Clay creations: Youngsters experiment with art projects

NEW PALESTINE — The craft shirt was way too big for Layla Ratliff, who put the blue garment on anyway to make sure she didn’t mess up her clothes during a pottery making lesson.

Layla, a kindergartner at New Palestine Elementary School, was one of more than 30 area youngsters who attended a pottery class at the Hancock County Public Library’s Sugar Creek Branch.

It was one of two sessions offered at the library on back-to-back nights recently for students in kindergarten through second grade, and third through sixth grades.

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After an hour of creating paper flower petals and making her own clay vase, Layla lifted her clay-covered hands and waved them in the air.

“My hands are all sticky — can I go wash them now?” she asked.

The students had just flattened, rolled, pounded and formed clay around newspaper-covered plastic cups to create vases.

Jeremy South of Rocky Ripple Clayworks, who led the vase-making exercises, conducts his traveling pottery programs at Indianapolis-area libraries, showing young students how to make things with clay.

An artist by heart, South has worked with clay since 1993; he is a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University with an art degree.

He said he enjoys showing children how to work with their hands and create ceramic pieces on and off the pottery wheel.

“Kids and people are smarter when you’re engaged, using all of your senses,” South said.

He helps students create what he calls “make-and-take projects,” such as the vase.

South takes the vases to his studio and fires them in a kiln to harden them.

After they cool, he sands them down, places them in individual bags with the students’ names on them, and returns them to the library for students to pick up.

In addition to making the vases, the students made flowers using wooden sticks and coffee filters they’d colored. They stuck their flowers into their vases, which they had filled with rocks or rice.

Diana Boss, one of the children’s program officials at the library, said the pottery lessons are among her favorites.

“I thought the project level would be simple, but it’s very involved, and the detail he is able to teach them in an hour is unique,” Boss said. “They end up with a project that is very cool.”

Parents also saw the benefits of attending a program at the library, where students could become fully engaged in a hands-on project.

Wendy Hehmann of New Palestine brought her twin boys, Brock and Jack Hehmann, second-graders at New Palestine Elementary School, to the class.

She said she liked the fact her boys had a professional instructor showing them how to do a pottery project correctly. Plus, coming to the library had an added benefit for the busy mother of five.

“I like that they can come in, do a craft, and they get to make the mess here and not at home, where I have to clean it up,” she said with a laugh.

For the students, it was all about playing with the clay and making something they can keep forever.

“The clay feels squishy,” said Ally Price, a kindergartner at New Palestine Elementary School. “It’s fun.”

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Kristy Deer is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3262 or