Wellness Blog

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Blossom's clay classes mold artists

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Jane grasps a potter’s needle and meticulously scores the edges of a piece of clay she has rolled and cut out in the shape of a fish.

“It’s just like baking,” she says, setting down the tool that resembles an X-Acto Knife.

“Except instead of egg whites, you use this,” reaching for a nearby jar of slip — a creamy bonding agent made with water and dry, powdered clay.

Jane (left) has made navigating her way around Blossom’s Clay Studio second nature since she started attending classes shortly after they began in February. On a recent Wednesday afternoon, she is one of eight individuals taking part in a class inside the state-of-the-art space on BLOOM Collaborative’s campus.

Though she doesn't exactly view herself as a professional, Jane knows it's not a prerequisite. 

“It’s not that I’m a phenomenal artist — because I’m not — it’s just that I can come to a place where we as people with mental illness don’t have to explain ourselves and we’re all on the same level,” she says.

Providing instruction and materials to sculptors of all skill levels is one of Blossom’s hallmarks. With five classes for BLOOM and Stairways clients that range from beginner to advanced and average about 10 students, pottery instructor Jessie Simmons said she likes seeing artists produce works — whether they’re experienced or getting their hands in clay for the first time.

“I really enjoy getting beginners to try something new that they’re not familiar with,” says Simmons (right), who has been throwing clay since the age of 12. “People are always surprised with what they are able to accomplish and that’s a really great thing to witness.”

With a kiln, shelves of raw and glazed works, spinning wheels, including a wheelchair-accessible wheel, and more room than any ceramics studio in the area, Blossom’s is unique among clay spaces in Erie.

It’s an appropriate setting for a unique medium like clay, which is as artistic as it is practical.

“Working with clay is cool because you produce functional items and you can use your artwork in the kitchen or hang it on the wall,” says Simmons, who views her role more as that of support than teacher.

“Some people, it really clicks for them, and I’m just here to encourage them,” she says.

The topic for today’s class is how to sculpt a three-dimensional fish, a piece that each artist has a different vision for. For some, it’s a trout with its large dorsal fin flowing midway down its back. Jane, however, hasn’t yet determined what species she’ll fashion, as she’s affixes its eyes.

“The eyes are what give it character,” she says as she attaches pearl-sized pieces of clay to each side.

A regular at BLOOM, Jane has been attending classes since her case manager suggested the program then called Center City Arts located on State Street. In the seven years since, she’s made an effort to come every day she can to satisfy her need for creativity.

“One thing I’ve always had is an imagination,” she says. “A wild imagination.”

Jane is now almost done with her work but nearly forgot some finishing touches.

“I gotta put on some whiskers,” Jane says, as she rolls out long, thin strands of clay, which she places leading from each end of the fish’s mouth.

“I think it’s going to be a catfish,” she says.

“It can be anything I want it to be.”

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