Artistic endeavors, such as throwing pottery, have long felt therapeutic, but science is now confirming the role these activities might play in supporting our mental health. In her book Lifting Depression, neuroscientist Kelly Lambert identifies what she calls an “effort-driven reward circuit.” This network of geographically connected brain regions “appears to strongly influence well-being when activated by physical labor,” Lambert writes. Since manual labor is no longer part of most people’s daily routine, we have to find other ways to engage this impactful section of the brain.
Lani Goodrich, a West Palm Beach–based potter and instructor, is well aware of the power of pottery. Longing to get back into art after having her three daughters, she began learning the discipline of wheel throwing in a pottery studio her husband built in their backyard. Today, she runs Avenue Pottery, which sells handmade stoneware items and offers budding pottery enthusiasts—including tennis star Serena Williams—a place to hone their skills and enrich their mental health. PBI recently caught up with Goodrich to discuss the basics of wheel throwing.
PBI: What’s the learning curve on wheel throwing?
Goodrich: The wheel is a challenging thing to master. There are people who study and practice throwing for decades to become master potters. A beginner can expect decent results after a few classes, as long as they aren’t too hard on themselves. You have to have realistic expectations. But more importantly than making amazing pottery is the practice of trying new things, especially as an adult, that we don’t intend or expect to master.
Why do you think wheel throwing is a mental health tool?
The wheel saved me from a life without art. As an adult, and especially as a parent, we don’t often take the time to be creative. You could spend all day searching Pinterest for 4-year-old birthday party ideas, but the real thing you are looking for is a creative outlet. We need to be more selfish with our artistic needs. Art is therapy…. You will create new neuron pathways and stimulate new brain activity, and that’s a proven way to deter Alzheimer’s and dementia.
What do you offer for interested adults?
I have all manner of classes and workshops from simple glazing (painting) parties, to group wheel-throwing classes, private parties, and couples’ nights, where we put on some “Unchained Melody” and reenact Ghost scenes. Whatever you want, I can do.
What’s the most common reaction you get from clients who have never done wheel throwing before?
I try to be very honest when people are starting out. It’s very much like that iconic Ghost scene; stuff will collapse, stuff will be wonky, and you will be disappointed and frustrated. But that’s part of the process.