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Thursday, 03 July 2014 14:20

More Than Just Clay, Kids Become Artists

Kids & Clay Summer Program Teaches Art Education

By Stephanie Hale-Lopez

For Saratoga TODAY


SCHUYLERVILLE - There’s something about squeezing a ball of clay that releases all creative intuition. Mold, shape and sculpt the clay and suddenly your imagination comes to life. 


Monsters, gargoyles and dragons were taking on a life of their own at the Saratoga Clay Arts Center (167 Hayes Road, Schuylerville) Monday morning. A group of six kids kicked off the first week of the Center’s Kids & Clay Summer Program. With furrowed brows and the musky smell of clay in the air, the young artists worked patiently and confidently to mold their balls of clay into whatever they felt like. 


“I’m making a volcano monster,” whispered 5-year-old Gabe, not wanting to take his eyes off his masterpiece while putting the finishing touches on its head. “I’m painting it green and brown. It’s going in my room.”


Seeing how proud and deeply invested the kids are in their pieces of art reminds SCAC owner, Jill Fishon-Kovachick, of her early days in working with clay. 


“I’ve been working with clay since I was 11,” said Kovachick. “My parents sent me to a camp in Connecticut called Buck’s Rock, which was strictly an art, theatre and music camp. They had many different types of studios, including ceramics, so that’s how I began working with clay. It’s been a passion ever since.” 


After Skidmore College did away with its adult education for ceramics program in 2011, Kovachick founded the Saratoga Clay Arts Center and knew she had to get children involved. She immediately organized the first Kids & Clay program, which only attracted six students its first year. Now in its third year, the summer program has more than 75 kids registered for the 8 different weeklong sessions. 


“It’s growing as we move along,” said Kovachick. “It makes me feel really good. People are learning about us and a lot of the kids hear about us through their friends who have come to a class.” 


The camp is divided into morning and afternoon sessions, each with different courses like hand building and wheel throwing. Kids ages 6 and up can choose which class they’d like to attend, but Kovachick said one thing is certain -- the kids will do everything from scratch. 


“That gives kids a chance to learn about making something all by themselves, with the instruction of a teacher,” said Kovachick. “But they also learn how to glaze and they learn about our kilns and all kinds of things that happen here. It’s not just painting a piece, it’s doing something from start to finish.” 


To help students along the way is local teacher, Rachel Garrison. During the school year, Garrison teaches ceramics and sculpture at Shenendehowa High School East. This is her first year as an instructor for the Kids & Clay Summer Program. 


“We just keep it simple and they all want to be here,” said Garrison. “It’s nice because its students who have a desire to be here and be creative. They’re creative, they’re not afraid. Sometimes you get self-conscious and you’re afraid of what other people think or of making a mistake and this way, they can do whatever they want. It’s inspiring.”


Garrison said this group of six students compared to the 125 she teaches during the course of a regular school day allows her to work more closely with the kids over the four-hour session. 


“At the high school, our classes are a lot shorter,” said Garrison. “They’re only 40 minutes. It’s hard to sink your teeth into things because by the time you get in, set up, and then you have to clean up, you only have about 30 minutes to work.” 


While Shenendehowa is able to offer a variety of arts classes, some area schools don’t have the capability of offering a wide range of art electives. As a result, schools visit the Saratoga Clay Arts Center during the school year. 


“It gives them a little diversity,” said Kovachick. “If they only have electric kilns in the studios at their schools, we have gas kilns that we use here. They can learn the raku process, which is a totally different firing process than what they have at their schools.” 


Both Kovachick and Garrison hope the programs offered at SCAC will keep students interested in clay arts as they continue on to high school and college. So far, it seems to be working. 


“You can make anything you want,” said Gabe. “I’m going to come back and make a turtle.” 


The summer camp wraps up with SCAC’s 3rd annual Kids & Clay Summer Art Exhibition on Sunday, August 31. To sign up for the program, visit www.SaratogaClayArts.org 

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