Wesleyan Potters: Spring Festival is Not For Wizards, but Craft Enthusiasts
The Wesleyan Potters are having their annual spring sale from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. next Saturday, May 12 at their gallery on 350 South Main Street, and let’s be real—you probably haven’t bought your mother a gift yet.
“A gift? What? Lisa’s birthday was in October!”
That’s right: M-Day is swiftly approaching, and if you’re as inconsiderate and ungrateful a child as I am, it might be a good idea to observe this particular holiday.
So what to buy? A book? She never reads them. Breakfast in bed? Shipping a frittata and some OJ back to the Bay Area probably isn’t your best bet.
If your mother is anything like mine, there’s one thing she loves more than her own children: useless tchotchkes. Vases, figurines, healing crystals, Matryoshka dolls, that abacus she keeps on her dresser—to her credit, it does help with my arithmetic—you name it.
So next Saturday, come check out Wesleyan Potters’ annual spring sale for some tchotchkes that are not only useful, but also beautiful, handmade pieces of art made by members of the Middletown community.
The sale is held at the Wesleyan Potters gallery, shop, and school on 350 South Main Street. It is primarily a chance for students, teachers, and members of the crafts cooperative to show their work. At this particular sale, pieces are often damaged in inconsequential ways that a) give them that authentic local flavor and b) allow the artists to sell them for lower prices.
“It’s the one day of the year that people can get a bargain,” said Studio Director Melissa Schilke.
I’m going to repeat and capitalize that: a Bargain. We’re college students. We’re broke. Bargains are awesome.
So who are the Wesleyan Potters and why are they giving us bargains? Well, the name is misleading for two reasons, one of which is “Wesleyan,” the other of which is “Potters.” The group is no longer affiliated with the University and serves the Middletown community at large. In addition, the school-slash-craft-guild doesn’t limit itself to teaching ceramics; it also has facilities for metalsmithing (jewelry), weaving, and basket weaving. So if you’re looking to buy some snazzy accessories, Wesleyan Potters has got you covered.
Of course, the Potters aren’t the only reason you should head down to the Spring Festival: it’s a festival! Festivals are fun! And festive! There will be live demonstrations, so anyone who’s interested in these artistic media but can’t find them in Wesleyan’s art department should definitely come take a look at the creative process. This is also a great opportunity to support the arts in Middletown. Or just come for the FREE FOOD.
The Wesleyan Potters began when a group of people interested in learning about ceramics assembled under the instruction of a professor and eventually expanded past the University’s capacity to hold them.
“They had what they called Monday clubs for the spouses of faculty,” Schilke said. “There might be a book club; there might be a science club. And they were probably all faculty wives at that point because it was 1948.”
Today, Wesleyan Potters is operated by a crafts cooperative. The guild comprises one hundred “key members” whose 24-hour access to the facilities comes with the responsibility of managing the school. That means working the kilns, mixing the glazes, and other cool-sounding ceramic things. The nonprofit allows members to keep all the proceeds of every sale they make, but the real purpose of the co-op and spring festival is to provide the means for Middletown residents to create and display their own works of art.
“Our joke is that we make minus four cents an hour,” said Vicky Zwelling, Associate Director of the Career Center and key member of Wesleyan Potters. “Nobody there is supposed to be making a living.”
Wesleyan Potters provides Middletown residents without studios of their own the unique opportunity to work on their art whenever they choose and entirely under their own jurisdiction. For many members, the co-op is a social as well as an artistic experience.
“It’s given me a whole circle of friends,” Zwelling said.
The school also picks up the slack where the University’s art department falls short, as the Studio Art Department has long since removed ceramics from its curriculum. Every semester, a few University students opt to take classes with the potters.
“I just feel bad for them,” Schilke said of Wesleyan’s own budding potters. “They love that part of the arts and they can’t get it on the Wesleyan campus.”
Should they? Perhaps the University should consider rekindling the flame with its estranged yet still eponymous artistic offspring.
When asked if either the University or the cooperative might benefit from a stronger relationship, Schilke revealed that the Potters have expressed interest in awarding credit to students who enroll in their classes. The suggestion hasn’t yet yielded any change in University policy.
“We sent our studio manager down to Quinnipiac and those kids got credit for taking a class,” Schilke said. “So it’s possible. It just hasn’t happened yet.”
But there is another note of hope: any cheese or veggie co-op theorists out there should be pleased to know that the structure of a non-profit cooperative is not only viable on a larger scale but apparently also resilient to economic turmoil.
“Mostly arts organizations have a very hard time in this kind of economic climate,” Schilke said. “We actually don’t. We’re actually thriving.”
If a) supporting one of Middletown’s artistic gems, b) striving to expand Wesleyan’s art department, and c) thanking your mother for all her hard work with some nice artisanal swag appeal to you, consider checking out the Wesleyan Potters spring festival next Saturday, May 12, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.