about MARY LEIGH
I received a BA in Applied Arts from Carleton College in Minnesota and went on to teach art for a number of years in various public schools in the Philadelphia, PA area where I grew up. Clay didn’t really enter my life until my mid twenties; before that I mostly painted in my free time. My mother was my inspiration. She had taken up ceramics at some point while I was off at college and carried this interest to our family summer home in Southeastern Ontario, where she set up an “outdoor studio.” Her equipment included two kick wheels (hand built by my father) that sat out under the trees overlooking a lake. She mixed her own clay and glazes from dry ingredients and fired everything in a small electric kiln. During the first summers I spent up there I started playing around with throwing and hand building. This eventually led to taking ceramics classes, workshops and getting involved at local arts centers in the various places I’ve lived, culminating with my move to the Walnut Creek area in the mid 80’s.
I love the creative process and am particularly drawn to clay because of its tactile qualities and plasticity. I am also passionate about texture and organic form. The expressiveness I can achieve with clay inspires me to try as many different methods as I can, but I have mostly limited myself to functional pottery. I enjoy both wheel throwing and hand building.
I get a lot of inspiration as well as plenty of throwing and glazing tips from my fellow potters. Although I have a fairly well equipped studio at my house, I rarely work there because of this. At the CAG studio, my focus is almost totally on clay. It’s a wonderful, relaxing experience for me – an escape from all the other parts of my life. My instructors have, for the most part, been a fabulous inspiration to my creative productivity.
Creating the form is what I like doing the best; clay in its wet stage is what turns me on. I have always found the glazing process to be a chore, which is one reason why I enjoy taking the salt firing class. In this firing process, glazing is generally best kept to a minimum, letting the vaporized salt do most of the job. On the other hand, I’ve always liked Raku because of the immediacy of the process – seeing my finished pot 30 minutes or less after it has gone in the kiln!
I have three unmarried sons, all in their early and mid 40’s. I lost my husband in 2008 but continue to do all the things that the two of us loved to do, like traveling and spending a lot of time in museums and cultural and historic places.
Finally – I have a weakness for volunteerism. It seems I have a hard time saying “no” when asked to join various non-profit organizations and often end up taking a turn at president. I am a past president of the Friends of Civic Arts Education Foundation, a fundraising arm of CAE that funds scholarships for students who otherwise might not afford the cost of classes. I have also been active for a number of years with the Orinda-Moraga-Lafayette Branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) that does wonderful things in the community for women and girls. In addition, I do the layout for the Clay Arts Guild newsletter, which comes out bi-monthly.