Adults find solace in ceramics

March 25, 2004|by BONNIE H. BRECHBILL

MONT ALTO, Pa. - A year ago, Marine Staff Sgt. Michael Ankrum was in high-intensity combat in Iraq. Wednesday evening, he rolled out clay in a uniform rectangle while his wife, Allanda, cut a cardboard template to make ceramic picture frames.

The Ankrums, married a year and a half, have "not spent a whole lot of time together," Michael Ankrum said. After five months in Iraq, the reservist returned to Mercersburg, Pa., in May 2003.

Now, the Ankrums are taking a ceramics class together at the Nicodemus Center for Ceramic Studies on the campus of Penn State Mont Alto.


"This is something we both wanted to do," Michael said. "Our schedules are so busy, and we could schedule this and spend time together."

Allanda said she plans to put a dark glaze on the picture frames. "Who knows how it will go," the emergency room nurse at Washington County Hospital said. "I'm not really artsy."

Instructor Tom McFarland demonstrated various techniques as the need arose in the students' work. He showed Twila Flohr, of Waynesboro, how to form a wedge-shaped piece of clay into a nose for the doll's head she was making, then how to carve the eye so it reflects light.

McFarland, art instructor at Waynesboro Area Senior High School, gathered the students at the table to show them how to make a handle, complete with decorations and thumb rest, for a mug. McFarland is internationally known for his ceramic and fiberglass sculptures of sea turtles.

Participants in the six-week class can create "anything they want" and have unlimited use of the pottery studio outside of class time. Graduates of previous classes have formed a co-op; for a monthly fee, they can use the studio equipment and supplies.

"A lot of people get hooked on this," McFarland said.

The clay creations are left to dry, then fired in the kiln at 1,940 degrees, which turns them into pottery. They are then glazed, and re-fired at 1,915 degrees.

Bowls, mugs, and other pottery pieces made by the students were displayed in the studio.

Louise Morningstar of Waynesboro, Pa., worked on flowers and leaves for a wind chime while her husband, Harry, shaped a pot on an electric potter's wheel.

An oil painter, Louise Morningstar used a photograph of tulips for reference. She had rolled out the clay like dough, cut out the leaves and textured them with a toothbrush, she said.

Jane Holzer of Gettysburg, Pa., said she had never worked with pottery before, and that her first efforts looked like it.

"I made nothing but slime balls the first class," she said. "Now today, I got a gorgeous bowl in the first five minutes."

Holzer said she liked the diversity of the class.

"We have an opportunity to try different methods. We've improved in a short time," she said.

McFarland demonstrated how clay is cut from a large block with a wire.

"It's like cheese; a knife doesn't cut it well," he said.

Much about pottery-making is hit and miss, he said, picking up two items that were glazed with Christmas Red but turned out very different from each other after firing.

"It's a good idea to keep notes on what you do, and what you like," he said.

The beginner-level class is limited to 10 participants.

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