GENEVA — Ceramics instructor Jeanette Nelson has never shied away from getting her hands dirty.
“I loved playing in the mud as a kid and I never stopped,” said Nelson during a recent adult ceramics class she teaches at the Geneva Community Center.
Nelson, who earned her bachelor’s degree in art from San Jose State and who for years worked in Sedona, Ariz. with schoolchildren, is passionate about clay and enjoys sharing that love with others. In Geneva she has taught classes to children and adults alike at the St. Peter’s Arts Academy and the Geneva Community Center.
Nelson offers six-week sessions on Wednesday mornings and evenings at the center; the next session starts in January. Veteran students who have taken classes with her before are also able to return and work independently during open studio time.
It’s a therapeutic activity for many.
“It’s mind numbing and freeing,” said Christina Houseworth of Geneva, as she prepared a mound of clay for the potter’s wheel.
Any frustrations or anxieties you might be feeling “you can take it out on the clay,” she said. “And you’ll feel much better.”
Houseworth and Mark and Debbie Wenderlich of Canandaigua are veterans of Nelson’s class and have returned for her open studio sessions. The Canandaigua couple took the class over the summer and returned “because it’s fun.”
As Mark Wenderlich threw a lump of clay onto the table with force, his wife settled down at a potter’s wheel and started forming a bowl.
Across the room, Lisa and Pat Genovese, along with Sandy Steigerwald — all of Geneva — were taking the class for the first time and sat at a table together under Nelson’s tutelage.
The prior week the new students made a pinch pot; this week the project at hand was a slab vase or coffee mug. Nelson explained that during the third week students would make a coil piece — thus exposing them to the three mediums of hand building. In the fourth week, students head to the potter’s wheel. Nelson fires the pieces.
The three new students each took a round piece of clay and started flattening them for rolling. Slapping sounds echoed throughout the room as Nelson deemed it was rolling pin time. She encouraged the students to consider using a textured rolling pin for aesthetic effect and demonstrated how to roll, “like anyone would their Christmas cookies.”
She noted even burlap pieces or other fabrics could be used to create a textured effect.
“I’ve had a friend bring in lace from her grandmother and a doily,” she said.
Students are required to buy a basic tool pouch for about $8. After rolling out their clay and cutting it into a rectangle they started using a needle tool to make a beveled edge — necessary for attaching the two edges of the rectangle together to make a cylinder.
“So when you put the two edges together they join up without a bump,” Nelson explained.
She then explained how to score the edges and apply what is called “slip” — in reality wet clay — which acts as glue.
It’s a cardinal rule of ceramics, apparently.
“Whenever two pieces of clay meet, it’s slip and score, slip and score,” Nelson repeated.
Her students listened as they worked, occasionally chatting or asking a quick question.
Steigerwald met Nelson at a yoga class and decided to take her class, enlisting her friends the Genoveses to join her. All appeared to be having a good time.
“I love to make things and work with my hands,” Steigerwald said.
Nelson enthusiastically praised their progress.
“These look great,” she said. “I love the sizes and the textures — what fun! And all very unique.”