Clay Education with POW!

Artist Hayne Bayless believes in the magic of mud. “Teaching pottery to kids may ultimately solve the world’s problems,” he says. Bayless and several other New England-based teaching artists spearhead Pots on Wheels! (a.k.a. POW!), a mobile clay education project that brings ceramic art lessons to communities around the region. Watershed partnered with POW! in early July to work with Maine youth through an outreach effort supported by the Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust. 

On July 12, POW! educators parked their large yellow truck under a grove of trees at Portland’s Riverton Boys and Girls Club. Bayless and fellow teaching artist Hannah Niswonger opened the back of the truck and set up heavy tables covered in canvas, rolling pins, large blocks of clay, and a pottery wheel complete with a banana-shaped seat padded with foam. The children from the Boys and Girls Club joined the POW! instructors under the pines to try their hand at creating with clay. Students had the opportunity to build functional and sculptural vessels, and to throw work on the potter’s wheel for the first time. Staff from the Boys and Girls Club and partners from A Company of Girls assisted the youngsters with their projects (and enjoyed making a few items themselves!).

The children eagerly awaited their chance to try the wheel. Bayless gently guided them through the process of centering the clay and bringing up the walls of their creations. After their initial attempt at wheel throwing, several students were hooked on the process. They immediately walked to the back of the line to wait for a second turn. 

Niswonger led another group of students through the hand-building process, showing them how to slip and score pieces together and how to select appropriate tools for their projects. The POW! instructors also pre-made numerous leather-hard plates that the children could paint with colored slips. Watershed studio staff will kiln fire the pieces and return them to the Boys and Girls Club members later in the summer. 

The following morning, POW! visited the Morris Farm, an agricultural education center in Wiscasset. The farm runs a summer camp program for youth ages 4-12. Earlier in the week, Camp Director Lisa Packard led the campers on a clay-digging expedition at the farm. The group shared with Niswonger and Bayless that the clay they dug from the creek was “soft, gooey, full of pebbles and grass, cool, and sometimes dry.” After comparing the commercial clay to the clay they dug, the campers tried out POW!’s new plate press—invented by Bayless and Niswonger. The youngsters flattened discs of clay on the bottom of the press and then used a lever (and all their might) to sandwich the clay between two heavy, circular pieces of wood. “It reminds me of a waffle-maker,” remarked one camper. After letting the finished forms dry in the sun, the students decorated their plates with colorful slips. 

“The POW! program added depth and new experience to our campers’ time exploring natural clay in our creek and digging in our different soil types,” shares Packard. “We are grateful that POW! and Watershed chose the Morris Farm for this project!”

The final stop on POW!’s Maine tour was Watershed’s 24th annual Salad Days festival.  For the third year in a row, Watershed visitors of all ages had the opportunity to learn from POW!’s instructors. Participants took part in an ongoing exchange by selecting finished pieces to keep from POW!’s project gallery and leaving their completed work to be fired and shared with future students.