The Village Potters Clay Center honors influential women

WOMEN'S WORK: The Village Potters Clay Center celebrates its eighth year Oct. 12. Featured are the organization's six resident potters, from left, Christine Henry, Lori Theriault, Julia Mann, Sarah Wells Rolland, Tori Motyl and Judi Harwood. Photo by Tim Barnwell

Former lawyers, marketing directors and real estate managers are among those learning ceramics at The Village Potters Clay Center. “I have a lot of young women who study with me … who are making career shifts from being fast-track professionals to simplifying their lives,” says Sarah Wells Rolland, the center’s co-founder. These women, Wells Rolland believes, represent the latest stage in the feminist movement. “It’s kind of a liberty in choice. And choice in terms of ‘I can really create my own lifestyle,’” she says.

On Saturday, Oct. 12, The Village Potters, an all-female-led organization, will celebrate these women by recognizing those who came before them. The exhibit, Women of Influence: Honoring Women Who Shape Us, is part of the center’s annual multikiln opening, which marks the organization’s eighth anniversary.

All six resident potters — Wells Rolland, Lori Theriault, Judi Harwood, Julia Mann, Christine Henry and Tori Motyl — will participate in the exhibit. The show’s inspiration, says Wells Rolland, is as diverse as the works themselves. From decorative to functional pots and from vessels to vases, each maker will bring her unique styles and interpretations to the event, spotlighting influential women such as writer Toni Morrison, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and American pilot Amelia Earhart.

Another historical female icon, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, will be featured in Wells Rolland’s collection. An American suffragist and abolitionist, Stanton dominated the women’s movement throughout the second half of the 19th century, working in partnership with Susan B. Anthony. During this time, Stanton also raised seven children. “She’s just a superstar in my book,” Wells Rolland says.

Like Stanton, Wells Rolland knows the demands of motherhood, having raised her daughter throughout much of her career. Now a grandmother, the potter says she appreciates the many hats women must wear, especially when it comes to family responsibilities, professional goals and artistic ambition.

“I think things are changing drastically in how the generation right now is raising [its] children,” she says, noting a greater sharing of domestic responsibilities between parents. “But in the past — and I still think it’s kind of true in families where the artist is a man — the woman balances all the household stuff.

“So when I see women with small children making it as artists, I just take my hat off to them,” she continues. “It’s almost impossible to make a living in the arts and limit your workweek to 40 hours.”

Yet the profession also has its perks for some young mothers, she notes. Wells Rolland launched her career in the 1980s. Before opening The Village Potters, she worked from her home studio. The arrangement allowed her to be present throughout her daughter’s upbringing. “I think that was a huge advantage,” she says.

Along with celebrating Stanton in the upcoming exhibit, Wells Rolland also pays tribute to her mother, Jessie Terrill Wells. The dedicated piece honors the subliminal ways in which her mother’s aesthetic — including the prominence of long-necked glass bottles in the family home — ultimately shaped the type of pottery Wells Rolland continues to make to this day.

In addition to displayed works, the exhibit’s opening will feature demonstrations by its resident potters, both in throwing large pots as well as techniques for alternative firing. Wells Rolland hopes those who attend the show appreciate “the radically different directions” each participating artist takes in creating their works. She also hopes the collection inspires individuals to reflect on the influential women within their own lives and how these relationships have shaped who they are today.

Though women lead the way at The Village Potters, pottery remains a predominantly male field, says Wells Rolland. Still, she believes a shift is occurring as more women from all walks of life gravitate toward the craft. Her students, Wells Rolland reiterates, “have experienced this kind of freedom in terms of feeling like, ‘I can actually do what I want to do instead of what I’m supposed to do.’”

The Village Potters, Wells Rolland continues, seeks to promote this mindset. “If you can dream it, we can help you figure out how to do it,” she says.

WHAT: Women of Influence: Honoring Women Who Shape Us
WHERE: The Village Potters Clay Center, 191 Lyman St., No. 180 avl.mx/6js
WHEN: Exhibition opens Saturday, Oct. 12, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and remains on display through Sunday, Dec. 15. Free

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist.

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