Peace Dale-based artist and teacher Nancy Lyon uses her lifelong love of pottery to help make a meaningful difference in the lives of at-risk youths in the state. Her goal? To help others foster connection and a positive sense of self through artistic expression.
Nancy has lived in Rhode Island for 41 years, occasionally switching towns but mostly residing in Jamestown or South Kingstown.
“I grew up in New Jersey and was looking to be someplace more beautiful, and this was it,” she says, laughing.
Her love for pottery started early, with her first pottery class at age 16 in New Jersey. “I fell in love with making pots, so when I moved to Rhode Island I joined the pottery studio at the South County Art Association (SCAA),” a cooperative studio where participants contribute each year to have access to wheels, kilns and other materials. “It’s a great place that has offered community pottery for many, many years. I worked there as much as I could, took classes and eventually became a teacher there. I am a potter by trade and pursued my Bachelor of Fine Arts at Rhode Island College, then later decided to earn my teaching certificate.”
In addition to teaching classes at SCAA, Nancy is the art teacher at Ocean Tides School, a Christian Brothers school whose mission is to educate and care for boys who are in trouble with the law or have difficulty learning in a standard school environment. The program has two campuses; one in Narragansett where about 50 children live at the school and are taken care of, and another campus in Providence. Many of the boys at the Narragansett campus have come from the Training School in Cranston. Ocean Tides also offers a day program for those who require a small school environment, with at most 12 children per class. The Providence campus offers a day-only program that encompasses youths from various districts.
Nancy teaches all different mediums at Ocean Tides, not just pottery. Her students can try stained glass, drawing, painting, sculpture, mask making, plasterwork and more.
“Kids come into my class saying, ‘I don’t like art because I can’t draw.’ They feel inadequate, and my goal as a teacher is to help them to find the medium they can connect with so they can express themselves. Most of the students are good at art. They see things that other people don’t see, they think like artists and don’t even realize it because they’ve been taught that art is something very specific and contained, when really it’s much broader than that.”
Making art has been long recognized as a way to build confidence and instill a host of other positive effects, which Nancy has observed firsthand through her teaching work. “When people find something that makes sense to them or taps into a deeper part of themselves, they feel more connected. That’s what it’s all about – being connected to something real and being able to express yourself in a way that has meaning. When you interact with others and create something you feel good about, it boosts your spirits.”
Ocean Tides students were able to give back to their local communities through an event Nancy organized in tandem with the RI Community Food Bank called Empty Bowls. The kids created pottery bowls and donated them to the cause, with sales from their artwork benefitting the RI Community Food Bank and hungry families.
“The students were enthralled with that process,” says Nancy. “They were so happy to know that what they were making would help feed a family.” She will also be teaching some upcoming after-school classes at the Child & Family Group Home.
“I just think it’s great for people to get personally exposed to the arts, and it makes me happy that I can be a facilitator of that joy,” she says.
For upcoming classes check out www.southcountyart.org
Photography by Blink of an Eye Photography