The fine art of shaping youth

Sara Wedman holds a collection of handmade hoop earrings while looking through a ceramic planchette on April 10, 2018, at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif. Wedman makes handcrafted jewlery as a hobby and sells pieces through her business. Photo by: Natalie Miranda

The relationship between shaping minds and shaping clay may not be apparent to some. But for Sara Wedman, her artistry and her career go hand-in-hand.

Wedman attended Pierce College in the ‘80s and was a photo lab assistant in the Media Arts Department while she was also taking classes in art and early childhood development. But the clay studio where she worked in Sherman Oaks was restructured, which led her to La Cañada Flintridge and the single class she still had.

She took over a preschool class for three year olds that was offered at the community center she worked at and loved how the children behaved.

“The three-year-olds would come to the clay studio, and I would do clay class with them,” Wedman said. “They weren’t putting clay fingers in their mouth, but they are three and it’s very exploratory.”

The reactions Wedman received from the children and observing the way they worked with the clay made her believe she missed her calling. After speaking with the director of the preschool, she became an assistant preschool teacher and has been helping there for four years.

She stopped going to school because work had become too demanding, but was content with the single class she taught.

“I… was happy just to do the one little clay class with the three year olds, because they don’t care. Like, they can do anything with clay and they’re happy. Their love for exploring the medium [is] kind of what it’s about.” Wedman said.

Wedman said she does care about her own work, but it’s not everything. The creation of the art is the best part for her, and she said that’s what the children embody.

“I thought that’s kind of what you needed to do as an artist. But, man, I like a process,” Wedman said. “I like to produce finished pieces, but the process is so cool, and what they come up with.

Melody Cooper, professor of art, is one of the first teachers that Wedman worked with that lead her down the path of claywork.

“I had wanted to take a jewelry making class. So, looking through the catalog at Pierce, I saw they no longer offered that class,” Wedman said. “So, then I saw the ceramics course, and I was like, ‘Hey, I did that in high school. I liked it, I will try that.’ And so that sort of snowballed.”

Cooper said Wedman knew certain things when she was her student and she helped her grow.

“She came to me with a lot of good raw materials because she’s a great student,” Cooper said. “She’s very dedicated and very passionate about what she is working on. She has a great imagination.”

Although Wedman is no longer Cooper’s student, they consider each other friends.

“We still keep in touch because the thing is, with the world of ceramics, it’s a small community, and so it is like a family,” Cooper said.

Amy Marotta works at the preschool with Wedman, and said that she made a lasting first impression on her.

“I actually really liked her right away,” Marotta said. “When I first started, she was actually subbing as a lead teacher for somebody who was out on maternity leave, and I thought she just had the most soothing voice. She was calming but had a very strong presence.”

Wedman doesn’t only make clay projects with children, she also creates her own jewelry. She said she first learned how to make a particular style using precious metal clay from Cooper.

Wedman stopped any personal art projects for at least two years, and over Christmas break last year, she decided she had many materials that she could use to create jewelry.

“I’ve always had a mild interest in visual body modifications. I’ve had my share of piercings, had tattoos, these kinds of things,” Wedman said. “The really big weighted hoops and ear weights and things just blew. It’s so mainstream now, and it wasn’t back in the nineties when it was first starting and when I got my first piercings. I was like, ‘That’s really cool, that’s really beautiful,’”

She started making jewelry and putting it on her personal Instagram account. She doesn’t have a lot of followers, but people are interested in her work.

Although she enjoys making jewelry, she learned that hoop earrings in particular had a story behind them that she couldn’t let pass. She felt that it was important for her to be aware of what she was creating and the history that came along with it.

“I had no idea that hoop earrings were so loaded,” Wedman said. “And especially in our current climate, I’m like, ‘OK, so here I am.’ I’m just trying to be creative, and now, all of a sudden, I’m coming into contact with a lot.”

After finding various articles on cultural appropriation and how some of society felt in regards to it, Wedman said she would make sure she was more aware as an educator and a human being of what she was doing and creating.

Wedman said as she began to think about things, she made a realization.

“I’m realizing my white privilege is showing as I’m having this conversation with myself. So I said ‘Okay, I’m going to start to do a little research,’” Wedman said. “But everything else in my life is really busy, and I’m like ‘Okay, that’s my white privilege.’ Not to have to deal with it then, but to deal with it when I want to.”

As she started researching and looking into the history of piercings and what cultures different styles came from, Wedman decided that she wanted make sure she was respectful of the influences she used in her art.

Sara said where she is today is not where she expected to be. She barely graduated high school, she got married young and then divorced, and dealt with family loss recently.

But her path is what led her to the work she does, and she is happy.

“Since I’ve been with the preschool, this is the first time where I’ve consciously decided on an outcome that may be a little ways off,” Wedman said. “I’ve just sort of taken opportunities as they’ve come.”

Wedman is back in school to finish early childhood education courses so she can work toward becoming a lead teacher. She also plans to continue creating artwork for herself.

“I’m happy, kind of like being my own little like mad scientist in the lab. I’m just doing it for me.” Wedman said.