Taking shape: Looky Here pupils make clay platters from scratch

  • Rhonda Wainshilbaum, a potter with a home studio in Leyden, taught a workshop at Looky Here in Greenfield on Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

  • Hannah Brookman, the board president of Looky Here in Greenfield, paints a clay platter at a Sunday workshop. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

  • Jane Stephenson scratches a design into a clay platter she made at a workshop at Looky Here in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

  • At a pottery workshop at Looky Here in Greenfield on Sunday, participants made clay platters from scratch. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

  • At a pottery workshop at Looky Here in Greenfield on Sunday, participants made clay platters from scratch. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

  • Rhonda Wainshilbaum, center, teaches a workshop on making clay platters at Looky Here in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/MAX MARCUS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/5/2020 6:06:13 PM

A pottery workshop over the weekend was a chance for anyone of any skill level to work with a local teacher to make a food-safe clay platter from scratch.

The teacher was Rhonda Wainshilbaum, who regularly teaches pottery classes at her home studio in Leyden. But her workshop on Sunday was at Looky Here, an art studio in Greenfield that hosts exhibits, concerts and workshops.

In a nearly five-hour workshop, Wainshilbaum led her four students through every step of making a clay platter, starting with a slab of clay, and finishing with a painted platter ready to be fired in a kiln. The afternoon moved at a leisurely pace, with snacks and lots of friendly chatter.

All four students happened to be total beginners, but Wainshilbaum said her workshops are open to people of any skill level. All of Sunday’s participants said they enjoyed the workshop and were happy with their results, even though they had never done advanced pottery work before.

“I liked it, but I like to be creative and artistic in general,” said Andrea LeClerc.

Wainshilbaum said her workshop is somewhat unique in that it leads students through the entire process of making the platter from scratch, rather than just painting a pre-made platter.

Starting with a wet slab of red clay, students first flattened it with a rolling pin, then used a paper plate as a mold to create the basic shape of a platter.

They then used fine-point tools to carve in decorative details, and painted the platters. As the paint began to dry, they used a stylus-like tool with a long edge on its point to selectively peel off layers of paint, showing the red clay underneath. This technique is called sgraffito.

At the end of the workshop, Wainshilbaum took the pieces home to finish in her kiln. Firing pottery has to be done slowly, with careful adjustments to temperature, she said. Changing the temperature too quickly can damage the pottery; firing it before it’s totally dry will boil any moisture in the clay and explode the pottery.

“So you have to make sure it’s what’s called ‘bone-dry,’” Wainshilbaum said.

Wainshilbaum usually puts clay pieces in her kiln at a low temperature overnight to evaporate any water, she said. In the morning, she turns the kiln up to about 2,000 degrees, and leaves it there for about seven or eight hours. The next day, she starts reducing the temperature in gradual increments.

After they’ve been fired in the kiln, Wainshilbaum will glaze the pieces and bring them back to Looky Here for the students to pick up.

Wainshilbaum has ongoing pottery classes at her home studio in Leyden. She’s also scheduled another workshop at Looky Here for March 15. The Looky Here workshop is $55. For information on either the workshop or the studio classes, call 413-624-5175 or email rhondawain@verizon.net.

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 261


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