The Potter’s Wheel Series – Level 2

Course Instructor

Jess Parks

Course Information

Have you ever watched someone work on a potter’s wheel and found yourself captivated by the smooth vessel that emerges from a mound of clay? Are you curious about what it would be like to make your own wheel-thrown pottery? If you like working with clay you will enjoy giving wheel-thrown pottery a try.

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Clay is a flexible and forgiving medium. Unlike other types of sculpting, clay can be kneaded and formed into anything you desire and if mistakes are made you can simply wad it up and rework it! Some people wonder what wheel-thrown pottery is like for a beginner. If you want to get some true experience with wheel-thrown pottery, take a class before purchasing an expensive wheel or other equipment for your home. Usually ceramic classes at the McKinney Center including the Wheel Series are six week courses that meet for 2 hours once a week for 6 weeks. Your registration fee covers at least 25 pounds of clay, glaze, sculpting tools, a wheel, and use of the kiln. Your class will be led by experienced potter, Jess Parks who demonstrates excellent pottery making and enthusiastic communication skills.

In Level I, if you have never touched a potter’s wheel, expect a real learning experience. During your first class Jess will instruct you on the type of clay you will be using and how to cut and wedge it for the wheel. You will also learn basic terminology like, “wedging,” which means to knead the clay and make it supple for use. Jess loves to take the time to thoroughly demonstrate the wheel-throwing process including, centering, opening, raising, shaping, and removing a vessel from the wheel. You will then have time to practice what you learn at your own pace.

Jess has been teaching and studying pottery for many years and is known for her willingness to experiment with forms, styles, and glazes. She brings this excitement to her classes and makes the pottery making process look simple. However, a beginner should not expect throwing to come easy at first. Through practice, a willing student will become skilled at demonstrating the techniques show to them. Students should dress in entire that they do not mind getting dirty. The first few classes will be challenging and messy but do not get disheartened. Throwing pottery does not come easy but if you stick with it and stay positive you will be rewarded with more than just beautiful works of art by the end of the class.

It is highly recommended that students of the Level I class take the Level II course. Students will learn to fine tune what they learned in the Level I class. Level II is also intended for those who have achieved some mastery of basic throwing skills are ready to move on to more complex techniques such as throwing off the hump, making larger pieces from two parts, and throwing and assembling non round forms. Jess will cover how to make plates, pitchers, and lidded containers, resenting variations on each that will help you find the technique and style that works best for you. This class is also great if you have taken wheel classes elsewhere and are looking to further develop your skills. Jess also enjoys encouraging her students to be creative and gives them space to work on their own creations including sculptures.

In today’s technological world adults and teens tend to gravitate more toward stationary activities such as watching tv, checking Instagram, and playing video games. Humans need to be active to maintain physical and mental abilities. Working with clay has these benefits and more.

Manipulating clay helps you maintain hand and eye coordination as you pound, pat, and push the clay into shapes and objects. Clay helps develop and maintain the muscles in your fingers and hands. Working with clay can be a stress reliever. Through manipulating clay you can express your thoughts and ideas as you mold the clay to take on the form of your imagination. Skills that you develop when working with clay include imagination, perseverance, problem solving, teamwork, social interaction, and self-regulation.

In both Level I & II students will make functional pieces such as cups, plates, and bowls. You will also have opportunities to make sculptural pieces as well. Students have the opportunity to choose one or two pieces which will be displayed in an end-of-semester exhibition. This event is usually the first Thursday in December for Fall classes or the second Thursday in May for the spring classes.

Due to popularity the Wheel Series is offered in both the fall and spring semesters. Please review the most current class catalog for specific detail and always feel free to call the McKinney Center to discuss what class is best suited for you.

The registration fee includes the instructor pay, use of approximately 25 pounds of clay, use of glazes, use of tools, and two kiln firings. Clay has to be dry in order to be “fired” twice in a kiln before being ready for use. Due to the thickness of clay it can take several days or weeks for a piece to dry completely. It is important that pieces dry before being placed in the kiln. If moisture is still in the walls of the clay or if the clay has significant bubbles they can explode. After drying, the pieces are placed in the kiln for their first firing which is called a “bisque” firing. This is a two-day process due to the kiln needing to time to heat up, reach its full temperature for a certain period of time, and then it cools down. After the cool down process, the pieces are unloaded and then glazed. After the glazing is complete the clay pieces are loaded again in the kiln and fired to over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This process can take as long as three days due to the temperature max of the kiln. After the kiln cools and is unloaded you will be called to come and pick up your work!

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The McKinney Center at Booker T. Washington School is a multi-use facility providing arts education through Jonesborough's Mary B. Martin Program.


Phone: 423.753.0562

103 Franklin Ave.
Jonesborough, TN 37659