Above: Pottery student Jackie Robinson smooths out her leaf plate. Photos by Donna Williams Lewis.
In a bright, cheerful studio at Chamblee’s North DeKalb Senior Center, balls of clay are turned into finely decorated cake plates, soaring dolphins, ornate bowls, elaborate flowers and figurines.
Their creators range from beginners who once believed they had no artistic talent to holders of master’s degrees in fine arts.
They shape clay side-by-side in a program led by a teacher for whom pottery is much more than a craft. It’s more of a calling. She is Crystalmoon, a 63-year-old psychotherapist turned life coach who goes by the solo name given to her in 2009 by a Native American shaman in Tennessee.
“When I make pottery, I just feel a thrill,” the Tucker resident said. “If it turns out bad, I’m thrilled. If it turns out good, I’m thrilled. …You can’t be a perfectionist. You just have to let the clay talk to you.”
She tears up at the memory of her first experience with clay, which came when she was an art major at St. Mary’s College in Maryland.
“The first time I took a lump of clay and put it on the potter’s wheel and it turned into something underneath my very hands it felt so miraculous,” she said, emotionally reliving that experience. “It was one of those moments in life that is so vivid and powerful.”
That ‘something’ she made was “just a cylinder,” she said. “Just a 6-inch cylinder.”
A nearby student broke the silence that had filled the room with a joke.
“The rest of us had to wait until we were retired,” said former marketing representative Alison King, of Chamblee, of not getting into pottery until 2016. “We didn’t know we could do anything, and I’ve made a fish that’s a good candy dish. …I like making things I can literally give to my friends.”
A pottery teacher for most of the past 30 years — mostly in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where she had a long career in counseling — Crystalmoon landed at the North DeKalb Senior Center in May 2018.
On a recent December morning, she was helping new student Jackie Robinson, of Dunwoody, carve curvy lines into clay that would become a creamer when a family touring the senior center was led into her class.
After hearing some details and checking out the students’ handiwork, a millennial in the family wistfully asked their guide, “Is it just for seniors?”
The answer is yes, it is. Not only that, it’s only open to members of the North DeKalb Senior Center, one of four neighborhood senior centers in DeKalb County.
But it’s easy to become a member and worth the effort, said the center’s manager, Yolanda Mendoza-Miller.
The federally funded center, which offers a free lunch, is available to DeKalb residents ages 60 and up who only need to get a medical clearance form signed by a doctor and meet with Mendoza-Miller to complete paperwork.
The membership fee? Zero. “There is no cost — at the moment,” Mendoza-Miller said.
The pottery class, held weekly on Tuesdays, costs members just $5 per month to help cover the cost of supplies. Crystalmoon throws some of her own money into the pot, along with donations from some of the students, so that the class can be affordable to people on fixed incomes.
“I’m really glad that we’re able to facilitate a program such as pottery,” said Mendoza-Miller, who said she believes immersion in different mediums of art is important for seniors. “I wish I could sit with them and do pottery. I could get lost in that for hours.”
‘Have fun and be creative’
New students can enroll at any time. There are no quarters or semester limitations, no levels of courses. There’s just one pottery class offering a new project each week. Students can also choose to work on their own projects, with assistance, if desired, from Crystalmoon.
Look up pottery in an encyclopedia and you’re met with a dizzying array of terms for the various methods of forming, stages of drying, and processes for glazing and firing clay.
The North DeKalb class uses the ancient practice of “hand-building,” employing rolling pins to get an even thickness of clay. To conserve costs, they glaze clay when it’s “bone dry” and fire it once.
When they have enough dried and glazed products to fill a kiln, they take their pottery to the nearby Davens Ceramic Center to be fired at no additional charge to the students.
Pottery class begins at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays with an open studio. Crystalmoon is on site for class by 1:30 p.m. if not before. She’s paid for an hour of teaching, but generally works in the studio for three or four hours each Tuesday, she said.
“To have a place to express yourself artistically and creatively is one of the essentials to having a meaningful life,” Crystalmoon said.
Her mission for her class is to “have fun and be creative.”
Mission accomplished, according to the students there that day.
King, the retired marketing rep, said she enjoys playing bridge with friends about five days a week, but said pottery “gives me something real. It gives me grounding.”
Robinson, the class newbie, said pottery-making has been good exercise for her arthritic hands, which she said can get very stiff.
“It’s so much fun to come here. They’re just patient and kind and it gives you a sense of belonging,” Robinson said. “There’s no reason for elderly people to be isolated and alone when you can have fun like this.”
Find Out More
There are a variety of art and other classes offered at senior centers throughout the north metro Atlanta area. Check out what’s available and get inspired to create!
dekalbcountyga.gov, search for ‘Senior Services’
- North DeKalb Senior Center: 5238 Peachtree Road, Chamblee 30341; 770-455-7602
- DeKalb/Atlanta Senior Center: 25 Warren St., Atlanta 30317; 404-370-7297
- Lithonia Senior Center: 2484 Bruce St., Lithonia 30058; 770-482-0402
- Lou Walker Senior Center: 2538 Panola Road, Lithonia 30058; 770-322-2900
- Scottdale Senior Center: 3262 Chapel Road, Scottdale 30079; 404-501-0704
- South DeKalb Senior Center: 1931 Candler Road, Decatur 30032; 404-284-4865
North Fulton County
- Dorothy C. Benson Senior Multipurpose Facility: 6500 Vernon Woods Drive, Sandy Springs 30328; 404-613-4900, bensoncenter.org
- Harriett G. Darnell Senior Multipurpose Facility: 677 Fairburn Road, Atlanta 30331; 404-613-8580
- Helene S. Mills Senior Multipurpose Facility: 515 John Wesley Dodds Ave., Atlanta 30312; 404-523-3353, helenemillscenter.org
cobbcounty.org; click ‘Departments,’ then ‘Senior Services’
- East Cobb Senior Center: 3332 Sandy Plains Road, Marietta 30066; 770-509-4900
- Freeman Poole Senior Center: 4025 South Hurt Road, Smyrna 30082; 770-801-3400
- North Cobb Senior Center: 3900 South Main St. (at Kennworth Park), Acworth 30101; 770-975-7740
- West Cobb Senior Center: 4915 Dallas Hwy., Powder Springs 30127; 770-528-8200
gwinnettcounty.com, scroll over ‘Departments,’ click ‘Senior Family Services’
- Buford Senior Center: 2755 Sawnee Ave., Buford 30518; 678-225-5367
- Centerville Senior Center: 3075 Bethany Church Road, Snellville 30039; 678-277-0230
- Lawrenceville Senior Center: 225 Benson St., Lawrenceville 30046; 678-277-0970
- Norcross Senior Center: 4651 Britt Road, Norcross 30093; 678-225-5430
cherokeega.com, click ‘Departments,’ then ‘Senior Services’; 770-345-5320 or 770-345-5312
- Canton Senior Center: 1001 Univeter Road, Canton 30115; 770-345-6730