Stress. Anxiety. Depression. Symptoms from these issues can range from simply distracting to crippling. Mt. Airy artist Yinka Orafidiya turned to ceramics to help her cope when she felt depression sink in.
When Orafidiya first put her hands on the wheel as a break from her engineering and math course load at University of Pennsylvania, she didn’t expect to become a professional artist.
“It was never my intention to pursue ceramics. I was on the track of ‘I need money, must make money, must pay off loans.’ So I graduated and went to work in pharmaceuticals for five or six years and that’s when the depression just hit me,” Orafidiya said.
After quitting her job, Orafidiya thought back to the therapeutic nature of clay making and took a chance. She called The Clay Studio in Old City to see if there was a way for her to get involved despite limited experience.
Jennifer Martin, currently the vice president of the studio, decided to give Orafidiya a shot and accepted her to the studio’s work exchange program. The exchange typically lasts two years and teaches artists to hone their skills while they learn about aspects of business and teaching as well. In exchange, artists help with a various tasks, including studio maintainence and leading workshops.
Orafidiya found that spending hours with clay helped ease her anxiety and rebalance.
“Anytime I touch clay, I mean it’s not a cure, but when I touch it I’m not anxious. It’s very hard to be at the wheel and be anxious. There’s something soothing about the hum of the wheel and the feel of the clay, whatever chaotic thoughts I had wouldn’t disappear but they would go on mute,” Orafidiya said.
With community support, Orafidiya recently landed in Hungary for a 30-day residency at the International Ceramics Studio. Orafidiya will stay with other artists on grounds where they have access to studios day and night. Orafidiya raised over $7,000 through USA Projects , a crowdfunding website for artists. She also held fundraisers in Mt. Airy at The Juice Room and Video Library where she sold mugs from her exhibit “All or Nothing.”
Working at The Clay Studio
Orafidiya said The Clay Studio has nurtured her work over the last three years. Last year, the studio hosted Orafidiya’s “All or Nothing” exhibit, an experience Orafidiya said bonded her with many people.
“My work isn’t refined or fancy but people were really drawn to the candid nature of the topic,” said said.
“I established an amazing connection with strangers, so I decided right then and there that I wanted to continue doing this for my own emotional well-being but also, in general I have trouble connecting with people. During the course of this show, I felt so supported and accepted,” Orafidiya said.
As a component of “All or Nothing,” she passed out cups etched with her darkest thoughts and anxieties. “Hopeless”, “failure” and “despicable” were a few of the words written across the cups’ swirled hues.
“Clay is tactile and it’s hands on. The medium can be very therapeutic and expressive and meditative all at the same time. There’s something about the physicality of clay — you really engage your whole body,” said Josie Bockelman, The Clay Studio’s school coordinator.
The Clay Studio holds a variety of classes and programs for people to get their hands dirty, from artist residencies to date night workshops. The studio aims to make ceramics accessible to many people through outreach programs with local organizations, detention centers, and schools.