The Craft Center at Stony Brook University is the spot for students, faculty, staff and the community to come together and learn art techniques. Its mission is to “promote the appreciation of art and fine crafts” by providing opportunities through non-credit classes “in an atmosphere of relaxation and fun,” according to its website.
Located in room 049 in the basement of the Union, one of the most popular semester-long classes is pottery.
“I’ve been making pottery for 30 years and I took a college course, an elective, and I just so happened to be good at it, it wasn’t something that I really thought about,” Gina Mars, a pottery instructor at the Craft Center, said. “I’ve only been here two weeks so I don’t really know anyone as well yet, but it’s really a group effort, I think, to learn from each other, so that’s why I enjoy doing it.”
Mars’ class, a mix of community members and Stony Brook students, works on their clay projects using pottery wheels.
“I was becoming a history teacher and I also taught high school for special needs kids and I found that working together on the potter’s wheel really was helpful every day with all the stress going on,” Mars said. “It really brought us together and most of the classes I teach now are more of a community base, whether they’re adults or children and they all work together and that’s what I’m trying to do here.”
Astrid Winmer has been a part of the craft center for over 25 years. “I just love it, it’s a part of my life,” she said. “It’s so relaxing and very intense. You can see how much i’ve worked on this piece.”
“It takes high concentration if you get to that point, but that’s wonderful because there is no room for anything else,” Winmer said. “It’s hyper-focused, there is nothing else but your hands on something and if you wander off somewhere your hands wobble and you lose pace.”
Winmer explained how completing a project can be frustrating but is well worth it when things go right. “It’s exhilarating, but the whole process has so many steps and at any step something can go wrong,” Winmer said. “Either the firing is not right, the glaze is craze, or it simply doesn’t come out the way you want, but once everything is good, there is nothing better.”
Laurie Rao lives near the university and said she uses the Craft Center as a creative outlet while she makes projects for her daughters. “I’m trying to be creative and get a little more confidence,” she said.
In her third class at the center, Laurie fed clay through a slab roller to get it to a uniform thickness, laid it on a plate in the shape she wanted, pat in down with a sponge to adhere it to the form and cut off the excess. “I just do the slab building,” she said. “I don’t have enough confidence to try the wheel right now.”
Pottery projects in different stages line the shelves all around the Craft Center. These works have been fired in the kiln, but not glazed yet. Craft students can work on their projects or practice techniques during the week whenever the center is open, usually starting at 7 a.m.
Janet Hayden squishes and slams clay to remove air bubbles. She has been taking pottery classes for a year after hearing the Craft Center was open to the community by chance when she sat next to an instructor at a historical society luncheon that was giving away pottery as a door prize.
“It keeps me out of trouble,” Hayden said about attending pottery classes.
The hardest about learning to use the pottery wheel for Hayden was centering the piece she was working on. “I’ve had three different teachers and it’s good for me learning the techniques of the different teachers,” she said, now in her third semester of pottery classes.