Mark Gordon presses clay onto a table and begins to mix in a rough powder for texture. He lifts the clay and throws it again onto the table, using his hands to knead it: Thump. Slap. Thump. Slap.
A dry, earthy smell hangs in the air as about 15 kids look on, though not yet in awe. The awe comes later, when they watch Gordon work at a potter’s wheel.
Gordon, who teaches ceramics at Barton College in Wilson, visited Johnston Community College for three days last week through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
During a class on Wednesday for kids, Gordon explained how to make a clay monster. First, he had each child play with a small ball of clay as he explained how pottery works. Then he had them gather around a potter’s wheel.
With his simple, deft hand movements, a large, wet mound of clay morphed into varied shapes. At one point, Gordon slapped the potter’s wheel, bumping a bin of water and splashing it toward some of the kids. “Did anyone get dirty?” he asked. A chorus of “No” followed. “But it’s so much fun when that happens,” he said.
Gordon said he fell in love with clay in just one day and has now been working with it for 41 years. “It’s tactile,” he said. “It’s almost athletic on the potter’s wheel. It’s a malleable that’s indefinitely changeable.”
Gordon especially likes teaching pottery. He said many people think the craft will be too hard to learn, but all it takes, really, is practice. Pottery is also forgiving, he said, because a mistake can be squished away.
By the end of the class, kids were using clay to make their own monsters, ranging from giant eyeballs to dogs with horns. Edie Revels, 10, of Selma, came to the free class with her brother, sister and mom. “I like it because it’s interesting,” she said. “I’ve never really messed with clay before, and it’s just something new.”
Carmen Revels, Edie’s mom, said the class was a great opportunity for her kids to get experience in something new. “I’ve always been interested in pottery but never been able to do anything with it,” she said. Plus, Revels said she is always looking for opportunities to expose her children to different things.
Her son, Noah, 8, said he wants to learn more about pottery. “I think it’s really fun,” he said. “I think potters are the coolest, the way he shaped that bowl.”
Miranda Chung, 7, of Garner has been working with clay for at least two years, she said. Her mom taught her first, and then she began taking classes to learn more. “I love clay, and I love that you can do whatever you want with it,” Miranda said. “And it’s really squishy and sticky.”
Bill Gregory, who oversees the Frank Creech Art Gallery at JCC, said he wanted the classes to showcase the gallery’s pottery studio. The space includes multiple potter’s wheels and a kiln, and people outside of JCC can use it, including school groups and members of the community. “We have this space that I want the community to know about,” he said.