Last week was literally one of the best weeks of my life. Back in December my nephew Jim and his family visited us here in Dahlonega. During the course of our visit, Jim told me some very sad stories as to how his brothers and sisters at the Biloxi Fire Department were suffering from stress, and were searching for positive outlets.
I told him that I wished I was closer, as I believed that they would have a natural relationship with clay and fire, as I do. So many times in the past eight years I have turned to clay to stop the demons in my own mind from becoming stronger than myself, and from what I could tell from what he was saying, I believed it may be just the thing for these brave souls.We both sighed, as I DO live 6 and a half hours from him, and as neither of us was moving, it probably wouldn’t be the solution he was looking for.
However, not long after he returned home, Jim called me and asked what exactly would it look like if we DID follow through with that plan. He had spoken with the Fire Department’s Director, and both were intrigued by the possibilities. He asked if I would write something up for his Director, Joe Boney.
I sent the following letter:
January 29, 2016
Dear Mr. Boney,
I am writing to you at the request of my nephew, Jim Davis. As you requested, I would like to introduce the firemen of Biloxi to a tool that I believe may help them with stress management, in their own environment. I have written to ask for the George Ohr Museum’s assistance in the program, as well, as I would need their immediate assistance should this invitation be accepted.
I am a full time potter in Dahlonega, Georgia. My specialties include both functional and Raku pottery. This past Christmas my nephew, Jim Davis, came to North Georgia with his family, and we were able to spend time together with our families. As you can imagine, he and his boys had a wonderful time visiting my studio, and he and I had a lot of conversations about our jobs.
I visited your area just after Katrina, where I brought an outdoor kitchen and cooked meals for his department. They would come to his home after an entire day of working the disaster areas, and I witnessed first-hand the stress these men and women and their families endured, purely due to the nature of their professions. According to Jim, the stress doesn’t let up after a disaster like Katrina. They simply keep doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. While I admire them so completely, I also worry about them, and wonder if there is anything I can do, which outside of cooking for them during a disaster, I have found myself impotent.
I would like to come to Biloxi with enough clay to do a workshop with the firemen. I will bring my wheel, enough tools to get them started, and ideas and time for them to complete several pieces. At that point, I will need assistance from the museum. I will need kiln space to do the initial bisque firing. As it will be presented at this initial workshop as a Raku workshop, I will bring my Raku kiln where we will finish the pieces. At this point, I imagine that we will know if we have a potential “program” on our hands. If they don’t “take” to the fire like I think they will, the experiment will be over. However, I’m prepared to bet that they will be hooked, as I have been, by the magical powers of clay, water, and fire.
Understandably, cost will be a concern. It is my understanding from Jim that his department has an administrator that is an excellent grant writer. Since this is a completely new concept, you of course do not have a line item in your budget for this. But Jim has assured me that they have enough space for the workshop, and I will bring the clay and glazes for the first workshop. So the initial cost will be minimal, and perhaps the grant writer could secure funds to keep things going. In the meantime, I have contacted the museum to ask for their assistance with firings and perhaps even guidance moving forward when I have come back home.
As well, they will be generating product. If the program succeeds, I could imagine it sustaining itself with a Firemen’s Pottery Sale in addition to grants and community involvement. But initially, this program will be designed to help the firemen deal with their daily stressors in their own environment.
Assuming that the program is well received and the men and women (and even their families) continue to produce work, they very well may end up with their own equipment. (Wheel, kiln(s), etc) I would imagine initially they would need assistance with future firings (kiln space). I will make sure they know where to purchase clay, glazes, and supplies, and hopefully they will be “up and running” in their new craft. It would be wonderful to know that the museum will be there with advice, guidance, possibly more workshops from your potters and I’m sure I could rally a few from around here to continue their education. I could also imagine that it would be a big success in the community to partner with the museum to show their work at some point.
In the beginning of my career, I was absolutely enamored with my relationship with clay. My father said to me, “I’m sure it helps with all of that head stuff you have going on.” He was right. And I would like to pass this gift along to my nephew and the men and women he works alongside with every day, protecting your community.
Amy Lovelady Strickland
A few days later, I received the following note from Joe Boney:
I got your message yesterday but was out of the office all day, sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I rad your E-mail and Jim has told me a bit about you about the proposed project, and the healing qualities that he and you speak of are very intriguing to me. I would like to move forward with the project that you propose, it is my desire that any avenue we can explore in an effort to reduce the stress that some of our members are experiencing would be welcome. The only concern that I have is the hesitancy on behalf of our members and I know that it is simply because of their being unaware of the potential positive effects it will have on their current lifestyle. As you may be aware, firefighters are high energy fast paced individuals, who do not respond well to anything that may slow that lifestyle, especially if they do not understand the potential effects it may have on them. I truly believe that if they will broaden their horizons just a bit, and allow themselves to experience the project as you have explained it to me, some of us stand to greatly benefit from its calming effects. I also applaud your suggestions to include their spouses as I believe that this may prove to be the catalyst that will encourage more to attend. So if you are game I am, let me or Jim know what you require going forward as he has a knack for getting in my ear when he needs to.
Thank you, for your concern in our men and women, they are truly a wonderful group who do great work every day, and I applaud you for your support.
Director of Fire
Biloxi Fire Department
And that is how it all began. I contacted our local fire department and they agreed to come to my house to load up our equipment the day before we were to leave. We had set the dates, May 14-22, 2016, and I spent the rest of the Spring getting ready for a new show I had been invited to at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens, in Alabama.
It’s hard to believe that we accomplished so much in the following few months. I was still struggling with breakage in my own work, and found a chemist at my clay company who was able to re-formulate my glaze recipes to help them “fit” their new formula for my clay. Problem solved. I contacted my kiln company, and their specialist, Sarah Pollock actually came to the house to help me understand raku firing, as most of my pieces were simply coming out gray with very little color. Problem solved. I was contacted by a new shop here in town that wanted to carry my decorative work, so another “stream of income” was introduced to Lovelady Creations. I was making pottery as fast as I could and with these new fixes, I can proudly announce that the show at the Botanical Gardens was the best I have ever had. The trip to Biloxi was going to be a huge expense, we knew, but the logistics just kept getting better and better for it to be a successful trip. And then the day came that it was time to load the truck and head to Mississippi. Even the rain held off for our trip, as I was concerned about the kiln getting wet in the back of my new, huge Dodge Ram Pickup. Yes, I even had to buy a vehicle to make this trip happen, but we really needed a pick up, and now we have one. We decided it was “hard to be a good Aunt without a Hemi.”
As time was moving on, I began writing about it.