Published Friday, May 31st, 2013 in The Washington Post print edition and online at www.washingtonpost.com
By: Moira E. McLaughlin
Photo Caption: Photo by Craig Hudson for the Washington Post - Jennifer D'Agostino, right, and her mother-in-law Judy D'Agostino apply paint and imprints to design their coffee mugs during the "Mud and Merlot."
The 1990 movie “Ghost,” starring Demi Moore as potter Molly Jensen, put pottery on the map while making it look sexy and easy.
“Ever since that movie, everyone wanted to do the wheel,” said Karen Askin, who works at VisArts, a gallery and art education center in Rockville. “Working on the wheel is very, very challenging. It takes relaxation and concentration.”
But a would-be potter has to start somewhere. That’s where the VisArts class “Mud & Merlot: Impressions” comes in. It’s a beginner pottery class in which participants decorate an already made, yet not quite dry, mug with lace, buttons, cloth pieces, seashells or whatever else they want to bring.
“This is really for people who have mostly never touched clay in their life,” Askin said.
A recent class was relaxing and easygoing as the red or white wine mixed with the creative juices, and teacher Kate Westfall, 22, who has her BFA in ceramics, quietly instructed.
“Just remember all your paint brush strokes will show,” she told the small class of women, as they painted their mugs.
The Mud & Merlot classes begin with a short wheel demonstration that would be enough to whet most people’s pottery appetite. An experienced potter becomes one with the wheel, molding and shaping the clay as it spins around and around and slowly starts to become a form.
The recent class worked with molds called sprigs, an ancient way of decorating clay by pressing prices of textured clay into the mugs to create an impression. They also pushed pieces of lace onto their mugs and then took them off, to make what Askin called a “delicate texture.”
“This gives people the chance to see where they can go,” Askin said. “We hope it’s the gateway drug for people to say, ‘Wow, I really want to do this.’ ”
The VisArts building itself, which the nonprofit group moved into six years ago, might be enough to inspire a future artist. On the street level is a gallery where mostly local artists display their work in a bright, open room with big windows. Upstairs, the classrooms showcase concrete floors, high ceilings, industrial sinks and metal shelves lined with art supplies. There are long tables with metal stools, trash cans full of leftover clay that will be reblended and used again, buckets of paint and, of course, wheels and kilns. The whole space has an industrial feel that seems to call out to artists to get their hands dirty, experiment, explore and create.
“I think this place is fantastic,” said Rockville resident Jenny D’Agostino. She attended a class recently with her mother-in-law, Judy D’Agostino, a teacher who also lives in Rockville.
“This was fun. I’ve always wanted to take a pottery class,” Judy said as she put the final touches on her mug. “I’d really like to do the wheel. I think I would come back and do that.”
The Mud and Merlot classes draw mostly women and often groups of friends. But people come solo, too. And for some couples, it’s made for a good date night.
“It’s a terrific opportunity for people to try to do something they’ve always been interested in, without doing a six-week class,” Askin said. “Yes, you can live without it, but why would you want to?”Mud & Merlot
VisArts, 155 Gibbs St., Suite 300, Rockville (Metro: Rockville). 301-315-8200. www.visartsatrockville.org/mud-merlot.Source: washingtonpost.com
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