Taking the Pottery Wheel

By Vera Fisk – 10th Grade, Pittsburgh Obama Academy

On Thursday, July 23, I visited a ceramics summer camp for high school students hosted by the Manchester Craftsman’s Guild on the North Side. Upon entering, I could feel the comfortable environment of the teens and staff. The small group of students were all sitting around tables, talking with the staff over breakfast.  They were interacting with each other like they had known each other for years. It appeared to be a perfect place to learn new skills and meet new people.

The Manchester Craftsman’s Guild (MCG), an organization which seeks to inspire urban teens through arts education, hosts various art classes for students throughout the year which are taught by full-time staff with extensive experience in a certain form of art. The organization was founded by Bill Strickland in 1968 after he was inspired by seeing his teacher using a potter’s wheel.  During the school year, Pittsburgh Public School students can take after-school classes at MCG for free, and in the summer, MCG holds three two-week sessions for both high school and middle school students from all around the city.

After taking a ceramics class at school, I attended a beginners ceramics class at MCG during the fall of 2014.  Despite my prior experience, I learned so many new things about the using pottery wheel, glazing my pieces, and more. I was amazed at the different skill levels of the other students – some had never touched clay before, while others seemed like professionals. I really enjoyed taking the class at MCG, and I plan to return for the 2015 school year.

When I visited the second session of the ceramics camp this summer, I met with Beyavn Schantz, who teaches ceramics year-round at MCG. Coincidentally, she was my teacher last fall when I took ceramics. This summer she will teach two middle school sessions in addition to a high school session.

Beyavn explained the differences between classes during the school year and during the summer.  Compared to weekly classes after school, “there is more time to focus on the program [during the summer] because the students are there every day.” In addition, she loves teaching the summer camps because she gets to know students from other school districts in Pittsburgh. She often sees students return to the camps for many years.

The teens that take this ceramics course come with varying experience levels. Some have done ceramics for years and need little help from the staff, but many are just beginners. Beyavn sees a huge improvement over the two weeks from the students who had little prior experience.

The students I spoke to seemed very involved and interested in their projects, and they received all the help they needed from the staff.

The goal for the high school students was to have a set of something, whether it be cups, boxes or bowls, completed by the end of camp. To accomplish this, the staff taught hand building with clay, how to use the pottery wheel, and how to create consistency within pieces.

The previous ceramics camp for middle school students taught how to create lamps out of clay. They showed the students how to use molds and create supports for the lamps. Once the lamp was completed, the staff helped wire the lamps for the teens to take home.

From what I observed at MCG, the staff keeps students engaged through teaching new ideas and techniques about the arts. The continuation of learning new skills over the summer is important for teens so that they are prepared for school in the fall. Summer camps at MCG show students that learning over the summer doesn’t have to be boring and help students to find their passion.

Vera Fisk 1Vera Fisk is in 10th grade at Pittsburgh Obama Academy. She resides in Point Breeze and has taken a journalism class in school. She loves meeting new people and writing.


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