Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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October 23, 2015

Case Study: Throwing Bowls with Visually Impaired and Blind Students

From: Susan Loesl, MA, ATR-BC

We have had some interesting insights working with our visually impaired and blind students throwing bowls on the potter’s wheel the past few weeks. Overall, almost all the students seemed to really enjoy using the wheel to make bowls, except for one. She is a student who is completely blind and was a bit tacitly defensive regarding this process of making a bowl. She told us that she preferred to actually paint the bowl over making one. When she was engaged in making a bowl with coils, she didn’t mind working with clay too much, and liked the bowls she created. Introducing her to the texture of the clay on the wheel- much softer and lots wetter, she didn’t like it, but tolerated the process for one bowl.

Other students who were significantly visually impaired and blind were eager to not only try working on the wheel, but were quite excited about the “messiness” of the clay and the sound of the wheel. One of our younger students liked adding water to the clay and feeling the water and clay spin around. She was able to salvage one bowl, as the other bowls pretty much deteriorated on the batts as she worked with too much water. We have two standard wheels, and one tabletop “Pocahontas Pottery Wheel” that we acquired at a rummage sale. It is a small, plastic, battery operated wheel that runs at the perfect speed to shape bowls for smaller students with smaller hands. We use it like a transitional wheel, with the students starting to learn the process on that one, and then moving to the regular one with assistance from my graduate art therapy intern. It has made a huge difference in building the students’ skill and understanding of the process of making a bowl on the wheel. One of the youngest male students likes throwing on the Pocahontas wheel better than “the big wheel”.  I wonder if he likes this small wheel better as he can more easily access it on the table, it is very loud (he says it sounds like a train), and he can be more independent on this wheel from a safety perspective with only one speed.

In order to help the students learn to use the potter’s wheel, we centered the clay on the batts for the students to let them get a sense of the spinning clay and how it can be shaped. We described the process and motored the students through the finger and hand movements on a non-spinning ball of clay before we demonstrated on the wheel how to pull up a bowl hand over hand- their hands over ours. When they were able to feel and partially see the first bowl, we set up another pre-centered batt and motored the students through the bowl created hand over hand, with their hands on the clay this time. It was an amazing process to watch the students’ progress through the process and have success with throwing a bowl on the potter’s wheel!
One of the girls with only peripheral vision is our star student on the wheel! She took to it immediately -almost intuitively knowing how to pull the walls of the bowls out- she can throw 2 bowls in 25 minutes! Her attention and focus to create the bowls is so exciting to watch. She has even started helping clean the wheel when we are finished throwing bowls for the day, and might be ready to learn how to center the clay. We have been preparing 8-10 batts with centered clay before each group, as that skill is quite challenging for even an experienced potter. This pre-centering has helped the students be more successful in making their bowls. As you will notice in the images, we were able to bisque fire our first 35 bowls.


The students were very excited to see, feel, and hear the newly fired bowls so that they could glaze them.  They are so eager to see how their bowls turn out with the glaze! We hope that the students will allow us to use the bowls for the Spring Fundraiser. I wouldn’t blame them if they wanted to keep them all!   


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