Dolores Underwood never had a pottery class in school. She never hadthe chance to mold a moist handful of clay into a bowl, never had the chance to fire up a kiln.
She didn't realize she had missed anything until she began taking crafts classes years later. Then she tried her hand at ceramics. Within a few sessions, she was hooked.
A decade later, she's the proud owner of Dolores' Ceramic World, Brooklyn Park's largest ceramics shop. She's also a teacher known fondly by her students as "the lady with the golden brush."
Underwoodhas transformed two old buildings on Belle Grove Road into a rambling ceramics studio, where she sells supplies and teaches more than 100women a week to make jars, plaques and bunny figurines.
She carries more than 8,000 molds, including everything from Christmas trees to Indian statues, poodles and canisters.
In the main shop, Underwood displays her prize-winners -- a dainty pitcher and bowl, a set of dolls and a carousel complete with horses and laughing children. She just won a blue ribbon for the carousel in a contest sponsored by theNational Capital Beltway Ceramic Association.
"I started piddlingin ceramics, and I got more and more interested in it," Underwood said. "It gets in your blood."
After years of practice, she decided at age 51 to open her own store. Encouraged by her husband, Howard, aretired environmental health manager, she set up shop in their garage in St. Mary's County.
In less than two years, she had outgrown the garage. The Underwoods moved to Harmans, and she opened a store onFurnace Branch Road. In 1989, she needed more space again and moved to Belle Grove Road.
Her husband quit working as an occupational safety and health inspector at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington to pour the clay mix into molds. Her classes grew to nightly sessionsof at least 22 women as Underwood won more awards and word of her success spread.
Now, customers come from as far away as Fairfax, Va., to participate in the $2 sessions, or one of the "midnight madness"specials at Dolores' Ceramic World.
During her biggest seasons, Christmas and Easter, Underwood sponsors several six-hour sessions forcustomers to complete an entire project at once. Usually, customers need several sessions to craft, fire and paint their pieces.
Underwood already is gearing up for the holidays. She spent a sweltering afternoon last week double-checking her stock of angels and Santas.
"We're heading into one of our busiest times of the year," she said."A lot of people come in when they see how much ceramics things costin the store."
She's so busy teaching that she rarely has time tofinish her own projects these days. But the trade-off is worth it, she said.
Standing in front of one of her blue-ribbon pieces, an elderly couple sitting on a park bench, she talked about the rewards inher business. "It's so gratifying, especially when you see the students finish a piece, and you see the light in their eyes -- that they did it."