Pottery artists create a community dedicated to helping others
By Bridgette M. Redman
While therapists have long used play therapy to help their patients, the co-owners of Full Circle Pottery are turning to clay therapy to help their customers through dark days and loneliness.
Patty Housen and Liz Rosenblatt, the founders of the studio in Mar Vista, both have advanced degrees in helping people: Rosenblatt is a licensed therapist and Housen has a doctorate in gerontology. Both bring their skills to Full Circle Pottery so that others can experience the healing they did when first throwing pots and benefit from their expertise in people, as well as in clay.
Housen and Rosenblatt met and learned the ins and outs of pottery from Linda Mechanic, a woman whose studio brought people together until her death of ovarian cancer at the age of 50.
“Linda created a community and part of the reason it was so comfortable was because of who she was,” Rosenblatt said. “We were feeling really inspired to create a similar kind of space where people could just come and explore. We were focused on older adults and our peers to create a community where it wasn’t a production pottery place; it was a place where you could come and learn, you could come and express yourself, you could share.”
Finding their home in clay
Housen and Rosenblatt found each other and discovered their love for clay through Mechanic’s studio. For Rosenblatt, the new year had just dawned in 2008. She was about to start her own private psychology practice, but had a lot of family issues that were distracting her. She needed something that would help her take care of herself and she had promised Mechanic that she would learn to throw pots from her.
“The minute I put my hands on the clay, I knew I was home,” Rosenblatt said. “I consider myself a clay psychologist as opposed to a play psychologist, but I play with the clay. I find that even sitting in individual sessions, if people have their hands on clay, they are able to be quiet. They are able to process whatever is going on without necessarily having to think about it. They’re freer to talk and if talking is hard, they’re really good at expressing themselves through the clay.”
Housen was in the middle of her post-doctoral program in 2005, doing research and trying to finish her dissertation. Her husband told her that she needed something to help her relax and bought her four lessons at Mechanic’s studio.
“Once I started, like Liz, it just felt right,” Housen said. “I have a haiku that I wrote about this feeling of being at just the right place.”
musty dug up earth,
Crafting a mission for their studio
While Mechanic’s studio was their model in terms of creating a community, Housen and Rosenblatt also drew upon their personal strengths and where they felt they could fulfill a need.
“When we first set out, I thought of older adults, recent retirees and baby boomers like us,” Housen said.
They wanted to put out the message that they could provide a creative adventure close to home. Each could offer their services in a non-traditional setting, whether with individuals or groups in what they call an “expression session.”
“It opens up room for expression,” Rosenblatt said. “People are not as held back because their focus is on their hands. They’re touching the clay and clay is made of earth. You’re instantly grounded when you make contact with the clay. People are freer to speak.”
Unlike talk therapy where the participants leave with only the memory of what they talked about, clay therapy gives them something to show for what they’ve done: a piece of pottery that can be a continual reminder of their healing.
“Clay has been proven to be really useful in reducing anxiety, helping with depression,” Rosenblatt said. “You have a sense of creativity and focus. It’s an incredibly healing, calming and soothing environment.”
While the therapy aspect is a large part of who they are and what makes them different, it isn’t the only thing that Full Circle Pottery does.
“People come to it with different aspirations,” Housen said. “Some people want to work with the clay and see what happens, some people want to learn a new skill and they find that rewarding.”
Rosenblatt said that when they first dreamt about a studio, they spent a lot of time talking about the different revenue streams and ways that their business could stay healthy. They drove around Los Angeles getting to know each other and touring other pottery studios. Rosenblatt said they take everything seriously and they treat themselves “like we are the biggest little business in Mar Vista.”
Full Circle Pottery, in addition to the psychological aspect, also has classes, children’s activities and memberships.
“We were creating multiple ways to bring money in that would allow us to live,” Rosenblatt said. “We modeled our studio on the way Linda had taught us and run her studio. Patty had become one of her right-hand people whom she was talking to a lot about how to run a studio, what you need to do to keep it open. Patty had that experience and I had a lot of chutzpah.”
Spinning the wheel to new activities under COVID-19
In March 2020, Housen and Rosenblatt were poised to have their best year ever. They’d been open for nine years and business was booming. Clay was hot and they had as many members as they could handle.
Then, like everyone else, they had to close because of the pandemic. In one month, their income dropped by 75%. They put their heads together to figure out how they could survive and meet the needs of their members, especially the ones that were now alone.
They immediately focused attention on their outdoor space, somewhere that people could work while masked and distant from each other. They also brought Full Circle Pottery to people’s houses, helping them set up home studios whether on patios, in spare bedrooms or garages.
“We put a lot of energy into how we take care of our members who are at home and can’t come,” Rosenblatt said. “We ended up renting wheels and having pick-up and drop-off days. We were focused on maintaining the community. We had Zoom meetings once a week to say hello and (inquire how) people were doing.”
Through the Zoom calls, which they are no longer doing, people were able to share their wares, their struggles, their ideas, their successes and failures. They helped each other set up home studios. They reached out to people who were working from home and to older adults who sheltered in place for the entire year. Now, members are making pottery and glazing it at home, then bringing it to Full Circle Pottery to fire.
When November came around, Housen and Rosenblatt wanted to be able to continue their annual Full Circle Festival, a benefit event that showcases and sells people’s art and gives the proceeds to Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance.
This year they held the event outside and created spaces so everyone could stay six feet apart, limiting customers to four at a time. A few vendors were present to clean and sanitize between guests. Masks and handwashing were required.
They described the event as incredibly successful and one that brought their community back together.
“Everyone said, ‘I’ve been locked up at home this whole time, I’m coming out just for this day, I’m so happy to see you.’” Housen said. “We did it and thankfully met our goal of zero cases of COVID-19. That has been our goal from day one. Everything we’ve done has been COVID conscious.”
They also plan to continue using their outdoor studio because it has given them twice as much room as they previously had and grants them the way to expand their community.
Creating adventure for their community
As they move forward, Housen and Rosenblatt hope to bring back the things they used to do while incorporating what they learned during the pandemic. One thing they want to do is resume field trips. Past field trips took members to the factory that manufactures the clay and glaze they use, to places hosting collections of 20th-century pottery and to workshops held by others in the area.
They also look forward to resuming such things as hosting a fire pit on the beach and bringing out a horsehair kiln for people to use.
“We really want people to come check us out,” Rosenblatt said. “We have a unique way of working that is different from many studios in the area. If you’re looking for a place to learn about pottery or do pottery because you’re a potter from way back or you have an idea — come talk to us.”