“CERAMICISTS EAT FAILURE FOR BREAKFAST,” says Miranda Howe. The founder of Bone Springs Art Space, an art studio and gallery in Roswell, Howe knows of what she speaks. She teaches the Dirty Dozen pottery class for beginners on the first Friday night and Saturday morning of every month.
Working with clay is unpredictable. Glazes tend to bubble up for no reason or cool too quickly in the kiln and crack. “So many things can go wrong in pottery,” she says. “How do you run with that and turn it into a success?”
In a demanding discipline with many uncontrollable factors, potters learn to find inspiration in unexpected places. Howe’s own adaptive vision has turned an early-20th-century oil and gas storage facility into a beautiful multiuse art space with three floors.
The depot-like building sits in Roswell’s sleepy industrial district, just a few blocks from its more bustling downtown. Howe has renovated the red brick and metal building into a gallery, gift shop, studio, education area, and, once the work on the top-floor loft is complete, a living area for Howe, as well as a place for traveling artists to stay while they work. An ancient industrial elevator runs from the main floor to a cozy basement studio space, where I join a class of 12 students to spend a Saturday morning handling clay.
Today’s lesson: construct a four-legged animal. The relaxed, friendly atmosphere welcomes everyone from artists to landscapers to healthcare workers, each of us sitting in chairs beside tables laden with clay and tools for scoring, cutting, and smoothing. Most of us have little or no ceramics experience, and Howe says that’s exactly the kind of people the class is for.
“I think the older we get, the more self-conscious we get, especially about art,” Howe says. “You know: Am I doing it right? I’m not creative. I don’t know how to draw. All of those inhibitions that we gather over time.” Howe moves things along easily, gently encouraging the students. If we have fun, we just might make art.
I quickly relax into the pleasant, tactile experience of working with the clay while following the simple steps. The world outside drifts away as I become immersed in molding my pile of clay into a little pig. Howe breaks down the process into manageable chunks so students can follow along without getting lost. As we work to turn the flat slab into an oblong loop, then to something that resembles a little bathtub with feet, Howe weaves through the studio, offering suggestions and encouragement while folk songs play softly on the stereo.
Howe has a long history both in art and in the Roswell area. Her grandfather, Bill Wiggins, was a local painter who received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2011. Howe’s mother taught art in the nearby village of Capitán, where Howe lived until moving to Roswell during high school. She’s taught art classes over the years in her time between artist residencies. Her wisdom comes through via clear directions and a magical touch with students who seem to know what they’re doing and with, well, me.
After I cut out square sections from the top sides of my clay bathtub and mold the remainder into a head and a tail, my object begins to resemble an actual pig. I cut an oval for the snout, then curl a bit of clay into a snippet of tail. Howe helps me poke holes that will keep the figure from exploding in the kiln, where she’ll place our animals to be fired. Then, in what feels like the blink of an eye, three hours are up.
I walk out into the afternoon heat feeling relaxed, happy—and, dare I say, successful.