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Licensed to kiln: Why DukeCreate's pottery workshops garner hundreds of students' interest

<p>DukeCreate will continue holding collaborative workshops for students to hone their creative abilities, learn new skills and build community in an isolated time.</p>

DukeCreate will continue holding collaborative workshops for students to hone their creative abilities, learn new skills and build community in an isolated time.

Looking for something to do on a Monday night? Thanks to a partnership between DukeCreate and DuWell, you can now learn the basics of pottery — if you can make it past the workshop’s waitlist. "Throwing on the Wheel" is a workshop that provides an introduction to wheel pottery and throwing techniques. It is also one of the most popular DukeCreate courses, regularly having waitlists of 100+ for a 12-person session. 

Kevin Erixson, director of DukeCreate, credits the program's popularity to it being an "opportunity to come and do something completely different from school work and forget about the rest of the world for a while." For stressed students, pottery can be a meditative practice and offer a break from Duke's high-pressure environment. Additionally, the course creates "a general community atmosphere," giving students the chance to connect with others over art. After an isolating year in quarantine, this community activity has become even more appealing to many. 

I was able to take the course this past Thursday and can attest to the positive experiences many have had in the course. Led by ceramic specialist Amber Mooers, the course teaches skills surrounding the foundations of wheel pottery. While tailored to beginners, Mooers allowed people to work at their own speed. She gave a detailed overview of the different techniques and processes needed to create a piece on the wheel before giving a quick demonstration. The Arts Annex only has four wheels, so our group cycled through with four people creating pieces while receiving feedback from Mooers and the rest focused on learning how to pull handles for their newly-created ceramic mugs.

Mooers strives to have "as much one-on-one interaction with people" as possible, seeing the limited number of wheels as a benefit in the lesson because they ensure that she is able to "give individual lesson time with each person as they [are] working" and help them determine specific improvements for their pieces. 

After taking this course, students are able to come to the Arts Annex during open studio hours and make more pieces for free. As Erixson put it, pottery gets students "really involved in the movement, the moment," and "mindfulness," offering an important outlet for taxed students. Due to Mooer's goal of ensuring that every student can "return to the studio with confidence about what they're doing and so they can take home something that they're proud of," students who take the course have an additional resource available to alleviate stress and interact with the arts on campus. 

To quote Erixson, "arts is wellness," and having courses like these available has a positive impact on students' mental health at Duke. However, as a result of the limited space, many interested students are left without the chance to take advantage of the course. While the class size is currently limited by wheels, Moores is "in the process of trying to get the Annex more wheels so that we can have more people working at one time."

Erixson expressed a similar sentiment, saying that DukeCreate is "trying to do more ceramics [courses]”. One way this could happen is through the return of Ceramics Academy, which was a multi-week course that took students through the process of throwing, firing and glazing. Erixson hopes to offer "two per semester due to the popularity" and give more students the opportunity to create freely during studio hours. 

For students unable to take a "Throwing on the Wheel" workshop this semester, DukeCreate offers a wide variety of other ceramics courses with similar impacts. Students can gain skills in handbuilding, carving and sculpture through courses that focus on building ceramic skills off the wheel. Mooers describes handbuilding as particularly beneficial to beginners, saying that they're "able to dive right into the process of handbuilding with clay... [and] still in that zen mode of creation without requiring as high of a skill set." As the semester continues, more courses will continue to be added to the DukeArts workshops page, providing even more opportunities for students to explore different artistic endeavors. 

Erixson describes DukeCreate's courses as "what students need" in today's environment, and I'm inclined to agree. While "Throwing on the Wheel" may have mass popularity as a beginner friendly gateway course, the wide variety of ceramics courses offer students many opportunities to practice mindfulness through pottery and participate in a stress-free activity throughout their semester.

For those interested, information about DukeCreate and DuWell courses can be found on DukeCreate's workshop page, Instagram and Facebook

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