Get Centered Clay Studio Fights For Its Art

LA MESA – There was a time not really long ago in human history when we didn’t segregate the arts. Then the arts were an expression of identity – everyone sang, everyone danced.

Today we live in an era of specialization. We isolate the arts and honor only the best of the performers.

We have even convinced ourselves the arts are an expendable part of education – pushing them to the fringes of our schools or out altogether. Math, science and English is what we can afford. The arts today are gravy. More and more available only to families affluent enough and intelligent enough to know their children’s education is far from complete without them.

And so that is why we find places like the Get Centered Clay Studio wedged into a non-descript industrial park in the center of La Mesa.

Here owner Elly Dotseth and co-owner Sharon Patsko are working frantically and heroically to keep even this modest home for an ancient art in our community. The studio just completed its second year.

On this Saturday, Dotseth has gathered two experts in the Japanese technique of Raku glazing and matched them up with several local residents who wanted to learn.

The group gathered and talked of methods, processes and glazes honed by the collective wisdom of potters across generations and cultures.

Pierre Bounaud, a French chemist, and Lee Yanni, the other teacher today, sound like college professors as they explain the differences between raku and naked raku, the varying effects of heat, smoke and moisture that will eventually transform unadorned clay sculptures into works of art.

“That is what I don’t understand about arts and the schools,’’ Dotseth says. “You can teach just about everything using these techniques: physics, chemistry, composition. Instead, we push the arts away.’’

Fred Loase knows exactly what she is talking about. He spent the last 40 years teaching math and English, mostly at Hilltop High in Chula Vista. He watched as all the arts – including shop and auto shop – died away.

“Suddenly we had to teach all the kids the same,’’ he said. “You want to be a plumber? Just take these courses and everyone goes to college.’’

Nearly half a century after starting his teaching career, Loase retired from a profession that was arguably no longer offering a full education. And he himself was spending this Saturday learning Raku, painting ceramics and talking with great joy of the interaction of aesthetics, chemistry, smoke and fire.

Get Centered marked its second anniversary not long ago. As with all arts endeavors, there is financial drama in each day of its existence. The 3,000 or so square feet of space includes a storehouse of ceramic supplies and clay as well as a classroom with wheels and a number of kilns. The business model for keeping the place afloat counts on attracting enough potters to rent monthly space and enough locals who want to take classes offered frequently.

Perhaps as the state’s fiscal crisis continues to wring anything but readin-writin-and-rithmetic from our schools, more parents will realize their children should be spending time in places like Get Centered to get their full education. But for now, this establishment is still running at about a $1,400 a month loss.

But all the education, arts and economics are on the back burner this Saturday as the shaped clay gets painted with various glazes and moved into the gas-fired kilns that were erected in the back parking lot for this special raku class. At 1,800 degrees they are gathered up with metal tongs and placed in garbage cans filled with newspaper where flame and smoke react with the glazes to create a beautiful patterned finish. One of the pieces is draped with horsehair that ignites and forms an ethereal pattern across the clay.

Passersby are drawn into this industrial park scene and watch with the artists as the pieces literally emerge from the ashes to reveal their final shape and color.

Art in La Mesa, it turns out, is where you find it.


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Tags: Arts, Elly Dotseth, Fred Loase, Get Centered Clay Studio, Lee Yanni, Pierre Bounaud


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Comment by Get Centered Clay Studio (Elly) on April 11, 2011 at 9:48am
Many thanks!!
Comment by La Mesa Today on April 10, 2011 at 10:26am


Thanks for reminding me of the co-owner. I've added it to the story above. Thanks for making us welcome on Saturday. It was enjoyable and a reminder of why the art of journalism can be enriching. Good luck with your important work.

Chris Lavin, Editor

Comment by Get Centered Clay Studio (Elly) on April 10, 2011 at 7:31am

As the owner listed in this great article, I want to let you all know that there is a co-owner. Her name is Sharon Patsko, and she is here at the studio every Tuesday teaching classes, and doing everything else that needs doing to keep the studio running. I couldn't do this without Sharon!


Also, if anyone is wanting to schedule classes or events, all they need to do is call the studio and we can accommodate up to 30 people! We'd love to get a children's program going in the summer months too. alan Irwin is our children's instructor and is anxious to develop a program for youth. His only request is that there be at least 5 students per class.

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