Molding appreciation for art among youths Clay: A pottery class at Baltimore Clayworks helps inner-city children use their imaginations and learn how to listen and follow directions.

January 17, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Islands, hearts and pineapple-shaped vases: All these came out of 12 young hands caked with clay over two weeks of morning classes at Baltimore Clayworks, a pottery center in Mount Washington.

They were the creations of inner-city children who have little exposure to the arts. They had never seen or touched clay before taking the classes.

Opening up the world of ceramics to such children is the point of a new program run by Clayworks and the Woodbourne Center, a nonprofit organization devoted to helping children at risk. The two-week course was the first such venture for the partnership.

Vanessa Ware, the teaching aide who drove the six children from Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in West Baltimore for each class, said the enthusiasm she saw in the room "shows kids need more art in the inner city."

"They used their imaginations. They followed directions. They listened to Mr. Sam," she said.

"Mr. Sam" is instructor Samuel Wallace, who had one more treat in store for the last day of the course yesterday.

"I want you all to stop your conversation and have a little play time to work on the wheel," he told the students, ages 9 and 10.

"Make a ball, pack the clay in and down," he said as he demonstrated the art of throwing a pot, using hands, feet and elbows. "See what happens?"

It was a miraculous discovery for the four girls and two boys. "When they started out, they were a little shaky," said Wallace.

As Tanesha Ray, 10, said, "I was mad because I couldn't get it. I didn't know what pottery is."

Then there was the question about whether "this stuff" would wash out of their splattered clothes.

"Making ideas and impressions from a lump of wet, gray clay and having it emerge from the kiln as a shiny, permanent object -- and sharing that experience -- is transformational," said Deborah Bedwell, director of Baltimore Clayworks.

After a day or two, shapes started to emerge. Tanesha and the other children live in or near Coppin Heights, one of the communities in Baltimore's federally designated empowerment zone, an area identified as having pockets of poverty, crime and underemployment.

Making islands demanded the most imagination: What would it be like to be stuck in the middle of an ocean?

"Mine's the biggest," said Tanesha, pointing out the colors that differentiated the grass, water and sand. "It's deserted except for animals."

She planned to show it off to her three brothers and four sisters. "I'm the second oldest," she said.

Ten-year-old Corey Briscoe's island shack was full of broken pieces.

"A tornado hit my house and the roof blew off," he explained. "It's called Hurricane Frances."

Corey had no comment on whether he had named the hurricane for talkative classmate Frances Carr, 10.

"It's fun to build stuff," said Frances, especially since "I can't draw that well."

Ware, the teaching aide, tried her hand at the pottery wheel and other projects. Even with some "chitter-chatter boxes" in the class, she said, "they out-finished me. They did very good."

Along with art, she observed, the children improved their concentration skills in learning that they couldn't talk and create at the same time. When one student made something the others envied, silence often followed.

Robert W. Coleman Principal Addie E. Johnson said "inter-session" enrichment courses in the year-round curriculum allowed students "an opportunity to discover a sense of future and address their other intelligences." The school started a year-round program interspersed with extracurricular "inter-session" courses in 1994.

Johnson said the six children were carefully chosen for the Clayworks course. "We looked at those students who needed a little push, and the other half were chosen for artistic abilities," she said.

Asked how he felt about finishing the ceramics class, Corey replied, "Angry, because I want to stay."

Pub Date: 1/17/98

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