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Playing With Clay

Ceramics artist Kara McKamey gets her hands dirty at the Jamestown Art Center

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Kara McKamey’s journey from the cotton fields of South Texas to the Jamestown Arts Center (JAC) included a detour from photography to pottery while a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she earned her Masters in art education.

As a child, says Kara, “I loved playing in the dirt, riding dirt bikes and making sculptures out of the clay we dug up in the backyard.” And it was much the same when she took her first pottery class: “I loved the wheel, I loved the chemistry behind the glazes and the firing process, and I loved working in the dirt,” she says.

In addition to running the JAC’s Open Studio and the technical aspects of the center’s ceramics studio, Kara shares her love of sculpture with both adults and kids.

“Teaching pottery to kids is way easier than teaching to adults,” she says. “Kids use their hands all the time anyway, so they pick up the process pretty quickly. Adults can be tough to teach: they lose patience, or have forgotten hand-eye coordination skills, or they get frustrated because they could throw once upon a time in high school, but have somehow lost the ability.” Setting incremental goals for aspiring potters helps overcome such obstacles, as does Kara’s hands-on teaching technique.

“When I get a beginner on the wheel, I sit across from them and throw the clay with them,” she says. “I’ll have my hands on their hands in the clay and I physically show them what to do. As they get better and become more competent and comfortable, I touch their work in progress less and less.” Kara says she looks at herself “as a conductor rather than a teacher.”

“I’m showing the students how to create with clay, how to work together, and how to find the beauty in the imperfection of their work. The classes are a place where anyone can find a clay technique that they are successful at and find the joy in creating something unique to themselves.”