classes for several years; Goldfarb's approaching her first anniversary.

There are two kilns, six wheels, one slab roller, one extruder and one pug mill. A grant helped the group purchase a pug mill, used to recycle any unused clay, making the operation cost-efficient. The class praised Taylor Books owner Anne Saville for chipping in to help pay for the machine and for her continued support of the classes.

Classes are open to students of all skill levels: beginners will receive one-on-one instruction, starting with the basics, while more advanced participants will be encouraged to develop their skills through friendly mentoring. Other components of ceramics, such as hand building and the glazing and firing process, are integral components of these courses. Registration deadline is four days before the start of a class. Class size is limited and will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

The classes cost $95 for four weeks, and include three hours of instruction each week, 25 pounds of clay, glazing, firing and the use of the pottery studio any time the Capitol Street bookstore and gallery is open. Additional clay is available at $15 per bag. For hours or to reserve a spot, call 304-342-1461.

But most of the folks in the Taylor Books basement don't live within the parameters of the classes. When asked how often they are working, the question is met, again, with laughter.

"Five days a week? Six days a week? Eight days a week?"

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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