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‘I ... became a potter’

August 18, 2012
By Vicki Johnson - Sports Writer ( , The Advertiser-Tribune

Sister Jane Omlor uses her hands to mold pieces of clay into practical items and works of art.

Omlor, one of the Sisters of St. Francis, said she's been a potter for about 35 years - starting when she lived in West Virginia for 26 years and continuing when she moved home to Tiffin six years ago.

"I don't look at pottery as a craft or a hobby because I originally started doing it in West Virginia as a means of self-support," she said. "It took a good seven years to develop the skills and creativity to make it profitable.

Article Photos

Sister Jane Omlor works with children during an art class on the St. Francis campus over the summer.

"It's a very basic element of clay. You're working with the earth and you use a lot of water," she said. "It's not artificial. You're working with the earth and you're making beautiful things from the earth."

Omlor earned a bachelor's degree in education and a master's degree in communication arts from University of Notre Dame.

"It emphasized photos, film-making and graphic arts," she said. "I turned around and became a potter."

She taught high school art for about 10 years. Since she returned to Tiffin, she been conducting classes in spring and fall for adults, and in summer for children, as well as teaching pottery classes at Bridges Academy.

"They have done incredible stuff," she said. "And they don't have any experience. The whole object of the class is to relax and enjoy making things out of clay."

One woman used a doilie borrowed from her aunt and pressed it into clay to make a cake plate.

"Once they take the class they can use the studio any time they want," she said.

"Almost anybody can learn how to do pottery," she said. "It's a skill that demands a lot of practice and discipline.

"The challenging part is to come into your own creativity," she said. "Then people can look at your piece and say 'She did that' or 'He did that.'"

In the area of West Virginia where she lived, Omlor said, there were many creative potters and craftspeople.

"I had to find something that was uniquely me," she said. "I began to get into family and community ritual pieces."

The items, such as her blessing cups, are used in family celebrations.

"The disadvantage is once you hit a winner you never stop making it," she said.

Her blessing cups can be ordered in a catalog now, "so I have to make bunches of them," she said.

It's her job to keep SpiritSpace gallery and her catalog orders supplied.

"It's a good problem to have," she said. "It helps support the community and brings in a contribution, which is what I want to do."

In West Virginia, her wares were available at Tamarack, a stop on the West Virginia Turnpike that features exclusively the juried wares of West Virginia craftspeople.

"The first time I juried for it I took my everyday pieces and got rejected and I was heartbroken," she said. "But my ritual pieces were accepted because they were totally new, totally different and unique.

"The challenge for any artist is to find your own creative light," she said. "I found it and it feels good."

In the beginning, she said pottery was hard work.

"Throwing pots is the simplest thing in the world now," she said. "It's like drinking a glass of water. I really enjoy it."

Omlor said she enjoys both wheel-thrown pottery and hand-made items.

"Most of the work they do in class is hand done, mainly coil and slab," she said. "They enjoy hand building so much. They prefer that over the wheel because it's easier to learn."

She also enjoys hand-building items, but her paid orders are wheel-thrown so she spends much of her time at the wheel "which is much more productive."

"My favorite thing is actually to throw a pot. Probably the most enjoyable thing is to listen to classical music and throw pots on the wheel," she said.

But it's not all fun.

"Carving is taxing and tedious," she said. "You have to be ready when the clay is dry. And mixing glazes, I find that tedious."

"It really is a big commitment to do pottery," she said.

The steps are making a pot, then trimming, firing, glazing and firing again.

"It's a full-time commitment to do pottery," she said. "It's a pretty expensive hobby if you have to get a kiln."



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