This is Cheryl. She is a potter and jewelry maker.
She is also one of my personal heroes. Not only because she is creative and does beautiful work (or because we’ve been friends since kindergarten and she married the best brother in the world). But, because she is unstoppable. Her love affair with clay did not begin until AFTER a life altering car accident in 2009. After she suffered a torn cervical artery in her brain stem; a location “too risky” to operate on. After having to learn to walk, talk, eat, and swallow again. After a lengthy hospital stay. After her eight hour days of guided physical, occupational, and speech therapy were about to end.
Jo: Once you returned home, what inspired your brilliant idea to choose pottery as your personal physical therapy of choice?
Cheryl: I wanted to do something other than the boring putting-blocks-on-top-of-each-other exercise. I wanted to do something meaningful and useful. I was watching a talk show and saw some pots they used for their decor and thought, “oooooooh, I can do that! They are really pretty.” I had, previously, only worked with clay once. That was in elementary school. I still remember the piece I made. I wish I had it now!
J: Did you then take a class or teach yourself?
C: I went to a local potter, Peter Lippencott, and had a private lesson. Private because I didn’t want to embarrass myself if the experience didn’t turn out well. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if I would end up being frustrated. And, I certainly didn’t want to be center of attention in a group.
J: How did that first session go?
C: I made two bowls that day! Albeit they were the size of salsa dishes. I was hooked!
J: Hooked and ready to set up your own studio! Where and how did you set up your pottery space?
C: Thank goodness for my husband Brian. He’s a saint. He helped by setting up the wheel and hanging shelves. He changed the spare bedroom floor to linoleum to make it mud proof. He even painted the walls the same color as clay so any mess wouldn’t be so obvious. He also made things a little lower so they were more accessible to me. He helps with opening up glaze jars. He also loads and unloads the kiln which is outside. I’m lucky that my speech has comeback somewhat; now I can ask for help.
J: What challenges does your reduced mobility create for making pottery?
C: Since my left ulnar nerve [a major nerve that runs along the inside of the arm and supplies sensory and motor innervation to the forearm and hand] has never come back, it’s a little challenging getting the clay centered, lifting it, and trimming the piece. After feeling pretty good and getting it just right, I have put many fingers through things. Having enough room to get my wheelchair around is also challenge. Then again, we all have challenges or crosses to bear. Mine just so happens to be made out of clay, glazed, then fired!
J: As a therapy, was and is working with clay effective?
C: Yes. I was getting stronger and more coordinated. Eventually, I was actually able to sit up. My left side has never fully recovered, but I’m hoping one day. Just recently I noticed that I can pick up something from the floor without toppling over!
J: Cheryl, in a way, you have created your own physical and occupational therapy center right in your own home. Do you find pottery healing in any other way?
C: It is VERY relaxing. Potters call it “playing in the mud”. Imagine being six years old again and how much fun you had making mud pies. It is so relaxing, so rewarding, so comforting. I just can’t say enough good things about it. I’m beaming as I write this.
J: Have you experimented with other mediums?
C: My confidence was building and I got into jewelry making. Working with those tiny beads and split rings is good for working on my finite skills. Then I thought, “hmmm, I can put jewelry/beads on my pottery”.
J: And pottery in your jewelry. I love your clay bead work.
J: What advice do you have for someone wanting to experiment with clay?
C: Go to a pottery class and try it. There are usually a few-week sessions. Or do slab work. All you need is a rolling pin and two dowels for slab-work. Oh, and clay, of course. Ask questions. There are so many types of clay, even paper clay. YouTube has a lot of information. But, be careful. You’ll get hooked like I did!
Thank you for sharing yourself with us Cheryl.
Maximize Health, Maximize Life: CREATE a physical therapy program.