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Sitting at a potter’s wheel on the back porch of her Elizabethtown home on a temperate day before autumn, Monique Wright Hanna imagines aloud it is what heaven must be like.
The fall equinox signifies the completion of summer and transition to fall; likewise, the summer of 2012 signified completion of Hanna’s goal of devoting an entire summer to art. Along with pottery, she produced oil paintings and quilts.
She set that goal in 1999.
“I’m 52 years old, and I can honestly say this is the best year in 52 years,” the LaRue County High School teacher said.
For 10 years Hanna operated Studio Art in Elizabethtown, offering art classes. After going back to college and earning a master’s degree, she began teaching art and humanities at LCHS.
About a year and a half ago she began creating pottery.
“Out of all the things I learned, this is by far the hardest,” Hanna said. “You learn it quickly; it takes years to perfect.”
The process of making pottery begins with clay. In a process called wedging the clay, Hanna kneads the mixture to redistribute water and eliminate air bubbles.
Keeping a tub of water, pottery tools and sponge nearby, the clay goes on the pottery wheel for the process known as throwing pottery. During that process, the surface is burnished, or polished smooth, and the base of the pot is trimmed and shaped.
“The throwing of the pots is, by far, the easiest part of the process,” Hanna said.
To burnish the piece, she uses the back of a metal spoon, but any smooth metal object works, she said.
After burnishing the pieces, she puts them into an electric kiln, where they are exposed to 1,000-degree heat for five hours. Then it is time for a fire pit, where pieces are left on a six-inch bed of sawdust with a fire built in a brick enclosure.
The fire pit is uncovered for hours before being covered with a metal sheet for three hours. During that time, two holes are left open through which pieces of wood are supplied to feed the fire.
“It’s the most extraordinary art process I’ve ever experienced,” Hanna said.
It takes a lot of wood to feed the fire and keep the pit hot, she said. When pushing the wood through the small openings during the covered fire pit process, the biggest concern is damaging or breaking one or more of the 17 to 30 pieces.
“I have been lucky,” she said. “I’ve never lost more than one.”
Among the factors that determine the colors on the fired pieces is the type of wood used.
“The driftwood gives you the peach colors,” she said.
Black coloration is where the piece rested on the burning sawdust.
After pieces are taken from the fire pit, they have a “sandy” or gritty feel that is addressed.
“I literally give them a bath with soap and water,” Hanna said, explaining she must scour the pieces.
Afterward the pieces get one coat of polyurethane. The pieces then are ready, but they are not usable for food or drink.
“They are truly art for art’s sake,” she said.
The unique quality of the art form — each piece of pottery yields to the particular manipulations of the artist’s hands, the colors infused by chemicals and fire and numerous other factors — appeals to Hanna.
“You know you’re never, ever going to have another one like this,” she says, holding a finished vase.
Hanna generally does not sell her work at art galleries because most, she said, take such a high percentage of sales it would result in about a 50 percent loss to her. She credits Woodland Gallery owner Lynn Cowan with being the exception.
Cowan, she said, has supported all Hanna’s artistic endeavors, such as Studio Art, and continues to support the efforts of local artists by hosting free exhibits — including those by Hanna’s LCHS students — when possible.
Ultimately, the pieces of pottery are works of art ready to be displayed.
“I want people to love them,” she said.
As she embarks on her pottery-making experience, Hanna doesn’t foresee having her own shop, which wouldn’t be possible since she has a full-time job she loves.
Making pottery is just part of the summer of art she finally got to live and part of something bigger.
“It’s not a career,” Hanna said. “It’s absolutely something that feeds my soul.”