‘Believe the Hype’ Column by Christine Stoddard: Caring For Yourself and Others, Come Clay or Snow

By Christine Stoddard | [email protected]

The following was originally published in the Jan. 25, 2024 print edition:

On yet another teeth-chattering morning, I found myself yanking on my snow boots and burying myself under an annoying amount of clothing. In less than 20 minutes, I was due at Artshack, where I would begin my first-ever wheel-throwing class. It was just enough time to walk, I realized as I double-checked Google Maps, but I didn’t want to risk slipping on the ice. I remembered walking through NYCHA’s Red Hook Houses earlier on in the week. The largest public housing project in Brooklyn has been under construction since 2020, and I found myself sliding on its frozen paths like a penguin. Such frustration would not be repeated that week. On a clear spring day, I could bolt over to Artshack, located on Bedford Avenue in Bed-Stuy, in a quarter of an hour. So into the car I went.

Warming up the car adds to the list of tasks that require winter’s slower pace. This is not a pace most New Yorkers seem to appreciate. We want to get moving, fast. Yet the reality is that we live in a place that demands extra prep on a typical January day. After we go through the annoyance of bundling up, maybe with a warm thermos in hand, we arm ourselves with ice scrapers, snow brushes, salt bags, and shovels. Then we brave the cold and all of its inconveniences. The upside is that we live in a place that experiences changes in season and snow, when it first falls, is a sight to behold.

Artshack, a Haven

Though I had never been to Artshack prior to that class, from the moment I entered, I felt at peace. Started in 2008 by McKendree Key, this non-profit community ceramics studio offers classes to children and adults, but, this being the heart of Brooklyn, it has a progressive slant. The studio, which moved to its current location in 2016, brands itself as anti-racist and queer-affirming, and claims a strong belief in “the healing powers of clay.” Classes are affordable, with opportunities for scholarships and free and subsidized programming for low-income members of the community. (Benefitting from such financial aid allowed me to take my pottery class here.) In addition to there being studio space, there is a gallery and café. The café seems to be an ecosystem of its own, with folks chatting or clacking away at their laptops.

Donations to Artshack are collected year-round and very tangibly broken down on the website at ArtshackBrooklyn.org. A $50 donation, for example, will pay for one child to come to Open Clay Time. On Jan. 27, Artshack will offer a free clay workshop in honor of Gun Violence Survivors Week as one of its regular Community Days. Participants will “create, connect, and shape symbols of peace with clay.”

My wheel teacher is Ivan Samuels, a talented artist whose pottery depicting coral reef motifs called to me. From my first interactions with him, I found him to be patient and good-humored. Any teacher will tell you that these can be difficult qualities to cultivate and maintain. Still, I didn’t detect even the slightest strain in Ivan’s voice, no matter how much I bumbled. In a society that emphasizes perfection, it was a relief to have a space to try and fail among encouragement. Clay is messy, figuratively and, of course, literally.

As I cleaned up, I remembered that working with clay sucks the moisture out of your skin. On a wintery day, that means applying even more lotion than usual. I personally prefer cocoa butter, though I must admit I have not tried any of the local Brooklyn brands. (Of course, I am open to suggestions.) You have to take care of yourself in the studio, much as you do in the rest of your life. There are consequences for neglecting what your body needs.

Severe Cold Tips For Everyone

NYC’s Severe Weather web page outlines snow safety because, depending on where you grew up and how long you have lived in the Tri-State area, it is not necessarily common sense. Our city has recently welcomed more than 100,000 new arrivals. Many come from warmer parts of the world; at this time the top countries of origin for New York City’s asylum seekers are Venezuela, Ecuador, and Colombia. Can they really be expected to know how to dress for the weather? After all, how many New Yorkers neglect to layer up? How often do I see people of all kinds not wearing hats, hoods, or scarves, despite the fact that most of our body heat escapes through the head? Proper winter attire is not common knowledge across America; even so, having knowledge does not mean having access. Thanks to that blast of Arctic air from Canada, more than 90 people died due to weather-related causes this past week. At least three of those deaths occurred in New York state.

Floyd Bennett Field Migrants

You may be aware that many asylum seekers live at a shelter at Floyd Bennett Field in Marine Park. According to ardent complaints in a Facebook group called “STOP FLOYD BENNETT ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS” (which I found because of a recent New York Post article), some of these migrants are going door to door not only asking for food and money but for warm clothes. Calls for donations to the “tent city” families have filled my social media.

While writing this column, I saw @southbrooklynmutualaid post a call for donations on Instagram. On the list were gently used or new winter coats, warm layering clothes (sweaters, heat tech, jackets), winter shoes, and ponchos. Advertised drop-off locations include Roots Cafe (639 5th Ave.), Community Bookstore (143 7th Ave.), Van Alen Institute (303 Bond St., Tues.-Thurs., 10am-5pm), and Brooklyn Army Terminal (with a filled out form, available on @southbrooklynmutualaid’s Instagram bio link). Inquiries for joining up the organizing work can be sent to [email protected].

Savvy Snow Removal

Now back to NYC’s Severe Weather tips. In perusing the list, I was reminded to stretch before going out; shoveling snow especially is a work-out. Another tip is to cover your mouth so brutally cold air does not enter your lungs. Shoveling snow can be a major heart attack risk, so take breaks and guzzle your H20. Also, keep dry, which means going back inside and changing your clothes if you get wet from lots of sweat, melting snow, or who knows what. And let’s not forget our neighbors! If someone is a senior citizen or has disabilities, they may need assistance. We may not always have the patience for kindness, but looking out for each other is part of what makes New York City liveable.

The City of New York also has a whole Snow Response webpage on the New York City Department of Sanitation site. Did you know that you can track snow plows in the city? There is a feature called PlowNYC that supposedly lets you see where plows are working in real-time. Of course, I found out about this feature after it snowed, so I cannot tell you how well it works. I will have to wait until the next snowfall to investigate.

According to the DSNY site, it is up to residents and businesses to clear snow and ice from sidewalks. The path must be at least four feet wide; snow and ice must be removed from around fire hydrants, as well as sidewalk corner ramps. If the snowfall ends between 7am and 4:59pm, it must be cleared within four hours. If it ends between 5pm and 8:59pm, it must be cleared within 14 hours. Snowfall ending between 9pm and 6:59am must be cleared by 11am. Precise! Fines range from $100-250. Yikes. Let’s try to avoid those, shall we? And not just because of tickets, but again, to do right by our neighbors.

Yaro brings ceramics, clay to Greenpoint

The streets around the Greenpoint waterfront are quickly becoming more and more developed with high-rise towers, however the area is still home to some genuine beacons of creativity and community.
Such is the case with Yaro, a new community arts center nestled quietly into the storefront of 76 Kent Street. Focusing on ceramics, clay, textiles, and other hands-on artistic mediums, the space plans on hosting artisans of all trades and already offers classes teaching local residents new skills.
Founder Andrea Kamini Parikh discussed the origin story and mission statement behind Greenpoint’s newest small business.
“I left a corporate job to start this,” Parikh said during an interview last week.
Raised in Texas, Parikh previously worked at a large architecture firm in the Lone Star State, where she quickly grew tired of the money-focused mindset driving the work. She decided it was time for a change, and set her sights on creating a new business — in a new city — that would be more fulfilling.
“I signed the lease right before COVID,” Parikh explained of Yaro’s Kent Street location. “That ended up being a good thing. I talked a lot on the phone with Diana [Rojas, Yaro’s Studio Manager] and was able to really explain my ideas, my thoughts about what the aesthetic should be, and how to execute it.”
Parikh is also relatively new to Greenpoint, and even though she had some concerns before moving because of the widespread gentrification in the area, she has since found her place among a wide network of like-minded friends and artists.
“I come from a mixed race, multicultural, multi-religious background, so I was a little concerned about living around just rich people,” Parikh said. “ I live on the other side of Greenpoint though, the manufacturing side, and it’s kind of like I know everyone over there.
“I know all the businesses, the places to always go to,” she added. “It’s almost like there are two different sides of Greenpoint.”
Parikh is hopeful that her work can support and encourage other groups trying to find their place in the greater North Brooklyn community.
“I think there’s a responsibility that you have to be aware of as a business owner,” Parikh said. “Our end goal here isn’t just to make a lot of money. Yes, you need enough to pay rent, but we are hoping to also incorporate a methodology and practice that supports artisans and teaches people something new through classes and workshops.”
Parikh has been fascinated with the arts her whole life, and spent her childhood learning how to work with clay, ceramics, and any other material she could get her hands on.
At Yaro, Parikh hopes to instill this same passion in others and to show people just how much they can accomplish with their own hands.
“I think it gives people agency,” Parikh explained. “If you can teach people to create a thing, then that teaches them that they can create things in other places in their life. It reminds people what it is like to really dive into something physical. There is something meditative about being really invested in a project.
“There’s a tactility to many materials, like clay for example,” she added. “There’s this approachability, like it’s inherent in our being that we know what to do with it. Maybe Patrick Swayze and Ghost helped out a bit too, but sitting at a throwing wheel feels natural and approachable for a lot of people.”
Currently, Yaro is offering wheel throwing ceramic classes, handbuilt sculptural tableware classes, and other workshops. In the future, Parikh and the team at Yaro are planning on inviting artisans from around the world to visit and work in the space as well.
For the time being though, Parikh hopes that her team’s success can inspire other people to pursue their passion in a way that will contribute something positive to their community.
“I think it’s really important, even for myself, to take some time and provide some space for yourself, to find a bit of balance in life,” Parikh explained. “We all make a lot of excuses to work really hard and be stressed all the time, but we work better and smarter when we are happier. So whether it’s making something physically, or cooking, or whatever, finding that balance is really important.”

Fill the Form for Events, Advertisement or Business Listing