Troubled youth and clay- Growing as a teacher

Funded in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Funded in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.

clayhandsheart

 

 

 

It’s right there. That magic moment when the world shuts off and the mind becomes focused on the clay. The room goes silent. That’s when I know that we’ve created a safe space; safe enough to turn off the mental chatter and tap into a deeper layer of ourselves. For most of us it can be something of a feat to turn off the mind, but when we do, we find that what lies below the surface is unpredictable, skittish and muddled. It’s formless and difficult to talk about. It takes courage to spend time in the unknown. It takes courage to not know what will happen when you touch the clay. It takes a sense of wonder and the ability to let go of any preconceived notions on the part of student and the teacher.

 

Creativity often gives us physical evidence of a feeling or a process. Something that existed solely inside and was invisible has been released. It doesn’t matter what ‘it’ is or how well it has been executed, the reality is that what was previously inaccessible can now be observed. Not everyone is gifted with the ability to verbalize and some problems are simply too deep, too complex to be understood enough to articulate. This is why the arts play such a huge role in processing emotion. This is precisely why the arts are such an important part of our education and should not be dismissed.

 

Assessment is showing evidence of learning. How does one measure and value emotional work? Do we as a culture value this work? This is where my interests lie. I would love to measure how it felt when you pounded, squished, and mashed the clay. Did you giggle, erupt in tears or stare blankly in fear? I want to know if you felt release. I want to know if when you walked out of my classroom you felt better about yourself and perhaps are more willing to believe that you have value? I don’t really care if the vessel you made is straight or that you even made a vessel. I want you to understand that the piece you crushed and mangled and reformed is absolutely positively perfect in this very moment (just as you are) that this whole art (life) making experience has never been about creating a perfect ‘thing’ but rather perfecting the process of creating. It’s sounds trite, but it IS the journey not the destination and the only one truly capable of measuring the emotional shift is the individual. We may be able to observe the outward results, pride, joy, focus and one hopes that will spread into every other area of life.

 

 

The Glenn Stratton Learning Center (GSLC) is a school for behavioral children ages 8-18. The work we did together at the GSLC was spread over 2 months this winter. It was funded with a generous grant from the Maine Arts Commission. I spent the day once a week with small classes of 3-4 students for an hour at a time. The faculty participated and modeled the learning and exploring process. All were given a short description of a project with a demonstration, some vocabulary terms, and some photographs, magazines, books of ceramic artists. We covered some yogic breathing techniques and basic rules for success. We used clay from local sources and discussed the glacial-marine clay of Maine as well as scoring, slipping, sgraffito, carving, glazing and firing techniques. Mostly the students made whatever came to mind. I had no agenda other than exposing them to certain techniques, vocabulary and gave them free reign to talk about and create what they wanted. I find that loosening the expectations lets them find their own voice. Depending on the group, most students were self motivated and quite engaged with the materials. There were times when the conversations were charged and full of male bravado and other times when you could hear a pin drop. I saw it as my job to hold the space for as long as I could, allowing things go their natural course. When we wandered too far off we just started over. Trusting that each time we returned to the work that the road back became a little clearer and the emotional load got a little lighter. It’s my hope that these kids can continue to find methods of expression and safe spaces to express them. They do not have an easy road and far too many have suffered extreme abuses. Their behavior is a direct result of these abuses. They are learning to trust as well as learning to integrate back into the system. I was there long enough to know most of their stories, but not long enough to measure the deeper results.

 

An interesting thing occurred with this project and that was that all of my photographic evidence went missing. I’ve searched high and low and cannot find any of the hundreds of pictures that I snapped. I was devastated because HOW does one document one’s work without the camera? It’s such a big part of our culture. It occurs to me now that education is like that… hard to get a snap shot of what students are really learning. What I felt was the biggest fail and had to admit defeat about turns out to prove my biggest point. I must find solace in the fact that the project itself was important and successful and that the kids really benefited from spending some time with clay in a safe trusting environment. I have to come to my own conclusion that just because you can’t ‘prove’ that it happened doesn’t erase the experience or the value. I think this is important as we start to re-think education and revisit trusting our own instincts in the classroom. The most important part of teaching for me is the human connection and if those kids learn how to connect then that is no small feat and I can feel proud of the work we did. Thank you Maine Arts Commission. Thank you Glenn Stratton Learning Center. Thank you kids, for allowing me space to grow as a teacher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Healing with Clay Workshop

healwithclaymalleyweber healwithclaywkshpmweber claywkshptilehealing malleyweberworkshophealingclay clayhealingwkshpwmalley

On February 1st 2015 I partnered with Maine General’s Healthy Living Resource Center and the Harlow Gallery to present the newest ‘Healing with Clay’ workshop. We had 11 enthusiastic participants come together to learn a little about clay, where to find it, how to purchase it and how to approach creative work with healing in mind. We covered basics like slipping, scoring, texture, stamping, smoothing and most importantly slowing down, breathing, and conversing with the clay. There was no agenda or specific project to create although I did demonstrate a relief tile and many students chose to emulate that using their own aesthetic to guide them. I feel very strongly that we don’t give ourselves enough time for creative expression and that our lives are often too hurried and harried to find the space for making. Granted, clay isn’t always the easiest because of the technical issues, materials and the ability to glaze and fire work, but it IS amazing for grounding, becoming present and staying focused. Hand outs were geared toward making it a bit more accessible for the average person to find clay, match glazes, and access places to fire work. Using the local glacial-marine clay makes this class all the more special. This clay comes from Livermore, ME near the Androscoggin River and was shoveled by hand and carried a few hundred pounds at a time. Each trip to harvest clay is special, for me it’s about reconnecting with myself, the land and the many potters who come before me. This clay is special. It’s sacred to me and using it for healing purposes feels right.  It is my pleasure to share it and to share my passion for creating with clay. I hope you can join us. The next workshop will be Sunday March 15th at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell. You can find more information and register for class here  Maine General Healthy Living Resource Center

Also check back for some clay digging workshops in May

 

 

Dec. 7th Gasp! Playing with some store bought clay! Oh the guilty pleasure!

Paramecium Dish

Paramecium Dish

Yes, I do feel guilty, but wow! It’s so creamy and so EASY!  I guess sometimes we have to try something new to keep our creative juices flowing. You may be aware that I make a lot of mugs and using my Maine clay isn’t always feasible so I am always trying out new clays and glazes to get something that is amenable to ‘corporate’ logos and the like. I think I found it. In fact, it has inspired a whole new line…. well almost, but this gives me something to play with and I do like to play.  This is just the first few things I’ve made and so it will evolve and refine itself over time. I will continue to use my local clay for my ceramic art, but this gives me a new avenue of expression.  Look for more fun, silly and affordable pots soon.  These are headed to the Holiday Pottery Shop in downtown Hallowell this morning. Get ’em while they last!

Trying out my new letter stamps and this was the first thing that came to mind.... :)

Trying out my new letter stamps and this was the first thing that came to mind…. :)

And after Freak the second thing just had to be 'Geek'. It's the perfect sibling gift!

And after Freak the second thing just had to be ‘Geek’. It’s the perfect sibling gift!

 

 

Skully dish for all of your party needs!

Skully dish for all of your party needs!

There's that goofy fish again!

There’s that goofy fish again!

 

Carving Teapots

Carved Leatherhard Teapots drying Wheel thrown, altered made with locally sourced glacial marine clay

Carved Leatherhard Teapots drying Wheel thrown, altered made with locally sourced glacial marine clay

In the studio today getting ready for my teapot workshop up in St. John’s Newfoundland in a few weeks.  Next steps once they are completely dried will be brushing on Terra Sigilattas (refined colored clay slips), stains, glazing and then firing.  Now to carve some cups and make a serving dish of some sort…

The gestation period for upcoming show….

Sea Star made with locally sourced clay once fired to Cone 04 electric- Terra sigillatta and stains

Sea Star made with locally sourced clay once fired to Cone 04 electric- Terra Sigillatta and stains

To me there is always more than what you see the first time you look. I spend lots of time with the 'invisible' and the underworld. It's quite healing.

To me there is always more than what you see the first time you look. I spend lots of time with the ‘invisible’ and the underworld. It’s quite healing.

I applied for a solo show at the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell, Maine and was accepted. The show will be in August 2016.  It will take me 2 years to put this together. I wanted to take my time and let it evolve without undue stress on my life, my body, my kids.  Instead of trying to do too much I am opting to slow it all down.  It seems like a fine idea to keep a journal of this process and recognize the people who are helping me make it happen.  So a big thank you to the folks at the Harlow Gallery for encouraging me to apply and in general being there to support local artists.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’d like to say with this show and how I am going to do that. The starting point is ‘what connects us’. I’ve been reading a lot about alchemy and mysticism and those who know me, know that I am always reading astrology and psychology books. The seemingly inconsequential conversations, feelings and disagreements that we have everyday become case studies for me and I acknowledge them in my work, my dreams, and my own alchemical process so in that way, I have everyone in my life to thank for helping with this show.  The show in itself is a microcosm of my larger experience.

Yesterday I met with Jack Gilmore about creating molds for some of the pieces and in my conversation with him realized that I am hoping to create an underworld and to make that underworld visible, maybe even inhabitable.  Clay is technically challenging and so I am attempting to create in a smarter and more efficient manner. I usually muscle through things, but this time I’d like to do it with more finesse and professionalism. I am hoping that by planning ahead and giving myself some space in my life to create that I will succeed.  Space to create…  That’s good.  I better write that one down so I can remember that.  It’s a good first step.

The Maine Academy of Natural Sciences- Integrated Ceramics Classes 2013-2014

Funded in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Funded in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.

MeANS on the Good-Will Hinckley Campus

MeANS on the Good-Will Hinckley Campus

sculpture class

sculpture class

Student work- studying Valera Baytsa

Student work- studying Valera Baytsa

Student Sculpture studying slab construction, simple forms

Student Sculpture studying slab construction, simple forms

Really refining the dry clay and picking out any rocks or twigs

Really refining the dry clay and picking out any rocks or twigs

Hoping to find this..... will keep looking

Hoping to find this….. will keep looking

crushing the clay we did find before we mix it

crushing the clay we did find before we mix it

Taking soil samples Fall 2013... looking for clay on campus

Taking soil samples Fall 2013… looking for clay on campus

Mixing up our batch of clay gathered from campus

Mixing up our batch of clay gathered from campus

wedging the new batch to make it workable

wedging the new batch to make it workable

students recording and measuring clay samples

students recording and measuring clay samples

shrinkage bars made from clay samples from campus

shrinkage bars made from clay samples from campus

Cutting and arranging the hand made tiles

Cutting and arranging the hand made tiles in math class

Made some really great tessellations in Math class

Made some really great tessellations in Math class

brushing on slips and clear glaze

brushing on slips and clear glaze

another variation of tessellating tiles and shifting patterns

another variation of tessellating tiles and shifting patterns

Tiles in a tessellating pattern using color to manipulate the plane

Tiles in a tessellating pattern using color to manipulate the plane

Students presenting their tile project 2013

Students presenting their tile project 2013

The humanities class working on coils and Native American pots

The humanities class working on coils and Native American pots

brushing on slips

brushing on slips

pinch pot

pinch pot

some pots lined up to dry

some pots lined up to dry

Loading the pit firing

Loading the pit firing

lighting the fire

lighting the fire

unloading the firing

unloading the firing

Just one of the many pieces we fired using ancient techniques

Just one of the many pieces we fired using ancient techniques

a display of our pit fired vessels

a display of our pit fired vessels

Our pit fired Pots done in English and Social Studies classes while we researched Native American cultures

Our pit fired Pots done in English and Social Studies classes while we researched Native American cultures

Presenting our work to the Cornville Charter School students

Presenting our work to the Cornville Charter School students

Showing the younger kids how we did it and what we learned.

Showing the younger kids how we did it and what we learned.

Our sculpture Art show with mind maps and Artist statements

Our sculpture Art show with mind maps and Artist statements

Hospice Bereavement Homework Week 1

Witness, reflection, progression..... going deep. Just some of the thoughts that come to mind.

Witness, reflection, progression….. going deep. Just some of the thoughts that come to mind.

This is my first week’s homework assignment from Hospice Bereavement. I wrote a letter to ‘someone’ who hadn’t heard the story yet.  Homework is not required, but I really want to do the work. I can say this has really helped.

Dear Ann,                                                                       March 4, 2014

I wanted to give you an update of where I am these days. As you know already, my uncle Ken recently died. It has hit me harder than I expected because it carries the weight of my earlier experiences with loss. My uncle was sick and had been for years, but healthy enough to keep enjoying his life. He was an amazing man. I learned so much from him and I wished I had told him that. It wasn’t a total surprise that he was back in the hospital. However, I was not prepared to hear that he had died or for the deep feelings that his death has brought up.  Years ago, after my father died, my uncle was a role model for me. Now, through my uncle’s death I am revisiting my father’s once again. It’s a gift and I am very grateful for this as it was a very complicated time for my family. I am also in a new place and my grief has shifted. I am progressing.

My father died in a car accident when I was 9 years old in 1977. He was driving home from work late one January night. He owned a restaurant in a nearby community. Another car swerved into his lane smashing into him and just like that, he was ripped from our lives. We had recently moved to Binghamton, New York. Family from NYC area and Philadelphia traveled to us, but they too were still grieving. Earlier that year my paternal grandfather had died.  I didn’t really know him that well. Then a few months later my Mom’s brother, my Uncle Bill died in a motorcycle accident; that death was little closer to home. I didn’t go to either funeral. I guess that was common in my family. So when my father died, both sides of my family were beyond themselves with grief. To me, as a 9 year old, people were ‘disappearing’ rapidly. My Mom did her best to survive it. I know her parents stayed with us for a while.  There was a discussion between my grandmother and Mother about me and it was decided that I should not go to the funeral. My grandmother felt it would scar me because of her early experiences. I believe the opposite is true. My entire school went to my father’s funeral and I didn’t. There are so many things that anger me about this and I believe this is the start of my lifelong issue/fascination with death, dying, and dead people. Maybe not, maybe it was just my path to travel. The night of the funeral I had spent with a friend and in the morning, my family was gone. I couldn’t believe that I was left behind. As a 9 year old I had this vague notion that I was on my own with this. Now years later, I see that I was abandoned emotionally during a time when I needed my family more than ever. I know that it came from a place of love and protection, but that doesn’t change the feeling any. My mom told me years later that she just didn’t know how to hang onto all 3 of us kids. I was the youngest and I was the one chosen to be left out, set adrift if you will. After losing my grandfather, my uncle and father, I also lost a lot of my mother. She was there physically, but emotionally preoccupied with her loss. I don’t blame her, she was hit hard. I have feelings around all of this, but I love her so much and feel for her pain too.  We rarely spoke of my father. I think she was trying so hard to be strong for us that she forgot to show us how to be weak. Maybe it was me, maybe I just didn’t want to upset her or see her cry. Every once in a while she might mention him and to this day she still grieves that loss. Through all of this I learned how to ignore the pain, stuff it, and not let it show. I learned how to not talk about difficult emotions to protect the feelings of others. The last few years I have been unlearning this because I can see how destructive it is. Difficult emotions don’t go away. They bury themselves inside your bones, muscles and tendons and they wait. They wait for the chance to ‘speak up’.  They hit you on an emotional level every time you experience a similar event.  They are that gnawing in your stomach or the ache in your shoulders or quite possibly, the cancer in your throat. Those feelings need to come out. If there is no safe place for expression they’ll come out sideways and wreak havoc in your lives. I never really had that safe place or if I did, I didn’t recognize it. No one ever says “it’s OK to be vulnerable’. There is a misplaced emphasis on ‘being strong’. My marriage played out this theme perfectly. I think many of us have no safe place. I think many of us don’t know how to provide a safe place. Our society is wired for production and go, go, go and little respect is given to reflection. I’d like to see this change. I’d like to BE this change. I AM this change. I carried my pain for 30 plus years, medicated with drugs and alcohol so I wouldn’t feel it. Are you carrying pain? Most of us are. There is no shame in that.

I’ve had a lot of death in my life. Some pretty gruesome, most were accidental; almost all of them were sudden.  Each time I stuffed the emotion. I’d cry sure, but never allowed the grief to fully own me. It wasn’t until I was divorced 8 years ago and entered grad school (Goddard College) that I finally found a safe place to feel my grief and express it through writing, art and performance.  I didn’t plan it. It was like it had exploded out of me and it was too big to ignore. In fact, I really didn’t want it. I tried to distance myself, but it was too strong. I studied every aspect of grief, cultural, historical, and psychological using my own as a springboard for learning.  I’ve done a lot of work through the years. I’ve done talk therapy, EMDR, dream analysis, mediation, trauma yoga, Reiki, massage, Art, poetry, journaling, performance, physical labor, exercise and it all helps, but the grief is still there. It will probably always be there. Now I’m actually trying to allow it. I am actually trying to feel it and give it the room that it needs. I figure that I can share my life with it in a more healthy way. I can see that it doesn’t just go away if I ignore it. People will continue die and I will always miss them terribly. I can keep my grief right next to my love for them, all mixed up. I can smile and cry at the same time because these people who have died are the most amazing people you have ever met and I love them all! And so I am going to my hospice bereavement group and I am going to cry my eyes out to express and to share the loss that I feel. I can’t do this at home all alone. I need to feel connected to real humans.  It is my safe space. It is the place where they will not judge me for ‘still’ crying about this. It’s the place where I can learn how to not judge myself for crying. Just the very fact that I am telling you this story, speaking out loud about my pain and showing my tears to you, all of this is hard won. Many people can’t hear it because it brings up their own buried pain. I know it’s not comfortable, but I truly need you here to listen.  And I thank you tremendously for being here for me. If I can release the pressure valve even a little it will help. Everyone grieves differently. Personally, I need people to see me, to listen, to witness my grief. There is no wrong way to do it. Thank you for allowing me to grieve in this complicated way without the judgments or the unkind or thoughtless remarks. The world can be a safe space for all of us, but it starts with us. Thank you for holding a space for me to do this work. Many blessings to you.

Love, Malley

Doing this exercise was very powerful for me. Thank you, Hospice, for the work that you are doing.  Uncle Ken, Thank you for this gift you have given me, the ability to sit with my pain so that I can sit with others. Mom, you know how much I love you, and you did exactly what you were supposed to. I am here to learn this lesson and I am ever grateful for all of it.  I love you!

* I know many of you are grieving too. Maybe you’d want to try this exercise too. You don’t have to blog it or show it to anyone. You don’t have to go to a group. Sometimes the pain is just too overwhelming. I just hope you can give yourself the space to feel it, but only as much as you can handle. I’ll keep sharing my homework if you find it helps. Let me know.  Much love!