Of Grimy Hands and Potter’s Wheels

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Slippery hands grasp hard. Rosy earthen clay spins, turning on the potter wheel.

“Look at how resistant the clay is to being centered,” she says, standing on tip toe and leaning hard into, onto, the clay. Silvery hair tucks into a short bob, with stray curls hanging wispy at the neck. Dark navy blue pants press against a wobbly table, while a turquoise long-sleeved shirt is rolled high on the arms.

“You cannot make a decent vessel until the clay is centered,” she states, breathing slightly with the exertion of aiming the spinning clay towards center. “I’m always using water. I never put my hands on the clay without using water.”

“The speed is very important.” Her right foot holds pedal firm.With a steady, sure hand, she opens up the clay then, pinching, shaping, molding. “The clay has to submit to the potter or it won’t make a piece. I’m at the mercy of the clay, if it behaves or not sometimes.”

“The anticipation that the potter has as she does the arduous work of digging up the clay (in ancient days), working it with strong hands, and envisioning what she has planned for it… The artist has a design already.” Pink lips smile under sparkling azure eyes.

“The artist knows the limitation of the clay,” she mused, leaning over her clay, gently molding, pushing, fingering. “If a piece is too soft, it will collapse.” She slices off a lip of pink clay, dipping the tendril into water, grabbing more clay, and practising surgery to meld it on thicker and more sturdily to the vase’s mouth.

We watch as Judith holds steady, experienced hands against the pliable clay, spinning and smoothing it, shaping and molding it. Pink edges rise higher, curving out sensuously into a delicate vase neck.

Suddenly, Judith halts and picks up a sharp surgical-looking scalpel. “Often air bubbles arrive in the clay. The bubbles aren’t visible, aren’t noticeable to the eye, but the master potter can feel them under his hands as he molds and handles the clay. To ignore the bubbles and leave them intact, allowing the piece to be kiln-fired would be disastrous. The item would shatter in the extreme heat, and be destroyed.”

With firm precision, our potter gashes the sharp knife into soft clay where she had noted the abnormality. “It must be caught and fixed now.”

Quoting Blackaby from his work “Experiencing God,” she said, “When you come to know God by experience, you will be convinced of his love. When you are convinced of his love, you can believe him and trust him.”

Wiping grimy hands on a muddy towel, she pauses and shares with trembling hands of her husband’s new journey into Parkinson’s and a recent blinding in one eye. “We have been learning to trust in new ways now,” she laughs, moving again to touch the clay.

“But you see, I love clay so much. And any artist who loves the clay can’t keep her hands off it, always grabbing it, molding it, shaping it, seeing the beauty that she already imagines for it.”

Pausing, she grabs a knife to prick an unseen bubble, then the wheel whirls again, as pink clay spins beneath smooth, strong hands.

(Potter: Judith Storkamp from Northwestern College’s Set Apart Conference March 8, 9, 2013 along with keynotes Ann Voskamp, Liz Curtis Higgs, and many more workshops presenters.) 

Linking with Ann at A Holy Experience, I thank God for lessons in clay and humble red-handed women. 


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  1. Jayne on March 11, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    I have never worked with clay before, but I have done some cross stitch. I love to think of God working on my life like a cross stitch. Some parts of my life are smooth and easy to get through like a part of the picture that is just one color. Other parts incline more detail and change of color requiring more time and attention. Both are needed equally to make me more like Jesus.

  2. Jennifer Dougan on March 11, 2013 at 7:53 pm


    What a fun analogy through your cross-stitch. Thank you. I'm glad we're in the hands of an Artist!


  3. LOLITA on March 12, 2013 at 7:19 am

    I think I had lots of bubbles too that the Potter needed to slice out. I did not collapse so the table is still spinning.

    I do pray that what will come out in the end, will be one of His satisfaction. thanks for this Jen.

  4. AmyAlves on March 12, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    "The artist knows the limitation of the clay"… I'm thankful I've experienced His healing love in my life so I can trust Him with it now. Moving story and words Jennifer. ~Blessings, Amy

  5. elizabeth on March 13, 2013 at 3:38 am

    I loved this post and learned things I had never know about pottery. It really brought to life there verses about the potter. I'm so happy you popped by my place via Ann's and I'm glad to "meet" you!

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