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Molding magic at Potters Place

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By Alexander Oliveira
Hometown Weekly Reporter

Donegan helps a student pick out the color he’ll paint his pot.

Donegan helps a student pick out the color he’ll paint his pot.

Lizanne Donegan, or Mrs. Anne as her students call her, moves about the classroom as if her students aren’t children at all. With wet and fired clay moving from hand to hand, they talk openly about holiday traditions, winter break plans and school projects.

Then Donegan stops and says, “No, like this. You roll it out, then drop it hard to flatten the side. Good, now take the clay-knife, cut and end like that and bend it into shape. See?” The kids follow suit, and after a few moments of quiet work, a murmured tip here and a correction there, Donegan’s students suddenly have three nearly-perfect mug handles in their hands.

The class is taking place at Potters Place, a cooperatively owned and run pottery studio that has been running in various forms since 1980. Today, it resides in what appears to have been an old warehouse, over by the Walpole train station, with enough room to support the work of twenty-three residents and the many classes that each of them teach.

Donegan, who grew up in Ireland and learned her craft at art schools there, runs the children’s class and has for about twenty-five years now. Running for six week stints at a time and accommodating up to eight kids, Donegan aims to teach her students the fundamentals of real pottery making. “I try and make sure they learn the real stuff,” she says, “It isn’t just for play. I try to make sure they understand the clay and how to use the medium.”

Her methods seem to work, too - the proof is on the rack where her students work sits to dry. On the bottom are playfully-rendered houses and animals made by her youngest students. As the shelves rise, the work progresses from playful to immaculate. “I’ve had some students with me since they were six years old,” she says as she holds up a perfectly-formed pot from the top shelf. “This one started with me when she was as tall as the kids here today. Now she’s a senior in high school.”

Where once there was a mound of clay, now there is a perfectly formed mug.

Where once there was a mound of clay, now there is a perfectly formed mug.

The seriousness with which Donegan treats her craft and teaching does nothing to detract from the fun of the classroom, however.

“Why’d you write ‘Kids’ on my piece? Is it because mine’s so good you couldn’t tell it apart?” one of her students asks.

Donegan tosses back a laugh and keeps on working.

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