HUNTINGTON Kathleen Kneafsey has found her artistic home at the Huntington Museum of Art.

As artist at the museum for the last 22 years, she has taught many clay classes.

“Clay is such a fantastic material, it just draws you in and you want to keep doing it,” she said.

Classes attract a wide variety of people, from first-timers to those who want to return to the medium to those looking for a relaxing, after-work activity to those choosing to pursue art during retirement. Some have attended classes for years and some make use of the open studio time, which could mean working on one of the 21 potter’s wheels or hand building at a table.

“Everyone who takes the class comes in with an open mind and they all are very excited,” Kneafsey said. “I always tell them that, while it looks easy, it really does take practice. Don't give up, because one day, with lots of practice, it will just click and you'll get it.”

Kneafsey should know.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kneafsey said, classes throughout the summer were canceled. She, however, has taken the opportunity to make “zillions of pots,” she said, adding she and museum educator Sadie Helmick have produced a series of videos called “Clay with Kathleen” to appear on the museum’s Facebook and Instagram pages.

“We just are trying to find ways to keep people connected to the museum and the programs there,” she said.

Kneafsey said she took her first clay class at HMA when she was 8.

“I started out as a kid with drawing and painting. My mom always made sure I had a sketch book, and I also had an easel and lots of paint,” she said, but the class changed everything.

“One touch of the clay and I knew what I wanted to do,” she said. “The class was incredible, and clay is magical. We learned to hand build and throw on the potter's wheel.  

“We also did a raku firing, where we took very hot, glowing orange pots out of the kiln and put them into an aluminum trash can full of leaves we had gathered in the woods behind the studio. I thought it didn't get any better than that. I just wanted to have my hands in clay from that moment on.”  

And she did.

The Illinois native earned a master of fine arts degree in ceramics in 2000 from Miami University. She also has taught at Ohio University in Proctorville, Marshall University in Huntington and Shawnee State University in Portsmouth. She has won numerous awards and has exhibited all over the country.

Early in her education, Kneafsey said she was mainly a sculptural hand builder, throwing pots for gifts for friends.

“With the influence of my mother's gardening and appreciation for nature, I was hugely influenced by all that was around me. Trees and roots were metaphors for people and experiences in my life,” she said. “During my MA and MFA studies, the wheel became a tool I used to incorporate forms, along with hand building, into my sculptures.”

As a married woman with children, she said, her thoughts turned to creating a home and those thoughts were reflected in her work.

“I also really worked hard at becoming completely comfortable with throwing functional forms,” she said. “While I had always focused on the vessel as the center of my work, it had always moved in a sculptural way and not necessarily in a functional way. At this time, I really started to think about what it meant to have a hand-thrown form be a part of your daily life with your family, and what a wonderful, personal experience that is.”

She said after finishing her masters of fine arts, her worked turned even more to home.

“The thought of making pieces from clay that I will use to nourish my family, share a mug of coffee with my husband and mix cookies with my kids, is why I do what I do,” she said. “It's also the reason that makes me hope others will want to welcome my pots into their homes with their loved ones.”

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