By Bernie Mattson
This past summer of 2022 was my second time teaching clay and ceramics at a summer camp, and my first time working at Circle Pines Center. Josh Behr and I began the summer by converting the People Barn into our summer art studio, repairing two kick-wheels we recovered from the attic of the goat barn, putting up
lights and new tables and a large tapestry from last year’s folk opera. I never imagined the art activities we did to have the success that they did, and so I was very excited and surprised when it quickly became the most popular activity. Thanks to Josh’s unparalleled tie dye skill, we saw the creation of some beautiful tie dye and ice dye on shirts, bandanas and pants. With instruction from Junior counselor Joaquin, we collected flowers and leaves for cyanotype photography.
The crowning achievement of the summer to me was the ceramics work. We went through several hundreds of pounds of clay, and the drying rack groaned under the weight of wide bowls, plates, cups with handles, little creatures with delicate legs, hand sculpted jewelry and several small clay toilets. Every day, campers lined up to try their hand at wheel throwing, which many picked up very eagerly, and every day there were 5 or 10 new thrown bowls to add to the collection. In preparation, before the campers arrived, I had tried my hand at teaching several of the counselors how to throw pottery on those kick wheels, to varying degrees of success, but no one can deny how fun it is to kick the spinning metal disc as hard as you can and watch the lump of clay spin and spin. For the younger campers, we adjusted the height of the seat on the second kick wheel so that they could reach, but if they couldn’t, there would be a crowd of acorns ready to help kick the wheel and get it spinning so their friend could sculpt.
Once a week, after we had amassed a large collection of greenware, Josh and I spent an evening loading up the shelves of our little standing kiln in the rec hall, drying it out on low heat, and firing it over 24 hours. Thanks to our constant checking in, we had very few cracked pieces, and nothing that couldn’t be repaired with a little glue. When it comes to glazing bisqueware, we had a gloss glaze for campers to use to make their ceramics glossy and smooth, but when it’s painted on, it looks very green. It took a lot of convincing to prove that it would fire clear and shiny.
I eagerly await running art activities next summer, and Josh and I have many more ideas for new projects, including mosaics, nature mobiles, painted murals, and much more! We would greatly welcome the donation of two electric pottery wheels which will be easier for smaller hands to make their creations!