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Fall 2003 Table of Contents
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Craft Guild Gives Students a Taste of the Potter's Art

By Linda Stewart Ball, Dallas Morning News Staff Writer

Reprinted with permission of the Dallas Morning News

Abstract: Students in Dallas take advantage of pottery classes specifically geared for people who are visually impaired.

Key Words: Blind, deafblind, recreation, leisure, pottery

Editors Note: At times there are physical and health reasons that keep a child from participating in a physical sport, but that does not need to limit their opportunities to learn about and develop other recreation and leisure activities. Excerpts from the following article clearly show how two children benefited from attending a pottery class.

The sound of a moist slab of clay repeatedly hitting the potter's wheel catches Erik Carrillo's attentive ear. But the cold, wet clay pinning beneath his fingers captures the Lewisville boy's heart.

"Oh, man," says Erik, 8, a smile spreading across his face. "I like it."

Neither he nor the other three students at a free pottery workshop for the visually impaired can clearly see the masterpieces they are making. But they can feel them. They can touch them. And after the pottery pieces are fired, glazed and fired again in a hot kiln, they can take them home to proudly display to family and friends.

Since 1994, instructor Sharon Komorn has been teaching the pottery workshops for the visually impaired at the Craft Guild of Dallas, a nonprofit organization for aspiring artists and craftsmen. Through the years, the guild's enrollment has dwindled to the point that volunteers outnumber students. The children initially involved in the class graduated and went off to college. So last year, Ms. Komorn opened the workshops to visually impaired adults, too.

"The main problem is transportation and time," Ms. Komorn says, explaining that students must have someone willing to drive them to the workshops. The sessions last about three hours, usually on two alternate Sundays. They're offered two to three times a year. Donations enable the guild to offer the clay workshops for the blind and visually impaired for free.

"There's definitely a need for it," says Tammy Durrett, whose daughter Taylor, 9, is enrolled in the classes.

Ms. Komorn agrees that the dwindling enrollment does not reflect the need in the Dallas area. "These types of programs are definitely people-driven," she says. "If you have people who have their heart in it, it survives."

Last year, the Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind stopped offering its free ceramics class, which mainly drew blind and visually impaired senior citizens.

"What we had to look at was, frankly, the affordability and the efficacy of doing that versus some other program," says Steve Vanderpoel, the Dallas Lighthouse's vice president for community relations. He says that limited funding, a lack of awareness and transportation issues led to the ceramics class's demise.

Ms. Komorn, a potter with extensive background in the dramatic arts, was managing a nonprofit agency that taught volunteers how to read books to the blind. Through her work, she met people who were visually impaired, and she was inspired to create a "multisensory" arts workshop in clay.

To prepare, she went to Dallas' Low Vision Clinic, where she strapped on goggles that allowed her to simulate various visual impairments. "Some vision is better than no vision," she concludes, adding that the experience made her more empathetic.

In a pottery workshop for the visually impaired earlier this month, incense is burning and New Age music plays softly in the background. It's Ms. Komorn's attempt to appeal to all senses. She tells the students that they can see with their "third eye" - their mind and spirit.

To which Taylor Durrett, a spunky third-grader who has been blind since infancy, quickly replies: "I see with my heart and my hands."

"This is so cool," she says, holding one of two ceramic parrots with multicolored wings, a finished piece abandoned from another class. "And they don't break?"

Ms. Komorn assures her that even if they did break, it wouldn't be a problem. "We have a saying in this lab," she tells the class. "There's nothing that can't be fixed."

While Erik Carrillo is busy throwing clay bowls with assistance from instructor Stephen Sanders, who is also blind, others construct clay landscapes with a fall theme. It's a multistep process that can get a little messy.

As Ms. Komorn lays out the palettes of paint, she asks students to decide whether they want to paint their creations "a real cinnamony" color, like a dark spice pumpkin pie, or a brilliant orange, like the bright sun. For the base, do they want to use a green that's like stepping on grass or a rich chocolate brown? Her descriptions combine color with taste so often that at one point Taylor says she can actually smell the cinnamon on her paintbrush.

"I want it to be just right," the little girl says, hesitating to apply the paint to her work. Her mother helps guide the brush in Taylor's hand.

Meanwhile, Ms. Komorn generously doles out the praise as she walks around the room. John French ---- whose son, David, 26, of Irving, is in the workshop --- praises the guild's facilities and says the art form is one of the few creative outlets for his son, who is legally blind.

"They certainly don't have to do this," Mr. French says. But he and the other students say they're glad they do.

"I like working with the clay and meeting other people," says Lisa Lacore, 20, of Flower Mound, who participated in the workshops as a child and returned.

The Craft Guild of Dallas is located at 14325 Proton Road in North Dallas. For more information about the pottery workshops, call 972-490-0303 or visit www.craftguildofdallas.com.

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