Miyako Sumi Hirano, aka Mimi. Mommy. My hero. The OG (as in Original Goddess).

Jim Reinert was my first instructor. In fact, he was many potters’ first instructor. He is innately patient and encouraging, and possesses an encyclopedia’s wealth of clay knowledge – all of which he is more than happy to impart on anyone who is as eager to learn as he is to teach.

I am grateful for all that he taught me; for his gentle yet constructive feedback. 

“This is nice,” he would start, cradling my pot in his hand and inspecting every angle of it. I would hold my breath, anticipating the words, knowing what I wanted him to see and what I wanted him to tell me about my work. “The inner curve of your bowl is smooth and uninterrupted by a shoulder or unevenness,” he said as he peered inside. “For most potters, the inside of the bowl is what you want to get right, because that’s the part of the bowl that people really look at. Your foot ring is very precise, which is a reflection of you as an artist. You are a perfectionist, and your desire for precision shows in your pot. Overall, this is a very good pot. Good form, soothing to the eye.” Under Jim’s tutelage, I learned that even the most seemingly perfect pots, though, can often be improved. “Now, if you want to make a good pot even better,” he’d add, “Soften the rim here. See how the edge of your rim has a sharp angle? This makes it prone to chipping when it gets banged or dinged against another bowl or your fork.” He would grab a more experienced potter’s bowl and show me that even theirs could be improved in the same way.

I am grateful for the critical eye Jim helped me develop. As a result, today I can judge the construction of my own pots objectively. More importantly, he helped me believe in myself, even when I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing.

Ned Krouse is a brilliant gardner. A culinary king. A curmudgeon. My raku master. He is an artist through and through. Most of all, he is my friend.

There are many others who’ve coached me – Eldon Clark. Every class I took with him, I learned something really important. He’d take me to the chalkboard to emphasize key points of his instruction: how to put a little angle on my foot ring to give my pot lift and interest to the discerning eye; makers of phenomenal glaze brushes. He waxed poetic about different waxes, and how and when to use each.

Pamela Timmons taught me how to make my own texture tools. Before I purchased my own wheel, I’d would spend hours between classes making texture tools, just to stay connected to clay. In fact, one signature texture you’ll find on most of my warrior goddesses’ robes, I fashioned, with her permission, after the texture she applies to give her reptile sculptures scales. She also opened my eyes to hand-building – simultaneously opening up a whole new world of opportunity with clay.

Sarah Laitala is all-knowing about clay. She taught me to tap center, showed me how to make square plates from a small slab of clay for near-instant gratification, and how to make cost-effective homemade tools (I still use the wire cutter she made for one of my classes with her).

At my very first Saturday lab, Wenfen Pan taught me how to wedge clay using both the ram’s head and spiral wedging methods; how to effectively measure the thickness of my pot’s wall with my needle tool; and why my glaze might crack.

One of my all-time favorite production potters is Mea Rhee of Good Elephant Pottery, Baltimore, Md. She taught me about glazing hierarchy, advanced throwing techniques, patience and precision.

And then there’s Barbara Hyman – petite and spunky, and oh so tough! In my fourteenth semester at the Greater Lansing Potters’ Guild – her last as an instructor – she expanded my perspective as an artist more than any other potter before her. She encouraged me to get outside of my comfort zone, where I discovered I was limited only by my imagination, my willingness to explore, and my ability to expand and stretch. This served to deepen my love of hand-building in concert with wheel work.

Oh, the places I’ll go, thanks to those who gave so much of themselves to help me.

There are so many more who I’ve learned so much from and so many others from whom I would love to continue to learn. More than any other, though, I learned the most from fellow potters – students of ceramic arts, just like me.

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