Artist helps local children get behind the wheel — for pottery

ENCINITAS — Slippery, slimy and splattering.
Words children use to describe a newfound passion for pottery they’ve acquired since studying under celebrated artist and potter Alex Long.  
Long has been imparting his knowledge to youngsters at the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Dieguito, Griset Branch — Encinitas, since June thanks to a $12,000 grant made available by the Kenneth A. Picerne Foundation. The Artist Outreach Project is targeted to artists 55 and older to provide educational, mentoring or therapeutic art experiences to underserved populations.
Instruction is made available to teens Wednesdays afternoons after school and elementary students on Fridays.
“I’m not a strict disciplinarian,” he said. “I just want them to have fun. It’s about the process.”
Long provides his students with an introduction by first teaching techniques of hand-built pottery such as houses, animals and knick knacks.
Then he moves on to more advanced projects by demonstrating the art of throwing pottery. Since the club had only three kick wheels, one broken, he brought in three electric wheels from his home studio.
“Some kids are too small to handle a kick wheel,” he said. “With the electric wheel they are able to start making bowls.”
Maleea Schlager, 8, took to it right away.
“Alex is a really good teacher and he pays attention to each student so he’s real easy to learn from,” she said. “He inspired me to learn how to make a vase, mug and plate.”
Twins Kennison and Kyle Andrews, 11, are hooked after just two weeks of instruction.
“We always ask at the front desk if Alex is coming,” Kennison said. “It gives me a challenge to learn how to make a bowl by coning it up. If it’s not wet, it will twist and fall off.”
Kyle agrees.
“It’s hard to do, but I like hard stuff because it’s a challenge and fun,” he said.
Long, who was raised in Solana Beach, was introduced to pottery at the age of 13 by Dayle Rushall, a talented local artist and potter.
“He would let me throw on his potter’s wheel if I cleaned his studio,” he remembers.
Long decided to become a professional artist and potter after he was accepted to show in a gallery at the age of 17.  In 1973 he learned how to throw large pottery as a production potter for Robert Maxwell Ceramics in Fallbrook. In 1978 he became self-employed, throwing 1,000 pounds of clay before noon for objects that included giant planters he made for the Jack-in-the-Box chain. When his kiln was destroyed by fire in 1981, he went from being a production potter to creating one-of-a-kind pieces for art galleries and shows.
Today, Long is best known for large pieces accented with stunning glazes using the Japanese form of pottery known as Raku. Some of his art is on permanent loan to the Encinitas library.
 Students had an opportunity to see his work when he invited them for a field trip to his home studio just before Christmas.
Recently Long had to break the news to his students that monies weren’t available to continue his class when the grant expires in June. In the meantime, he’s training staff member Jason Brady to take over.
“It’s not something you pick up right away, but I’m definitely learning from the expert,” Brady said.
Although students are disappointed to be losing Long, they are determined to continue.
Jessica Casillas, 10, has been taking pottery since the summer.
“It would be sad to quit just because Alex isn’t here anymore,” she said. “I want to eventually be able to make huge vases to use, raffle off and sell.”

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