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A Pandemic Pivot to Pottery

Until the pandemic, I had never thought about moving back home to Belle River, let alone leaving Toronto. I had a great life in the city and an amazing career. Then came March 2020, when COVID sent us all home, which for me meant a box in the sky—a nice box with an amazing view—but still, being isolated up there was hard. Missing my family, needing nature and to feel like I belonged somewhere, I moved back to Belle River. Temporarily. We were all working from home anyway. What did it matter if I was in Toronto or Belle River when I was talking to my colleagues or clients on Zoom?


I loved being back home, more than I expected. I loved feeling the cold winter air on my long walks through my small town, passing the high school cubicle where I used to take art classes. Art was the only thing in high school I was good at besides smoking. (It was the 80s.) My favourite class was pottery with Mr. Jarecki. It felt like a miracle to make things on a wheel with clay. I remember rushing to the cubicles to see my latest creation waiting for me on my workstation, warm from the kiln. I still have a big bowl I made back then, glazed with a colour green I’ve never seen before or been able to duplicate. 



I loved art so much I decided to study Fine Arts at York, which meant mostly sitting in huge classrooms looking at a lot of slides about art. So I quit, moved out west, even living in a van in the Yukon for a while. I gave up on my dreams of becoming any kind of artist, and went back to school to study journalism. For the past 30+ years I’ve been variously employed as a TV producer and writer, and was working primarily as a podcast producer when COVID came calling that day in March.


At first, I kept busy making bread like everyone else. I even took up ice skating again on the Belle River, where every year my brother’s friend has this big outdoor party with a bonfire and a game of shinny. It wasn’t five minutes into the festivities when I fell hard and broke my wrist. Just before the cast came off, my doctor suggested I do some kind of rehab since it was healing on a bit of a strange angle. 


“Do something where you’re strengthening your hands and fingers in this direction,” he said, making a motion like he was holding a melon. It reminded me of coning clay and it dawned on me that I could take up pottery! Surely any number of people who'd graduated from Belle River High over the decades would have gone on to offer classes. I assumed that Essex County would be a pottery mecca. But when I googled around, I discovered only one place near me called G-Pots, a little home studio run by local potter, Gisele Bick. I immediately booked a lesson. 


From the minute I centred my first tiny pot, I was hooked. It was love at first throw. I felt my wrist improve, but other things too, like my stress levels and ability to concentrate. I hear it a lot. Something about focusing on a spinning wheel fixes something in the brain, and mine was utterly fried from sitting in front of endless Zoom meetings and constantly checking my phone for messages. The only respite from my screens were the hours I spent in Gisele’s basement studio, throwing pots on one of her electric wheels, sometimes trimming them on Mr. Jarecki’s old kick wheel. 


The pandemic eased. It was time to head back in Toronto. My first priority was to join a pottery studio where I met other passionate potters, many of them who, for various reasons, also found pottery during COVID. My guess is that this (undeniable) trend happened at the same time that we'd grown sick of sitting in front of our computers. People want to touch things and make things, and do it amongst other people in a convivial community. It's the opposite of AI, the opposite of hyper-productivity or hustle culture. The studio also provided me with that elusive but crucial “third place” to go, without the pressures and obligations of the first and second places—home and work, the latter becoming increasingly stressful and joyless. After a flare up at work— I was yelled at for something I'd normally, Gen-X-edly, shake off—something in me broke. I quit my steady, well-paying media job the next day. I had no plan, some savings. I spent more time at the Toronto studio, and began to sell pottery, but not enough (yet?) to cover my overhead.


I left Toronto to freelance from Belle River. There I could work from home, buy my own kiln, and be around family, nature and the lake again. I wake up grateful every day for this life.




I also reconnected with Gisele. Our casual conversations at our wheels about how weird it was that the city of Windsor didn’t have a full service pottery studio, soon led to more serious conversations about us opening Ford City Potters. We both immediately saw Ford City as the natural home for our maker's studio, both of us meaningfully connected to the area. I grew up on Marentette, just off Tecumseh, and my dad briefly worked at Chrysler’s. My brother worked at the GM plant at Seminole for decades.


I’m still a writer and producer, but when I’m not in front of my screen, you'll find me in an apron at 994 Drouillard Rd., Lower Level, making things with my hands.


We hope you join us.







 



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