The Inclusivity of Clay – blog post from Creative Clay For All

“This is the story behind the clay. I work in many settings but one of my favourite workshops is the most inclusive. It’s the reason Creative Clay For All started in the first place”

Deborah Clarke shares her reflections.

The following blog is taken from the Creative Clay for All website. It was written by Deborah Clarke on 30/03/20.

 

I regularly post photos of the finished objects either before of after kiln firing. Sometimes there are photos of the making process during a workshop with an odd hand in a photo but nothing else.
​This is the story behind the clay. I work in many settings but one of my favourite workshops is the most inclusive. It’s the reason Creative Clay For All started in the first place. The residential care homes, the disability groups and the day centres.

 

These spring lambs were created at a day centre. Eleven people of mixed abilities all sat round the table, it’s lively, it’s fun, lots of giggling and chatter. Behind each sheep is a story, a person, a maker.

This sheep was made by a lady with dementia. She tells me she has a form of dementia where she can not remember how to put on items of clothes to dress herself in the morning. She used to be very creative and has submitted work to Dorset Arts and Crafts show. She makes a note of when I am next in and looks forward to the class.
The sheep is beautifully made. The maker spends a long time with tools incising and mark making, creating patterns and texture. There is a particular strong style in the making and each week I immediately know which one was made by her before seeing the name on the back. I forgot what we made the week before to give an update on drying and kiln firing to participants. She proudly tells me. Despite dementia the art created is such an important part of her week it stays with her. I look forward to running a workshop with this maker. She is full of life and always giggling away with her friend. The maker of the next sheep.

The two ladies have been friends for a long while and enjoy participating in a class together. A quiet and patient dog sits under their feet. When I run a workshop the demo is always next to the maker of this sheep. Hands follow me and feel the clay, tools and templates. She is particularly good at 3D pieces like the crocodiles made a few weeks ago. Pallets of colour are given explaining where each colour is. It is usually a range of tones that blend well. Each week a willingness to try. Always expecting a disastrous outcome but tackling each project with humour, fun and excitement. Then surprise that it actually turned out well.

This sheep was made by a participant I am slowly learning more about. He is hearing impaired. The lady discussed earlier with dementia told me she thinks he has learning disabilities. Before he started attending the clay workshops he sat in a chair and didn’t interact with people. She tells me his confidence has grown each week. I am aware he has a problem with short term memory so every five minutes I go over to him with a demo piece like his to show him what we are doing. Carers tell me his family are really proud of his creations.

This sheep is my favourite. It makes me smile when I see it. The maker is in a wheelchair, it is difficult to make out his speech. There is limited body movement. Often people will come over and help him, adding more paint or cutting round shapes. No one helped him make this sheep. Every bit of clay was formed by him. Every bit of colour was his decision and added by him. He was so proud of his creation. This maker is so enthusiastic, normally one of the first to enter the art room, full of chatter. When the sheep came out of the kiln and I gave it to him I told him it was my favourite sheep as he made it all by himself and I am so very proud of him.
This is just a snapshot into the variety of makers in my workshops. Looking into the future some of the participants of my workshops could develop their skills further becoming artists and exhibiting their work. There are already visually impaired potters and potters with physical disabilities selling work and exhibiting as artists. Anything is possibly.

As I write this article we are in lockdown. The day centre is shut. I do not know when this group of people can get together again to be creative, to laugh, to be independent. Museums have made virtual tours. Artists and entertainers are creating podcasts for you to carry on being creative, exploring, learning. The people who really need clay, who really benefit from it’s tactile and adaptable nature can not access it now. In this now virtual world how can I get clay workshops to where it is needed? There are many people living on their own with disabilities in isolation with carers visiting for their basic needs. How can they access clay and the arts to improve their wellbeing?

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