Sharing the clay experience: Sue Mifsud in Malta
Sharing the clay experience: Not long after being employed as Pottery Manager of a local heritage pottery in Malta in 2010, I was looking for ideas to bring the place to life and to bring in additional income. Apart from introducing workshops with visiting foreign ceramic artists, children’s classes also seemed like a fine route to pursue. The initial idea was to have a Maltese artist come in to teach the classes, I contacted two but neither were enthusiastic about teaching ‘little people’ and in all honesty I was also avoiding taking on the task myself, however with no takers that’s exactly what happened. My only teaching experience until that time had been as a volunteer at a drug rehab centre in 2002, which had its challenges but on the whole was a very rewarding experience.
Being quite an organised individual (read obsessive) I decided that the classes would be structured, with a theme for each and a demo piece prepared in advance to guide the students through the making process. This helped keep everyone focused and a short discussion session before the class started created a space for an exchange of ideas and encouragement for the students to personalise the project. The themes were always kept quite loose so that there was freedom for self-expression and very subtly, different techniques were introduced through each project, allowing students to have the skills to produce shapes that fluttered from their imaginations.
Pottery lessons were aimed at the 7 to 13 year old age bracket and ran for four years during school summer holidays. The courses were fully booked and we didn’t need to advertise from one year to the next as parents contacted us when spring arrived. In addition to this I also developed large one off group activities with as many as 45 children attending from summer schools, and children with special needs also visited us in smaller groups for more individual tutoring. The classes were collectively entered as ‘Craft for all’ into a competition in 2014, run by the Maltese Department of Commerce, under the category for Crafts Initiatives and won a Eur10,000 first prize.
The pottery definitely came alive and I’m not sure at what stage I realised that I was actually very much enjoying the classes. The unhindered, spontaneous and sometimes random mind of a child is such a fascination. Children need to create and process ideas and clay is such an ideal versatile medium to use. It’s beautifully messy and lets them get totally immersed in the tactile environment that clay offers without fear of being reprimanded for getting dirty. I allowed students to go off in any direction with their project work and the only restrictions were ‘score and slip’ so I wasn’t gathering together pieces that had fallen apart and ‘watch the thickness’/ ‘avoid air bubbles’ although the one or two explosions that we had entertained them. Their work was their own with very little hands on intervention from me and was a wonderful representation of their individual characters.
At the end of 2014 I resigned my position at the pottery to become self-employed, something that I had been considering for a while, and 22 years after initially working with clay. I considered the structure of my new business and what direction I would like it to head but before any firm plans were made someone contacted me for throwing classes and so I organised a programme to accommodate adult students wanting to learn how to work on the wheel. This was followed by further enquires and more students and as summer soon arrived parents contacted me for children’s classes. Long story short, after 16 months of becoming self-employed I now spend a very happy chunk of my working week teaching adults, children and people with disabilities various methods of working with clay. I share in their excitement as one of the adult students throws their first bowl, as someone with autism makes a brightly painted slab built flower and as one of the children lights a candle in the top of the ceramic light house that they have hand built.
Although I don’t believe that this was planned in any way, I now see teaching as an important part of what I do.
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