The man with the biggest heart.

I am really excited about my classes at Big Spirit Studio starting to get more people signing up! I love what I am doing and I know that I am offering more than just an art class. I know because much of what I offer and how I do it is informed by my experiences when I taught and learned with Kevin Nierman at Kids N’ Clay.

Kevin started teaching kids ceramics out of aa little garden shed, I believe, in 1988. He once said to me “ There wasn’t the right job for me, so I created it”. The job he created for himself was born of his desire to share his love of art and ceramics. And his true respect for kids and people. His business grew in size and now serves over 200 kids a week! The wet clay program is nationally and locally recognised as one of the best. Just last fall my daughter, who is a Kids N’ Clay student, and I got to attend a Berkeley city council meeting honoring all he has done for kids and the arts.

I have always been an artist and sought out opportunities to teach. By the time Kevin hired me I had a lot of experience teaching art. This was about 10+ years ago when I was in art school and I knew pretty much everything. I think I was lucky to get a job at KNC. Kevin has the ability to attract to him good, compassionate, kind people, which I was but mostly I was young and opinionated and loud. Here I would really learn how to teach, how to encourage and inspire. It was a dream job. It was hard at times, but making art with kids in clay is fun. It kept (and keeps) me loose, reminded that art school is only one version of the thing, Creativity.

And Kevin and his partner Dave never treated us just like employees. We were included in their world and their lives. We were heard and seen and respected and loved. They introduced to artists we should know and ate meals with us. One year we all went to an artist’s retreat together in Maine called Watershed. Heaven.

There were times when I needed some guidance in becoming a better teacher or in communicating less punkily to students or their parents. Kevin, a true mentor, did so without shame or drama but with a firm gentleness that insured he was heard and also that I would listen.

I remember watching him with kids and feeling real admiration. That’s what I want to be. Present with each individual in a way they can feel that they matter. With the kids I saw him subtly and completely engage them where they were at with respect for them and their points of view. He told me, “ I’ve always thought of myself as a facilitator more than a teacher. The kids are teaching me, it’s more of a sharing and exploration.” And the kids blossomed in their unique ways under that light! They made all kinds of different objects, functional pots to tiny hockey teams, life sized people forms that we had to build in pieces and glue together after they were fired. We almost always said yes to what the kid wanted to make. They are the artist and we, their assistants in making sure their masterpiece doesn't blow up in the kiln. They made work that brought tears to my eyes even then as an idiot of a 20 something. Those kids walked out of there knowing what they made was valuable and really good. That their points of views mattered and their visions were important. So from there on that seed would grow to help make them strong in who they were. Confident in their self expression.

And kids still do gain that self esteem there today. My daughter beams when presenting her creations to us. Fully confident that it is great work. And of course it is!

I learned a lot about the kind of person I want to be in those 5 years. What kind of positive impact I want to have on my community. My values bought a lot of real estate in Art and Passion, Integrity and Love. Kevin shows me, by sharing his life so generously, how to feel the sorrows and celebrate the joys authentically. And that takes courage, especially if we are a little different than society readily accepts. Oh, and we are all a little different.

This past Sunday while shoving delicious home made (cardamom) cake into my face with my daughter at a party celebrating Kevin and Dave, I watched them both give each person who came up to talk to them, and there were a lot, attention and love. Yes these are people to aspire to be like.

The party was in the beautiful garden of the beautiful home of good friends of theirs and it was filled with beautiful people.And laughter. I got to see folks that taught at KNC when I did, Curtis and Alyssa. It was great to hear what they are up to now. One of our students from way back when was there with her adorable one year old daughter.And I learned that one of my daughter’s teachers had been one of my students at KNC! I hadn’t recognised him because 10 years ago he was a young kid, but I recognised his mom and we put it together. How cool is that?!

The community celebrated Kevin and Dave before they move to a new town to enjoy making art, walking their dogs- Mork and Mindy- and some real sunny weather.

Kids N’ Clay will go on inspiring. Kevin carefully picked a successor, so Kids N’ Clay can keep going in the right spirit. Matthew is fun and funny. And present. He is not the new Kevin, he is Matthew and I’m very excited for what this adventure holds for him. And I trust him with this special business.

It was hard for Kevin to let his baby go, now he feels mostly joy. And I imagine excitement. His own work is getting recognition and he gets to go focus on that dream. His work is beautiful.

So at this point my business coach is cringing. “I said promote your Toddler Art Play Group, not somebody else’s program!” But they are connected.

Talking to Kevin today, letting him know I writing a blog about him, he said a lot of things that I say now about my art and why I have started Big Spirit Studio. And it took that conversation for me to realise I am that person now, offering an open compassionate space for being you. For feeling safe enough for self expression. I have my own style. But I, too, call my role being a “creative facilitator” and I see what I do as learning and exploring with the kids. I have technical skills and life experience to share with them and they remind me to play and wonder. And to ever expand my imagination. I am passionate about sharing art and creative expression. I get to share my light helping grow a love and confidence in one’s vision.

Kevin and Dave and Matthew have been supportive and helpful with my starting Big Spirit Studio. They know the work we do with people and art matters.

Thank you Kevin. Thank you.

With confidence and passion I invite you to sign up and join a class or workshop at Big Spirit Studio! It is gonna be fun and inspiring! Check out your art class here !

There is still a few spaces in the Toddler Art Play Group starting June 18th! Join me and my toddler in exploring art and making beautiful messes! We will explore the sensory experience of making in different materials. It is a spacious time to encourage the enjoyment of being creative. When the kiddos are ready we play and eat snacks while parents get to talk in an open and relaxed environment!

Let’s get them started early feeling confident in being creative and self expressive! Research shows that involvement in arts education can help ensure a child's success in school and life!:

Gratitude, Jenna

#art #kidsart #parentlessons #mentor #toddlerart #artworkshops

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