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Finding One’s Way With Clay: How Art Can Help Stimulate the Mind

As some of you may know I’m a potter, having fallen in love with clay 27 years ago. I’m director of a program called The Jeremiah Project, an after school and summer creative arts program for under-served middle school students. We provide pottery and digital arts programming through our partnership with the Central Florida Boys & Girls Clubs and the City of Winter Park. I would go so far as to label myself a clay evangelist, so persuaded am I of the transformational capabilities of this art medium. Our kids think it is positively magical.

FHIL Staff glazing pottery

FHIL Staff glazing pottery

I have had the opportunity to share the magic of this medium with two extraordinary groups over the past month.

The Florida Hospital Innovation Lab (FHIL) is housed on the third floor of Florida Hospital Orlando. Creativity and a collaborative spirit just ooze from every corner of this lab. The open spaces are flooded with natural light and nary a cubicle or walled up office can be found. The lab is all about design thinking (in my blog, Be Brave. Lose the Beige, parlance that means creative thinking). The design thinking mindset is “Yes And” rather than “Yes But.”

Empathy is a huge component of design thinking. Posters such as “FHIL is a place where you experiment and fail faster to learn faster”; “ 1 year equals 365 opportunities”; and “Lean into Curiosity”. FHIL exists to help create better solutions for health care.

One of many great posters at FHIL

One of many great posters at FHIL


I’ve been a FHIL groupie for the past couple of years. Any place whose mission it is to find creative solutions to complex problems is totally my jam. I brought my mobile clay studio to the lab to conduct a “Blind Pinch Pot” exercise with the lab’s facilitators. Potter Paulus Berensohn, in his book Finding One’s Way With Clay, prescribes this exercise as a way of promoting mindfulness.

Participants are taken through a relaxation exercise and then asked to create a pinch pot from a ball of clay the size of small orange, while keeping their eyes closed and focusing on their breath. Invariably the exercise produces beautifully created pots. Berensohn maintains that these pots are a script for our lives.



I also wanted to share this blind pinch pot technique with participants in the Brain Fitness Club operated out of the First United Methodist Church in Winter Park, Florida. The program serves individuals with early dementia. Members participate in activities that stimulate the mind and body. Creativity certainly fits that bill. Their willingness to engage in something new and different made my heart jump for joy. For some, the exercise took them back to childhood

“My brother and I played with clay” one member said, seemingly delighted with the memory. “Of course we also threw it at each other” he added.


Clay comes from the ground and helps ground those who touch it. Whether working with young professionals or people experiencing memory loss, this tactile medium offers an opportunity to be fully present even for 30 minutes. Hopefully this creative respite can have a residual impact rippling out to family caregivers and the doctors and nurses seeking solutions.


liz-kitchensLiz Kitchens is a writer and blogger.  Her blog, Be Brave. Lose the Beige, reaches out to Lady Boomers, women of the Baby Boomer generation. Liz also blogs for Growing Bolder and Vibrant Nation, two sites devoted to aging issues. Liz conducts workshops on the health benefits of creativity and is an ambassador for the Creative Caregiving Initiative sponsored by the NCCA, The National Center for Creative Aging. Liz founded the Jeremiah Project, an after school and summer creative arts program designed to foster self esteem and encourage creative thinking among at risk middle school aged students.

Check out Liz’s blog, Be Brave. Lose The Beige, and follow her on Facebook.

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