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Earthy lessons bring artists together
Messy Muddum Ceramics Classes Welcome all Comers
By Courtney Powell
Staff Writer, The Prague Post
March 22, 2006
There's warmth in the air at Muddum even when the kiln isn't fired up in the corner — an energy that probably comes from the therapeutic effect of human hands on warm, soft clay.
Students stand over tables, quietly crafting everything from tiny human figures to chunky pasta bowls 15 inches in diameter. Their volunteer teacher circles the room, hair tied back in a bandanna, white coat smeared in rich mud, offering assistance and tips. A focused body hunched gently over a pottery wheel in the corner coaxes new form out of a revolving lump of clay.
Joe Dodds and his Czech wife Klára opened this studio in May 2004 with a small grant and a little help from their friends. Its name, Muddum, is a mix of Czech and English — "like us," Dodds points out. "The English 'mud,' as in pottery, and the Czech 'dům' or house."
Muddum offers pottery classes for Czech and foreign students ages 3 to 80, as well as special children's workshops on weekends, private birthday parties and special classes for schools. Teachers at the center help students work through all the steps, techniques and ideas they'll need to bring their artistic visions into beautifully glazed ceramic reality.
Sitting at a secondhand table donated by a friend of Muddum, like most of the furniture in this space, Dodds explains that the project began with a grant from the European Youth Foundation (EYF). Volunteers who work on an EYF program for at least one year, as Dodds did for the Word Car-Free network (best known in Prague for publishing Carbusters magazine), become eligible to apply for a grant to launch their own project.
The 5,000 euro ($6,050/143,600 Kč) payout is generally intended to fund a grassroots project for an entire year. In Muddum's case it has only actually covered the kiln and a few other odd start-up costs, Dodds says — but that was a significant investment.
With class fees working out to around 60 Kč ($2.50) per hour, the school is now managing to cover its bills and break even. No one brings home a salary, so Dodds continues his day job as an English teacher to make a living.
"We're officially a civic association, which means we're able to apply for grants," he explains, "but I haven't figured out how to do it yet. I'm too busy. We basically make enough for this to pay for itself, but not enough for an income. But the main thing is that we do it because we love it. It's really nice to have our own space to try things out."
Muddum's bread and butter is the three-month pottery courses it offers for children and adults, but the center's repertoire has branched out since it opened its doors nearly two years ago.
Recent additions to the schedule include art therapy classes, painting to music classes and a new program called Nomad Arts, in which various types of artists will be invited to "mix things together and see how it turns out," Dodds says.
Little ones are also welcome to commandeer the space for their own events, which most often means birthday parties and special school outings involving clay and other arts and crafts. Previous events have included fairy princess and Star Wars–themed creative endeavors, with children drawing and painting fantasy environments on large pieces of paper and crafting clay characters to inhabit them.
In addition to taking classes, local and expat artists are encouraged to make use of the gallery space in Muddum's entryway to exhibit their work, and musicians sometimes use the studio for intimate concerts — all of which Dodds welcomes, embracing the idea of Muddum as not just a school, but a community art space. It has that feeling about it, which is no surprise given the number of hands involved in its refurbishment.
"This place hadn't been used since before communism," Dodds says, indicating the clean, softly lit studio around him. "Before communism it was a pub, and after that it was just used for storage. It took a couple of months to fix up because we didn't pay for anyone to help us. We just had friends helping us scrape the walls, repaint everything, get all the furniture and rubbish out, clean all the windows, so it took quite a while. But it's kind of nice now because everything we see, we know that it was our work."
An array of bowls, sculptures and decorative handcrafted pieces sit drying on Muddum's shelves, serving as a reminder of the dozens of students who feel the same way about the art they have coaxed out of unassuming lumps of clay within these walls.
Courtney Powell can be reached at email@example.com.