Ceramics Class Fires Up Students

Beloved Adult Education program faces cuts, higher costs because of budget cuts.

Bernice Palmtag keeps not one, but two "wishbooks" of ideas and inspiration for her clay work.

One of the longest-attending students in the ceramics class at Adult Education, Palmtag found the art program in 2002 after her husband died. She was looking for a craft to fill her time and found a new passion.

"Clay is interesting," she said. "You start out with it, but you don't know what you're going to get."

Palmtag likes to make Native American-style pottery—she recently hand-painted Zuni bear earrings—but also is making a fish for an ocean-themed totem the class is installing in the "Sculpture Is" exhibit at .

Palmtag is one of more than a dozen students, mostly women and mostly of retirement age, who take part in the Adult Ed program. Housed in a small studio on the on East Fifth Street, the group gathers every Wednesday for a nearly-day-long drop-in class.

Participants said it's a great way for retirees to stay active and gives them a sense of being able to do something they never imagined they could.

"It's just showing me a new talent," said student Bonnie Gutierrez, a recently retired nurse practitioner and former school administrator who had always wanted to take ceramics.

Students 55 and older pay $70 a quarter for the class; younger participants fork over $85 . But all that will likely change as . Instructor Jane Reyes said there's a good chance the class fees will double or triple, an increase that threatens the existence of the program.

"There's a lot of concern with the budget cuts," said Reyes, who has taught the ceramics class for the past nine years. "People think it's fluff, but you can see how important this is to the students."

Students sit surrounded by paints, glazes, brushes and molds at plastic folding tables jammed into one large workspace, chatting as they work. They share ideas for new projects and catch up on one another's lives.

The close-knit group also attends art events together—heading to Sacramento for field trips to gallery shows—and works on special projects, like donating work to the annual "Empty Bowls" fundraiser put on by  food pantry.

Student Elizabeth Cobb said the class can be cathartic for students.

"I think a lot of people get enjoyment from it, to come down here and paint," she said. "It helps you."

Susan von Schmacht, who has taken the class for a year, said, "it was something I wanted to give a try."

She used two bowls as foundation to make a puffer fish for the class totem. She connected the bowls to make an 8-inch orb, then added spikes one-by-one. The process took a couple of days, but the result is impressive and unique.

"We have some very prolific artists," Reyes said.

Each week in class, Reyes teaches a lesson about a certain technique or style. Students learn how to make pinch pots, slabs and coils—three basics of clay work.

But the next lesson Reyes will share with them will not be as inspirational: Funding is going down, costs are rising and the future of the class is in limbo.

Pajaro Valley Unified School District, which oversees the adult education program, has had a bleak financial outlook for years, and next year promises to be no different. The anemic times put a lot of programs on the chopping block; adult education stands to lose funding, and costs of the fee-based classes likely will go up.

"I'm hoping we can hang in there," Reyes said. "These budget cuts are brutal."

Jennifer Squires March 26, 2011 at 02:18 PM
Two budding journalists from Watsonville High School shot and edited this video. Good work, Sheila and Tania! Go Catz!


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