Union Project's Clay Cooperative Shapes Learning Experiences

For the past three years, Michelle Dreyfuss has toted a vanload of children from Mt. Lebanon to the Union Project, every day for two weeks to take summer clay classes. After setting up the class with Jenna (UP’s Ceramics Program Manager), she invites her daughter’s friends to take the class with them – sometimes bringing as many as seven kids at a time. This summer she brought her youngest daughter, her niece, and a few of their friends for a two-week, custom class shaped by the unique co-op atmosphere.

“When you take a class at Union Project, you don’t really feel like you’re in a class. It’s a real environment, with real people coming to do pottery. My kids are introduced to a cooperative studio and they have a responsibility to that studio. Jenna taught them how to set up and start working, how to do their stuff, and how to clean it up. I like that they’re responsible for the whole process and they also understand that other people use the space. I love that. And I love that they’re surrounded by artists, which helps them understand what’s possible in clay.

During their class, some co-op members will come in and work. And Jenna will point out to them, ‘Look at the way they’re throwing on the wheel, they do it differently than I do.’ They see the options and realize that people continue to do clay even when they’re older. One of the co-op members told them he’s been doing ceramics for twenty years. That’s great for kids to see the real world application of clay and know that it doesn’t have to be just your summer project.

They’ve begun to understand what’s really difficult to do. If an artist is throwing a huge bowl, the girls will say, ‘Wow, that’s so hard, I can’t believe he can bring the wall up that high!’ They’ve gained an appreciation for people who have practiced and can do it well, and they understand what is well done.”

This summer, the girls learned techniques ranging from slab-building to wheel throwing. While Jenna tailors the class around the girls’ interests, they often pick up a new technique from the co-op members.

“Some other potters come in and throw on the wheel or work on projects. Like Ben, who showed us how to do handles, how to pull them and connect them. It’s a little gross, but he connects them with spit. He slips and scores, using spit, and then he attaches the handle to the cup.”

This wasn’t really a class, it was a custom class. Jenna taught me how to make a bowl and how to lift the walls really high. She basically taught me everything.” - Camille, 12 years old

Want to have your own learning experience in UP's clay studio?
Sign up for one of our clay classes - there are plenty of options for both children and adults!