Diane Walters will never forget her first pottery class.
The owner of eARTh Community Clay Studios was 15 when her father signed both she and himself up for the lessons.
“It changed my life,” Walters recalls. “I had a very troubled adolescence; I was hardly making it through high school and here was this thing, this clay, that I could control.”
Leaning to shape the clay next to her father, a jewelry maker who dabbled in many art forms but had never used a pottery wheel, she noticed she was better at it than him. She’d found her gift.
At school, where Walters was on the verge of failing most her classes, her Grade 10 art teacher offered her a bag of clay and a book by the American potter M.C. Richards and told her if she read the book, made something out of the clay and wrote about the experience in a journal, she’d pass the class.
So, that’s what she did. Sitting at home in her backyard, she made several attempts at coil pots that all fell apart.
“It felt like a metaphor for my life,” she says. “I knew then that I had to start learning something or I wasn’t going to go anywhere in life.”
She wanted to know everything about clay, from the minerals that make up the raw material to the exact chemistry of the glazes she put on the finished products.
“Clay is one of the most amazing elements on Earth; it’s what holds everything together,” she says. “When we work way clay we’re using pressure and heat, making a vessel that will turn into the equivalent of shale rock after we fire it.
“It’s the same process used by the earth to make mountains, but we do in a few hours what it takes the earth 50,000 years to do.”
After high school, Walters travelled the world and visited local potters everywhere she went. She developed her own clay skills working for six years as an apprentice under M.C. Richards, the potter whose book her high school art teacher assigned her.
She moved to Nelson in the early 90s with a desire to become a teacher herself. She worked at the Waldorf school for 15 years, then got her Masters degree in education, and now she teaches earth sciences at at Self Design high.
In 2006 she turned her basement into a teaching studio where she offers clay wheel, sculpting and tile making classes for all ages. She starts every class with a little science about how the clay works — sharing the facts that have fascinated her since her teens.
“There’s some required reading with every class,” she says with a smile.
With only room for about six students in the studio, the intimate setting has fostered many new friendships. At the end of each session, she sets up the studio like a gallery and invites the students from all the classes to display their new creations. Afterward everybody gets together for a potluck.
“We’re doing more than creating cups and bowls here — we’re creating community,” Walters says.
Look for “eARTh Community Clay Studios” on Facebook for information about future classes.