Natchez potter discovers young artists among Clay Campers

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 31, 2003

NATCHEZ &045;&045; Conner Burns doesn’t care if his summer students become artists or attorneys.

He just wants to make sure they learn they can do anything &045;&045; and his weeklong pottery class is teaching them just that.

So on Wednesday afternoon, 14 students were hunched over their creations, pinching and smoothing and rolling clay to build birdhouses.

This is the first event in Burns’ new studio on Franklin Street, and he couldn’t think of a better way to christen it than with a Clay Camp for 8- to 15-year-olds.

&uot;Everybody here is such creative artists,&uot; Burns said.

&uot;It’s been really fun. The best part is seeing them show up excited. My goal is to help them enjoy what they’re doing and have some success.&uot;

Clay Camp is more than an arts and crafts session at a traditional camp. The students sit in a bright, airy studio, legs dangling off chrome stools. Since Monday, the children &045;&045; 14 each in the morning and afternoon sessions &045;&045; have been learning new terms associated with pottery &045;&045; terms like &uot;pinch pots&uot; and &uot;scoring.&uot;

But they have also learned that everyday objects &045;&045; pencils and plastic spoons, springs and combs &045;&045; can help turn a lump of gray clay, worked with their own hands, into just about anything.

Eight-year-old Amelia Conn made a family of snails and a skeleton. Those pieces, along with small pots and goblets and cartoon faces, sit in a back room at the studio, waiting to be glazed and fired.

Conn considers herself old hat at working with clay.

&uot;When I was a little girl, I had a clay kit,&uot; she said. &uot;My mama signed me up (for the camp) because she knew I was going to enjoy it.&uot;

Fifteen-year-old Pete Burns worked on a project with Conner, his godfather, last year, a clay Tower of Babel for religion class. Although Pete said the &uot;closest&uot; he usually comes to art is his guitar, he has enjoyed the camp.

&uot;It makes me feel like I can express myself,&uot; he said. &uot;I’m hoping to pursue a music career &045;&045; but I really do enjoy this, too.&uot;

Melanie Vogt and Ryan Curry &045;&045; who during the school year teach in Vidalia, La., and Natchez, respectively &045;&045; are assisting Burns with the class.

&uot;They’re so attentive,&uot; Vogt said, watching the students bent over their birdhouses. &uot;They share so well, and they are so kind to each other.&uot;

Abi Brown &045;&045; who said the clay feels like mud and Play-Doh &045;&045; liked making pinch pots the best &045;&045; and she liked the creativity that went along with it.

&uot;You can make the pot into anything you want to,&uot; she said, noting that hers was a creamer.

When the camp is over Friday, the students won’t say goodbye to Burns. After he fires all of the pieces, the children &045;&045; and their parents and grandparents &045;&045; will be invited to a special gallery showing of their work on Friday, Aug. 8.

&uot;(Art) helps them to see the possibility in their creativity &045;&045; and to see the success there,&uot; Burns said. &uot;It opens up a whole lot of doors and spills over beyond art. … They know that can do anything and be anything. Whether they become an artist or an attorney, this shows them they do have the ability to think creatively.&uot;

Conn conveys the same message, albeit in 8-year-old speak: &uot;It learns you how to make stuff,&uot; she said of the camp. &uot;And if you try real hard, you can make it real good.&uot;