Ceramics and Concerts in the Pottery Co-op

The return to an in-person school year has kept Pottery Co-op members busy: a concert, the Maker’s Markets, and the Empty Mugs fundraiser have all showcased the work of co-op members and inspired new members to join.

Located in the yellow house behind Mudd Center, the Pottery Co-op provides a space for Oberlin students and community members to learn how to work with clay. Shelves of bowls, mugs, and ceramic sculptures line the walls alongside a subtle clamor from the kiln.

“I love the community; we’re all making stuff together,” said College first-year Emerson Rosen-Jones. “You see something someone else makes and you’re like, ‘Woah that’s really cool, I’m gonna try this now.’ Everyone’s sharing ideas in this really creative environment.”

Mugs in the Pottery Co-op. Photo by Abe Frato.

The Pottery Co-op is open 24/7 to anyone in the Oberlin community, and is maintained completely by members. A sliding-scale $30 fee is recommended, but not required, to join. All working materials are provided by the co-op, and members can keep or scrap anything they create. College first-year Lily Henry-Austin explained how the community maintains the co-op.

“Every member also has to work a minimum of five hours [a semester], doing tasks like clay making, kiln loading, and cleaning, to keep the space running smoothly,” wrote Henry-Austin in an email to the Review.

No experience is required to join the co-op, and members often learn from each other. New members can commit to the co-op through the membership contract, a Google Form that asks for their name and year. After signing up, they are added to the email list and a Google group that sends out updates on the co-op. Many join the co-op after taking the popular Pottery ExCo which teaches students the basics of “throwing” or shaping clay on a wheel. The ExCo has notoriously high application rates and offers beginner and intermediate sections.

Student using a pottery wheel. Photo by Abe Frato.

This semester, members and ExCo students have showcased their work at the Maker’s Markets and at the Empty Mugs fundraiser. Maker’s Markets are hosted several times over the course of the school year and give Oberlin students the opportunity to sell their projects. Empty Mugs is an annual charity event where Pottery Co-op members compete to see who can make the most cups and bowls to sell. All proceeds go to Oberlin Community Services.

Recently, Pottery Co-op interim co-president and College third-year Dalia Tomilchik has turned the co-op into an event space to promote community bonding and membership.

“I just felt like this year, people weren’t as connected because of [COVID-19], so I wanted to have a party for everyone to get to know each other,” Tomilchik said. “A lot of new people came that weren’t even part of the Pottery Co-op, but now they are. I feel like it built a community.”

Located in the backyard of the co-op, the concert showcased several Oberlin students and many genres, including noise musician Coronet, the indie band Family Picnic, and the house-style musician DJ Sour.

Concert in the backyard of the co-op. Photo by Dalia Tomilchik.

“I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time, and I just finally set a date and texted people asking if they wanted to perform,” said Tomilchik.

While the Pottery Co-op is working on increasing information accessibility, Oberlin College and community members can find membership information on the Pottery Co-op Instagram @oberlin.pottery.coop.

“I love all the mechanical parts of it, and it’s also such a good learning experience,” said Tomilchik. “So much of the art department within the College doesn’t really give you the full experience; you learn a part of something. But here, you get to learn how to make clay, how to use clay, and how to make everything from start to finish.”