Lorenzo Barbaza (R) shows his completed project on the potters wheel.  Behind him are Madison Niten (center) and Addison Gay (L).

The art studio at View Ridge Middle School is bright and airy, covered in colorful student work. A glass garage-style door takes up most of one wall, bathing the room in natural light. Students start to enter the room, pulling stools up to tall tables. They get settled, pulling out sketchbooks and pencils, gathering clay and supplies. Today, these Ridgefield School District students are working on their final fired ceramics projects. 

Teacher Michelle Hankins bounces from student to student, project to project. Because the students are working from design to a finished pottery product, each stage needs to be assessed and approved before they can move forward. Hankins pauses to draw names to see which students will be using one of the four potter's wheels that day. They have to take turns at the wheel, but during the next few weeks, each student will get to use the potter's wheel at least once. 

The art department also has its own kiln right outside the classroom. Four boys unload the kiln, piling fired projects into plastic bins. Because there are several levels to the kiln, it’s almost like an archaeological dig; the boys try to guess which class period’s projects are at the bottom. “This must be second period. I recognize that one.” He points to the middle of a forest of colorful miniature mushrooms and pumpkins, where there is a lone ceramic hamburger. 

For most of the students here, this is their first experience creating fired ceramics. Hankins has guided them through the basics, as well as several different methods of crafting the clay. She shows a slide of several examples as inspiration for their final projects. “You’ve learned all ten techniques,” she tells them. “Now you can apply them and do something awesome!”

The eighth grade students take a moment to tell a little bit about their projects and what inspired them. Aubrey Gay shows a ceramic mushroom she just completed, explaining how she colored it with three different colors, then scraped the surface to reveal the multi-colored pattern below. Parker Wachsnicht shows a sketch and says, “I’m making a pencil holder that looks like a phone booth from a movie I like” (the movie? Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure). Other students are handbuilding a waterfall incense burner, a frog-shaped jewelry holder, a wax melt pumpkin, and a mug decorated with elegant clay pine trees. Every design has a purpose.

At the throwing wheels, Hankins demonstrates how to shape clay from a big gumdrop-shaped lump into the beginnings of a cup or bowl. This is the first time on the potter's wheel for most of the students, and it’s a little intimidating at first. The spinning clay moves fast, but once they lay their hands on it, it’s easy to change the shape with very small movements. They set their fingers in to make an indentation, pinch and pull up on the sides to make bowls, sponging the clay as they go to keep it wet and malleable. 

There are a few inevitable missteps, like bowl shapes turning wobbly or collapsing. But Hankins helps them reshape the clay and start again. It isn’t long before all four students are comfortable on the wheel and making progress on their projects. Lorenzo Barbaza watches his clay carefully. A delicate bowl begins to take shape in his hands. When it’s finished, Hankins helps him release the bowl from the wheel. Barabaza holds the bowl up. “It’s pretty cool,” he says, and smiles.

Each student started their project with just an idea and a sketch, and now they are bringing those ideas into reality. These beautiful clay projects are designed to be used, and they will last for years to come. Hopefully they will spark a smile every time someone sets a necklace in the mouth of a pottery frog or picks a pencil from a ceramic phone booth, a one-of-a-kind piece that could only come from the art studio at View Ridge Middle School.