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Blocks away from where windows were broken, cars demolished, and storefronts torched in response to the death of Freddie Gray, the city's youngest artists use clay to craft conversations around social change, heroism, and community.
“I think clay is an excellent metaphor for what’s going on right now--it’s therapeutic, clay is very forgiving, clay can be rebuilt again, and I think that’s a very positive message for what s going on right now,” said Dominique Hellgeth, an art teacher with Clayworks Baltimore, a non-profit ceramic art center.
This week, at the Jubilee Arts building in west Baltimore, Hellgeth is working with youth to create clay superheroes and model homes.
Superheores are something Hellgeth’s students believe could be a big help in Baltimore right now.
“They [superheroes] would probably use magic powers or powers to make fire go away and everything that’s in Baltimore just disappear and make all the stores open back up and make things not be on fire anymore,” said eight-year-old Trinity.
Eleven-year-old Tahj agreed that a superhero would be helpful in many ways including helping to clean up the community and talk to people about how they are feeling. Talking, said Tahj, is key to creating a community where people can communicate with one another and form new friendships.
Friendship and communication is one lesson Hellgeth thinks the children in her class are learning everyday they come to the art studio.
“[We are] dealing with emotions, dealing with each other, and dealing with the material there is a lot of growth happening,” she said.
Another student, 12-year-old Aliyah, is reimagining the meaning of home as she builds her dream house out of clay.
“Home to me means someplace where you’re comfortable,” Aliyah said. Her clay house does not resemble any of the homes she has ever seen before.
Creating clay projects is a relaxing escape for many of the students who are very aware of the media attention their community is getting around riots and protests.
“When I make artwork it feels like happy because it relaxes me, it’s relaxing and I have time off,” Tahj said.
“When you touch it [clay] it feels good. You can feel good about yourself when you make art, feel good about yourself when you do the right thing.”