I walk into a big, brick industrial building in Kingston known as The Shirt Factory. I have never been in this building. I feel a little lost. It feels dusty and a bit impersonal.
Trudging up the metal stairs, I begin to feel a little queasy. Why do I suddenly feel like the new kid in class the same way I would entering a new school in the fifth grade? I’m 40-something. I should be over this type of feeling.
I wasn’t actually planning on signing up to try something new. I signed up to write an article on trying something new.
I wholeheartedly think trying something new is a good idea. The Hudson Valley has a plethora of choices. Looking at filling the pages of our Winter Explore Magazine, I thought to myself, “Not everyone likes to ski or sled or even go out into the elements in winter. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean we want to sit in our homes endlessly.” Winter’s the perfect time to take an indoor class, get your hands dirty, meet new people.
I have read many articles that illustrate clearly why learning new skills is important, especially for people getting into their older years. “Working our brains out, so to speak, by learning a new skill isn’t just good for impressing at parties,” writes Sophie Putka in Longevity Hacks. “It’s actually one of the key components of health as we grow older. Education, research suggests, it might extend life — a year gained for a year educated. Studies have shown that learning a complex new skill — a language, digital photography, quilting — may improve memory and slow age-related decline.”
I always put myself in the reader’s shoes. What would I find interesting? What skill would I like to learn? That doesn’t mean I plan to take up these activities. I’m just accumulating the options. As I reach out to creative studios and artists in the area, I begin to see a list coming together, a list solely for the reader.
The Internet alone is not enough. It contains outdated information, closed businesses, classes that have run their course and no longer exist. Contacting the studios is a key component to getting it right.
Lex, the owner of Kingston Ceramics Studio, is quick on the draw. She responds to me immediately. Her studio offers beginner classes year-round. I have considered taking ceramics classes over the years. It just seems like it would be fun and creative, though definitely out of my comfort zone. “If you’d like to try a class (you know, in the name of thorough research), please use this code,” Lex writes.”
And that’s it. I’m roped in. Not because I have to do it, but because I am doing research and I am recommending readers “learn something new!”
So I sign up. Here I am climbing dusty stairs and coming to a door with the unknown behind it.
My head peeks through the door first. To the left are six- or seven-foot metal shelves containing objects wrapped in thick plastic. To the right are hooks with coats and bags. A light dust permeates the walls, chairs and every crevice of the pottery studio. There are metal chairs, pottery wheels, sinks.
Two women are talking quietly. One is putting on her coat and walking toward the door. Several people in the center of the room are working quietly and intently on clay already formed into shapes. A man stands pushing down a pile of clay hard, picking it up, and pushing again and again in some sort of ritualistic process. The hall was bleak and uninviting, but on this side of the door there is a humming, an energy — creativity at work.
A pink-haired woman walks toward me with a cup of coffee in a handmade glazed cup. She introduces herself as “Grace,” the teacher for today. I introduce myself. I mention that I am writing an article. She has heard I was coming.
She brings me to one of the back tables, and sets me up with a giant piece of clay, ready for the ritual in which I had just witnessed the man take part. I’m left simply to keep pushing on clay.
For some reason, I think I am a failure even at this simple task. My mind fills with doubt. Am I pushing this right? Do I have enough arm strength for this? What am I doing?
It is the first time for a young woman placed beside me as well. Her name is “Tenhai” (pronounced like Renee but with a “t”). I am pleased to be with another newcomer. It gives me a chance to find out what drives people to try something new.
Tenhai tells me she used to dance. Ever since she stopped doing that, she has wanted to find another creative outlet. She spends the rest of her days at Newark Airport directing planes. She is one of those people with large directive wands resembling a lightsaber who tells planes where to park. She also mentions a personal sad story. To myself, I hazard the guess that she wants both a creative outlet and a way to work something through so I nod in agreement. Somehow, those things align with pushing this clay down over and over again.
I tell her I am writing an article. For some reason I feel the need to point out that I am not an artist. A soft voice behind us says, “Everyone is an artist.”
Nearby, someone else questions this statement.
We look behind us to see how this very large man with dark skin and light eyes responds. He is gently smoothing out wrinkles and curves on a giant clay bowl before him with tough, strong hands that could just as easily bend metal. “What I mean is you can be an artist as a plumber or an electrician or whatever you do in life,” he says. “Everyone is an artist at what they are good at.”
His name is Peaceful.
He also instructs me that I don’t need strength to push just keep turning the clay over. I learn later that coming to the studio helped him work through a brutal beating that left him with brain damage so bad he couldn’t form words. It has helped him physically and mentally cope with his experience. I am left speechless as what can one say to that and who knew that working with clay could be so deep.
Grace instructs Tenhai and I to form small balls of clay and shape them with our hands. We all talk while we work on our small bowls and Peaceful on his giant bowl. Grace works on an interesting vase. Periodically she walks around to show us new skills or explain why we are doing something. She sees to other people who sit quietly and concentrate fully on their work refraining from conversation. It is a nice mix of people who socialize and those that prefer solitude.
My doubt fades away. It isn’t really necessary. Nobody cares what I am making. Nobody is there to judge. Everyone’s creativity is expressed in a million different ways. Simple cups and pots with extravagant glazes, more elaborate vases with spikes, a pot that looks perfectly crooked as if it was planned, water bowls with the animals that will drink from them painted carefully in detail.
In the end I feel comfortable in this studio. I understand why someone would want to come here and why someone would learn something new. People do it for solitude or to connect with others. They do it to prove they are artists or to remind themselves they have nothing to prove. They do it to let go of issues or to hold out their issues in a concrete form. They do it to find themselves or to lose themselves. It seems to me you need no reason at all. In the end it was fun.
A few suggestions for learning something new:
Cornell Cooperative Extension. Beautiful Soups. Learn to cook delicious, easy, inexpensive meals using fresh, on-hand ingredients and pantry staples. Find out all the ways that adding whole, plant-rich and local foods to your meals can instantly benefit you and your family, our Ulster County community and our beautiful planet! To register go to: https://cornell.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJUkd-usqTkrE90QTX-iUPZtoJgEeEJ_k5ZK
Kingston Ceramics Studio. Classes for beginners offered every day of the week. Sign up online at: https://www.kingstonceramicsstudio.com/ceramics-classes
Ulster Boces. Knit One, Purl Two. Want to take on a new knitting project of your choice? This series will be an open knitting workshop where each student can bring and work on their own knitting projects with the help from an instructor. January 24, 31 and February 7. Ulster Boces offers a lot of different class options. For more information go to: https://www.facebook.com/ulsterboces/ or call (845) 255-1400.
Unison Arts. Life Drawing meets every Tuesday night 7:30-9:30 & on certain Sundays from 10am-1pm. There is online registration available as soon as a model is confirmed usually by the end of the month. Register here: https://www.unisonarts.org/life-drawing
Willow Deep Studio. Hands-on instructional stained glass workshops including jewelry-making, copper foil suncatchers, and traditional leaded window building for all skill levels. Next class scheduled for February 18. Also offering private workshops in both suncatchers and leaded windows as well as workshops for groups of 5 or more that can all sign up together, with the date of their choosing. For more information go to: www.willowdeepstudio.com or call 845-658-0370.
Woodstock School of Art. They have many art classes for all levels including: Introduction to Oil Painting with Anne Crowley on February 4 and 5. Printmaking with Kate McGloughlin on February 10, 17, 24 and March 3. Painting Flowers with John Varriano on February 11 and 12. Watercolor Weekend with Angela Gaffney-Smith on February 25 and 26. There are many more offerings on their website at: https://woodstockschoolofart.org/classes-workshops/
YMCA. Spanish Immersion Classes. Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world and the primary language for over 10% of Kingston residents. Whether you want to learn Spanish to communicate better with friends, neighbors, customers, or for travel, doing so is a great way to bring our community together. Language immersion classes are proven to be one of the most efficient ways to learn a language quickly. Classes offered January 17-March 4, Saturdays 10-11:30 am and January 28-February 28, Tuesdays 5:30-7:30 pm. If you have any questions, please email: RTyler@ymcaulster.org or register at: https://ops1.operations.daxko.com/Online/2186/ProgramsV2/Home.mvc