“There’s something different about holding a plastic bowl and a heavy ceramic dish where you can see someone’s fingerprints where they touched it,” said Eital Schattner-Elmaleh, who began throwing pottery in 5th grade.
While many girls at that age are anxious about their changing bodies and boys (and their changing bodies) Eital learned to sling her hands around man’s first material and celebrate a different kind of curve. “I wish I could be throwing wet clay all day long,” she mused.
In middle school, the vessels became gifts that cemented her in the hearts of teachers, who, whenever she visits, still have her hand-made mugs on their desks and say, “I still tell my kids about you”.
From there, a high school teacher placed an order for a set of mugs for her husband. By senior year, Eital had developed her own independent study on teapots. Upon bringing one home, she laughingly recalled, her mother raised a suspicious eyebrow and asked “what is that?” suspecting the vessel had a more delinquent intention.
Though her mother had one idea, to Eital, the teapots symbolized something more. “I like using teapots, I like the idea of tea as something that you share, something that you sit with people over. I love how you can throw all the different parts of a teapot so it’s like a bunch of different pieces that you’re making on the wheel that you’re then throwing together,” she said.
When she left for the world, she took her hands with her.
“On my gap year I started making things when I was living in a commune … and everyone started using my dishes and so it became more about the practicality … the end of high school is when I started … making things that people needed,” she said. During this time, she was living in Haifa, Israel, where she took pottery lessons with five old women who “just gossiped about their grandchildren in Hebrew”.
Two years later, Eital’s first project in pottery class was to make 30 bowls, many of which now cheerily populate the kitchen in Finlandia (housing co-op) with the requisite chipped teeth and black eyes of nightly 20 person dinners.
Eital’s pottery, once out of the kiln, is practical and works to smooth community grooves, but before firing, the clay is just catharsis.
“When I do pottery ... a lot of it is not so much about the outcome but about the movement of doing it and accomplishing it in a way that is balanced and symmetric and right and that’s the action that makes me feel good.”
Beyond the rhythm of throwing there is the tactile. There is tension, there is friction, there is grit. “The earth gives you this thing that’s for the most part so natural and then you can make anything out of it … I’m just taking something that I mostly understand and I can take it and make anything anyone in my house needs.”
“It’s a way to share myself with the community. Even if I’m not the most outspoken person, this is something that brings me a lot of happiness to do and something that I’m glad everyone else is enjoying too,” she said in closing. This means that no matter whether it’s a mug, a bowl, or a teapot, you’ve always got Eital in the grooves.