***image1***Heidi Loewen is like Yoda with boobs. Seriously. Have you ever tried to make pottery on a wheel? I have and let me tell you, it is an exercise in humility. No matter how creative or dexterous you think you are, the first 10 (or 80) things you throw on the wheel will look as if they had been made by Joan Miró in the midst of an epileptic fit. Not good. But that doesn't mean wannabe potters have to spend months toiling in a crowded classroom in order to turn out a pretty pot. Accomplished ceramicist Heidi Loewen offers one-on-one classes that can jump start the process and have first-timers cranking out pieces they can be proud of.
To be clear: Loewen looks nothing like Yoda. She is petite and pretty with a smile that belongs in a toothpaste commercial. Warm, welcoming and***image2*** effusively charming, she gestures vividly with clay-covered hands as she shows off the stunning porcelain she creates and sells in her gallery. There are vases, bowls and a series of huge, intricately chiseled plates that are partially adorned with goldleaf and partially painted and burnished to look like leather or wood. They are gorgeous and, frankly, intimidating for a neophyte.
But as Loewen guides students through the process of making their own pots, suddenly works like hers seem achievable. She'll start the pot for you and then switch into advisory mode, carefully adjusting the amount of help she gives based on your skills and what you want to accomplish. She puts success within reach.
Want to do a cereal bowl with a secret swirling pattern at the bottom? No problem. She demonstrates which tool to use for the swirl. Interested in a serving bowl with thick, irregular ruffles so graceful it looks like fabric? Easy. Loewen takes a plain bowl shape, throws it up in the air and catches it. Her hands create random flutters in the clay and the technique is simple to imitate.
When students are finished creating. Loewen fires and glazes the work.
A week or so later it's ready to be pickedup; she ships pieces to students who visit while on vacation. ("Oh that little bud vase? I made it while I was in
On a wet and cool summer afternoon, a small group gathers at Loewen's Guadalupe Street studio. Nine-year-old Grace Griffin and her brother Jack, 7, are in the middle of a private session while their grandmother sits curled up on a nearby couch, knitting a scarf and periodically offering the kids words of encouragement and approval. Loewen is perched on a low chair, her knees hugging the potter's wheel, as she quickly transforms a wedge of clay into a small, simple bowl.
***image3***She stands up and invites Jack to take her place at the wheel. He has decided to make a cereal bowl and Loewen asks him what kind of adornment he would like his bowl to have, offering various sponges, plastic scrapers and small wood-handled tools. His foot carefully depressing the pedal that controls the wheel's speed, Jack experiments with one tool after another.
Meanwhile, on a second wheel, Loewen starts another bowl for Grace. She is irrepressibly encouraging. Although some students may barely alter the basic forms she gives them, she is able to instill in them a sense of pride in their work. As she is shapes Grace's bowl, she turns from her work to monitor Jack's progress and suddenly blurts, "Stop!" She jumps up from the wheel and Jack's eyes widen as if he's just done something awful. She gives him a big reassuring smile and says, "Oh my goodness! Look what you've done! This pattern is amazing! You can keep going if you want but I wouldn't change a thing."
He seems pleased, although slightly unsure about the depth of his genius. Nevertheless, Jack decides to quit while he's ahead and Loewen talks him through the process of cutting the bowl from the base, then reminds him to sign the bottom. I say something to him about how his pot certainly looks better than any lumpy sock-shaped vase I could ever make. ***image4***
"Wait a minute!" Loewen interjects. "I have two rules here," she says with the compassionate air and perfect enunciation of a second-grade teacher. She is talking partly to me and partly to Jack, who is using something that looks like a dental pick to inscribe his name in the soft clay. "First, you must sign everything," she says, turning to Jack, "to make it expensive! Second, until you've made 500 pieces here you're not allowed to say anything about your work that's not glowing."
Meanwhile, Grace has started a pot of her own. Although they live in Oklahoma City, their parents have a second home here in Santa Fe and the kids have been to Loewen's studio several times before. Loewen gives Grace a refresher on shaping her bowl and the girl's hands carefully pull up the thin walls of the spinning bowl. After a couple of hours, the siblings have each made a handful of pots, none of which seems to indicate the work of a surrealist off his meds.
Next, it's my turn for a lesson and sitting at the wheel I am almost immediately filled with the same sense of frustration and ineptitude that marked my previous attempt at a potter's wheel. I suck. Trying to make a squat pot taller, I tear right through the vessel's wall. But before panic can set in, Loewen is there, her hands quickly demonstrating how to repair my mistake.
She shows me how to use a little sponge to moisten the interior walls so that my fingers won't stick and rip away the clay. "Not too wet," she says, squeezing the little sponge as if it were a stress ball, "just like this." OK, OK, I'm getting it. A few minutes later I'm raising and lowering my pot's walls at will, closing the mouth like an olla, then widening it like a flared urn. It's exhilarating. Suddenly I realize I can do this! I feel the force! Loewen has shown me how to focus the force and I'm wielding my scraping tool like a Jedi knight! Er, that is if Jedi knights spent their afternoons making candy bowls instead of fighting evil. But you know what I mean.