Gettin’ down and dirty – Mud Hut offers chance for budding artists to get creative |

Gettin’ down and dirty – Mud Hut offers chance for budding artists to get creative

There’s something primal about getting mud caked under your fingernails, on your cheeks and even in your hair.

Now, getting that same mud formed in the shape of a pot, cup or ornament requires a bit of modern-day intervention that some in Nevada County are all too eager to provide.

If your only exposure to pottery and ceramics occurred as you and your friends ogled over Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore making out at the pottery wheel in “Ghost,” then listen up.

You might want to visit a smallish trailer behind the Imaginarium in Nevada City and give the Mud Hut a try.

The Mud Hut opened about a year and a half ago. It’s a place where you’re encouraged to get your hands dirty in all manner of disciplines that involve claymaking.

The work by students young and old is done entirely without a pottery wheel. Children sculpt elephants, baskets and bowls. In the evenings, adults can make masks, mosaics, even ceramic lamps by forming, pressing and sculpting entirely with their hands.

The key here is, anyone can and is encouraged to participate.

The program was initiated by Paul Harrar, the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools’ arts liaison. In establishing the arts and crafts program, Harrar noted that elementary schools in the county, many strapped for cash when it came to visual and performing arts, clamored for such a program.

“It’s low-tech, and it’s tapping into things people have been doing for thousands of years,” he said.

Nearly 80 percent of the students who take classes at the Mud Hut have never worked with clay or other forms of pottery before, he said.

That’s encouraging for the instructors who work to make art out of dirt and mud.

“I think anyone can do pottery,” said instructor Chic Lotz, who teaches children the finer points of molding clay animals, bowls and pots.

Sure, it’s not as formulaic as throwing clay on a wheel, but that’s part of the point. “Making mistakes is part of the creative process,” said Lotz, who has studied pottery for more than 30 years and for a time owned a pottery shop on Colfax Highway.

When she owned The Potter’s Wheel, Lotz employed a mechanical wheel to shape and form creations. At the Mud Hut, the absence of a wheel gives way to creativity and ingenuity.

“Hand building allows more of your personality to come through in each piece,” she said.

Claudia Jeffers, who tutors adults in the art of sculpture, agrees. You needn’t be a descendant of Michelangelo to satisfy your creative jones. Jeffers learned this nearly 40 years ago when she began taking sculpture classes as an elementary-school student.

Jeffers’ “Hands In Clay” adult classes offer step-by-step guided classes on mask-making and body sculptures. At first, even the most novice artist receives help in learning sculpting techniques and design. Autonomy is gradually encouraged as students learn the tricks of the trade.

“We have to fight the preconceived notion that people aren’t artists,” she said. “We’re all artistic beings. It’s a matter of how much encouragement we get.”

About the Mud Hut

The Mud Hut is located next to The Imaginarium, 161 Nevada City Highway.

Classes are offered in disciplines for students and adults. Here’s a sampling of some of the classes offered for the spring sessions. Some of these classes are currently in session. More information is available by calling 478-6400, ext. 212.

• Mud Puppies Clay Time for Preschoolers, Kindergartners and Parents. 1 p.m. Mondays, April 4, 11, 16, 25. Cost is $65 for four sessions.

• Clay Sculpture for Teens: 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Feb. 22-April 5. For ages 13-17. Cost is $90 for six sessions. Beginning- and intermediate-level clay sculpture and hand building. Students make sculpted figures, masks, glazed tile designs, vessels and more.

• Advanced Clay Sculpture for Teens: 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Feb. 22-April 5. Class runs concurrent with beginner/intermediate class. Cost is $90.

• Hands In Clay Evenings: 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays, April 6-June 8, with Denise Wey and Claudia Jeffers. Cost is $150 for 10 sessions. Class is designed for adults.

• Tile Design: 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays, April 5-26. Instructor is Claudia Jeffers. Cost is $90 for four sessions. Ages 16-adult.

Weekend classes are also available. The courses include glazing tiles, building adobe missions, glazing tiles for Mother’s and Father’s Day.

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