Jo Clay’s pottery studio on the bottom floor of her East Dallas home is bright and clean, but evidence of her passion is everywhere. The walls are lined with shelves that house her and her students’ projects. There’s a kiln in the corner and a potter’s wheel by the back door. Wet clay objects litter a long table, waiting to be fired.
A group of her students huddle around a shelf, pointing out the artwork they completed that afternoon during one of Clay’s summer pottery camps. A row of unusually shaped clock faces with various patterns stamped and etched into the surface stare back at them. The pieces are so mature, it is almost hard to believe the middle school kids created them, especially in one afternoon.
“I don’t do baby projects,” Clay says. “I push my students and I challenge them, unless they’re saying ‘no’ or really aren’t able to do it. We do big projects. They’re serious, and it’s my job to get them there.”
One mom, Jill Free, who drives from North Dallas so her children can attend Clay’s pottery camps, insists she’s never met an art instructor like Clay.
“I’ve been doing it since I was a little girl, and there’s nobody like her,” Free says.
The beauty of teaching children is that they have no inhibitions, Clay explains. They simply create because they have no idea they “can’t.” Clay especially enjoys teaching children because as a child, she wasn’t encouraged to be an artist, she says.
“I was actually really suppressed,” she says. “At that time, it was too scary to be an artist because a lot of artists got into bad things, so how was I ever going to be successful as an artist? So [my parents] really suffocated that part of me, but it would come out over and over again.”
The only form of art her parents could stomach was music, so Clay immersed herself in that world at a young age. It eventually led to her performing in the San Antonio Symphony and later studying music at Indiana University on a music scholarship.
At Indiana University, Clay began probing around in the art department. One day her art teacher handed her three blocks of clay and told her to carve into them.
Although it frightened her at first, it also excited her to see her vision for the lump of clay slowly take form. To her surprise, some of her pieces were placed in the department’s art exhibit.
“I had no idea what I was doing. I was just playing around,” Clay says.
For a long time after college, she kept the artist in her quiet. She got involved in fashion and worked as a model with the Kim Dawson Agency for many years. After that, she dabbled in business, selling pharmaceuticals.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that she returned to art at the encouragement of several close friends. Soon she was obsessed with it all over again, and her art career rocketed from there.
As her work evolved and she developed her own style and techniques, her work was accepted in exhibits and began to sell at shows and online for anywhere from $20 to $3,000-plus. Clay grew up near the beaches of Bermuda, so the colors, shapes and textures of the ocean heavily influenced her work.
“I still have no idea what I’m doing. I’m just playing around, and I’m glad that people like it,” Clay says. “I’m very humbled. I’m so fortunate.”
Aside from teaching kids’ camps, she also teaches classes for adults at the Creative Arts Center of Dallas.
Learn more at twoclayhands.com
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