Artist Q&A: Petaluma Pottery’s Quarantine Clay Club Kits

Forrest Lesch-Middelton and Beth Schaible spark creativity during quarantine!

Ceramic Arts Network: How did the idea of the Quarantine Clay Club Kit come about?

Forrest Lesch-Middelton: As I am sure every business owner can relate, the first few weeks of the pandemic hitting the United States were incredibly uncertain times. Although hard to imagine now just a few weeks later, it seemed in some ways even more unsure for us then. As we began hearing rumblings about a possible shelter in place order in Sonoma County, we began to think that it could greatly affect our classes, membership, and future workshop schedule. Over a handful of days we considered potential losses and mulled over solutions that could help us make it through. Then out of the blue one morning, my partner and printmaker Beth Schaible said, “maybe we should put together a Quarantine Clay Club Kit for people in Petaluma.”

We see Petaluma Pottery as a great service to our community and it broke our hearts to have to shut our doors. With the idea for the clay kits fresh in our heads, we resolved to create a solution that could both help our bottom line and keep our community in clay. It would be a win-win that would help boost morale, and keep people active and entertained in their homes with something other than television or devices. As has been the case in my life so many times, and has been shown so many times in history, clay was proving to be an incredible solution. 

Beth and I scrambled into action with me writing quick and easy lesson plans that can be done in the home, and Beth bringing it all to life by designing a handsome little 16 page zine that is both fun and informative. Once we had the framework, it was just a matter of raiding our clay and tool supplies and getting the word out through social media.

Quarantine Clay Club by Petaluma Pottery.

Kits include tools, templates, clay, and instructions.

Glaze options offered by Petaluma Pottery. All photos from Petaluma Pottery.

CAN: What is included in the kit and where can someone purchase a kit?

FLM: We have three options for our Quarantine Clay Club. For locals we offer a box that people can purchase through our website for $35 and pick up from a no-contact table outside of our studio. The kit includes 10 pounds of clay, a small container of joining slip, a pamphlet with activities and lessons, templates for a slab built tray and box, and a basic tool set with a sponge, needle tool, carving and trimming tools, a wooden and metal rib, and a wooden knife. The lessons in the kits are also supplemented on our Instagram site with IGTV tutorials that people can follow along with for each project. The second option is a simple download of the Quarantine Clay Club zine for $5 so that anyone outside of our community who has access to some clay can follow along and keep themselves entertained. Finally, our third option is for organizations who want to repeat the success we have had, but don’t want to reinvent the wheel. In this option we provide a printable file for all of the paperwork, a quick logistical tutorial, and the rights to repeat it, along with an open line to any advice someone might need to get their local club going!

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Finally, and maybe most importantly we also glaze and fire the work, and get it back to the makers! As one can imagine, the hardest thing for us to conceptualize was how we would do this logistically. With all of the intake of and firing and glazing of that much artwork also comes tracking and getting it back in the eager hands of the maker. Fortunately, Beth and I have learned over the last few years running Petaluma Pottery that we complement each other’s skill sets quite well. While I have been dealing with phone calls, community outreach, tutorials, and sourcing materials, Beth has been putting her unbelievable skills to use designing materials, answering emails, and dealing with logistics. While it makes my head spin, Beth is on cloud nine solving details each day, and making sure that every single piece is tracked and ends up in the right hands; not an easy task as we are now going on our 350th kit in just over two weeks! 

CAN: What is the most unexpected outcome from making these kits?

FLM: Probably the incredible response from our community! As the gateway to Sonoma County, Petaluma is a special place that, even with 65,000 people, still feels like a small town. We have received phone calls and emails from parents saying this has saved them from having to come up with one more thing to entertain their kids with, and we have heard from couples who had to direct their entertainment indoors from the beaches, hikes, and movies to the kitchen table. We are hoping to get schools on board and see if we can make inroads into the home schooling that has to occur during these strange times.

Forrest Lesch-Middelton demonstrating how to roll coils.

Quarantine Clay Club student work.

More Quarantine Clay Club bowls!

Maybe it’s the result of the mix of old time farms and agriculture with the recent influx of artists, slow food purveyors, telecommuters, and boutique businesses, or maybe it’s the role Petaluma has played as a caretaker as much the rest of Sonoma county has been ravaged by the grueling wildfires of the last ten years, but everyone here seems to band together and take care of each other under the most adverse conditions. Rather than demonizing the virus and shifting blame, we lionize the human spirit and celebrate the resilience of our community. 

Whether problem solving as printmakers and potters, or figuring out how to develop our businesses from the ground up, artists have a unique ability to find solutions to complicated problems. We are so grateful and always cognizant that the critical thinking it takes to be an artist can be applied to creating solutions that benefit everyone and create joy along the way!

Forrest Lesch-Middelton of FLM Ceramics is a potter, tile maker, and educator living and working in Petaluma, CA. Forrest discovered his love of pottery at the age of 14 and since that time has seen clay as a vehicle to travel the country as a student, resident, educator, advocate, and artist developing a body of work that brings functional pottery and tile to life with rich political and cultural content.

Beth Schaible of Quill and Arrow is a printmaker and designs and prints custom work for clients and letterpress print stationery, invitations, prints, and paper goods that share a sense of place, nature, belonging, and melancholy. In addition, she makes durable and unique leather and hard cover books, one at a time by hand.

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