There are plenty of fun things to do in Santa Fe; one I highly recommend is playing in the mud by taking a pottery class. Whether you’re a novice or an expert, a couple of hours in an artist’s studio can wash away the stresses and cares of any lifestyle. Whatever the weather outside, there’s plenty of mud to play with at Santa Fe Clay Play, or Green River Pottery Gallery & Studio. Recently, a small group of us took an afternoon class with self-taught potter and Green River studio owner Theo Helmstadter.
I had never thrown pots before, and the idea of a rapidly spinning wheel under my inexperienced care brought to mind images of wet clay projectiles flying off in all directions. I’m happy to say that didn’t happen, and we all had a terrific time. In less than twenty minutes, Theo had us fully absorbed and focused in the primal, timeless feeling of creating with clay.
This is no ordinary clay. As in the “good ole days,” Theo personally gathers his clays from local areas to create a unique mix. He also uses local glazes that add a stunning surface finish. The raw ingredients coupled with a ‘reduction-firing’ process, make for beautiful, durable stoneware designed for the rigors of daily use, and for plenty of admiration.
Theo says, “A good pot is one you keep getting to know – you encounter it again and again for the first time.”
Throughout his childhood, in his hometown of Ithaca, New York, Theo found himself gravitating to the creative atmosphere of artist studios, “It was where I wanted to be – learning to use tools, to engage and create with raw materials.”
In 1998, Theo came to Santa Fe on an internship with an outdoor adventure company, teaching children about the wilderness. He then taught English in the public schools. Pretty soon, Santa Fe worked its magic, giving him the inspiration to change direction and fulfill a lifelong dream of being a full time potter, owning his own studio, digging local materials and turning them into functional art.
Theo says, “What got me out of the classroom and into the studio full time was the unique geology and grand scale of the landscape here – the sense of ancient time, and the rich, historic pottery tradition here are all inspirational to my work.” Now, seventeen years later, Theo owns a successful gallery and studio on a quiet street in midtown Santa Fe.
He creates modern, elegantly simple forms that reflect the area with unique hints of the ancient and rugged. Throughout the year, he works to fulfill orders commissioned by customers who want his special creations customized to suit their personal tastes and home decor. You may also purchase finished work directly from the gallery or website.
I was surprised how many “throws” I was able to make in a short time. I had some very sad beginning failures, but I am proud to say I eventually threw a couple of mini miracles.
Three of us had no previous experience at the potter’s wheel, but the knack was picked up.
Dave admitted he had a few lessons, but that was more than fifteen years ago. He soon got the hang of it again.
The end results of our two hours in the studio weren’t too bad for beginner efforts, and rendered a few unique and useable pieces. It felt like quite an accomplishment to see them collected on the table.
The rest is up to Theo. He fires and glazes, using a nice variety of colors and finishes, and fires again. He mails the pieces to his students, or they can pick them up at the studio. You need to allow approximately 3-4 weeks for completion and delivery. Once Theo glazed and fired our work, even my strangely shaped little pieces look somewhat intentional.
I have mine prominently displayed in my kitchen. They serve as lovely reminders of our afternoon party. And of that unbeatable feeling of primal joy and clear-minded focus that had us all firmly rooted in the moment, and feeling like carefree kids again.
Green River Pottery Gallery & Studio: To book a private workshop or group session, call Theo (505) 614-6952 and mention Santa Fe Selection.
Update: In October 2015, Theo told me he’s doing more traveling, so his workshops are less available. But Santa Fe Clay Play is a wonderful option. Ginny Zipperer offers excellent pottery classes for groups and individuals in her professional, brightly lit studio in the heart of an old residential neighborhood in Santa Fe. Ginny works in various ways, in addition to using the potter’s wheel, you can create beautiful tiles, or bas relief pieces too.
Sessions last from 1.5 to 2 hours – and the time just flies by. Call Ginny for rates. Rates include all materials and shipping of your work once glazed and fired. (505) 204-6236.
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