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Seniors create art pieces for center gift shop
Bulldog, Mustang, Rebel pieces are popular
Barb Lougee
Barb Lougee, 86, paints a large ceramic gnome at the Effingham County Senior Center. (Submitted photo.)

Special to the Herald


SPRINGFIELD – Lots of lasting impressions are being made at the Effingham County Senior Citizens Center.

Members are fashioning ceramic products that benefit them and the center. They are sold in the center's Gift Shop. The proceeds fund center activities.

“We want everybody’s artistic ability to come out,” ceramics teacher Velvet Callender said.

Callender has been leading the ceramics instruction at the center for just over a year.

“I’m still learning,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about it when I got here. I wasn’t hired for my credentials. I was hired for my potential.

“This wasn’t my forte.”

Senior Citizens Center Director Theresa Johnson never doubted Callender would be successful.

"Mrs. Velvet is not a stranger to the senior center," Johnson said. "She was our nutrition/educational speaker each month. She came in and discussed important topics with the seniors, and offered other resources that were readily available as well.

"Also, she assisted the seniors with the energy assistance program. During that time, she was the program coordinator for Concerted Services, currently known as Action Pact. Even though she enjoyed her job at Action Pact, she decided last year that she wanted to step outside of her comfort zone and try ceramics.

"She has been a great asset to the center and is always ready to assist in all areas where help is needed."

Callender picked up the basics of ceramics quickly from the center’s assistant director, Jake Zeigler. Under her guidance, the ceramics program has become exactly what Johnson wants it to be.

“The best part about this is that it’s fun,” Callender said. “I absolutely love it.”

Callender is far from alone.

“I just love painting,” 86-year-old Barb Lougee said while working on a large gnome destined to be sold to Pao Weitzel, another center instructor. “I love coloring and I love coloring books. I love anything like this.

“I didn’t know I could do ceramics until I started here a few months ago. Now I feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Callendar ensures that the members are geared for ceramics success. She prepares the “slip,” which is the suspension of a clay body in water that is poured into one of hundreds of molds that the center has on hand.

“You have to know if (the slip is) too thick or too thin before we can mold it,” she said. “When we are molding it, it has to be right on point. We pour it, we dry it, we shape it and then we put it in the kiln.

“Then we bring it to the table so that they have a choice of which piece they want to paint.”

Painting is the best part of ceramics, Callender said. Members are allowed to work on their projects at their own pace.

“It’s so peaceful,” she said. “Nobody is limited.”

The painting skills of the members vary widely.

“Some people are one-color painters,” Callender said. “Some people can paint details.”

Callender helps those with limited ability.

“Everybody has some skill so we work with them according to their level,” she said.

For instance, Callender’s steady hand can make a ceramic figure look alive by adding a twinkle to its eyes or individual strands of hair. She can provide texture to any item.

“Some people can paint three colors but it’s not fine-tuned, so I will fine-tune their pieces for them,” she said. “I take pride in seeing the seniors accomplish what they want.”

One member made a gray barn that Callender completely transformed. She added a door and windows, giving it a sense of realism, and applied a glossy coat to it.

“He was happy,” Callender said.

Callender recalled that her first piece was a replica of King Tut.

“It was sold right after I did it,” she said. “I didn’t really know it was that good because when we are looking at our own stuff we don’t see (the quality)."

Velvet Callender
Ceramics instructor Velvet Callender displays some Georgia Bulldogs items created and painted by seniors at the Effingham County Senior Center. “Dawgs” items are quick sellers. (Submitted photo.)
Callender said it is a great feeling for members to have their items displayed for sale in the Senior Citizens Center Gift Shop. The middle part of the store features “The Artist Spotlight.”

“Each one does something on the shelf and I may go through and do the detail on it," Callender said.

Callender said it is especially gratifying for seniors when one of their items is purchased for display in someone's home. Some artists are reluctant to let their works go, however.

“Sometimes people will buy their own piece,” Callender said. “

Lately, Georgia Bulldogs items have been popular with Gift Shop customers. Effingham County Rebels and South Effingham Mustangs pieces sell well, too.

One of the center's big yearly projects is making ceramic Christmas trees that light up.

“People order them so everybody will be doing something,” Callender said. “We will be pouring trees and popping them out. It’s like an assembly line and some of the members will be new at it.

“The trees go back a ways. Making them is a tradition here.”

The trees are available in multiple sizes and range in price from $35-$65. A Georgia Bulldogs-themed model costs $55.

The Gift Shop, located at 128 New Stillwell Road, is open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday.