As Passover approaches, Hillside artist Mimi Stadler has been putting out into the world her latest designs for the seder table, but also helping others create their own.
“I made these using a sock-covered tennis ball,” she said, indicating a seder plate with gently indented areas for bitter herbs and other Passover items. She turns to a platter textured and tinted to suggest matza and describes how she painted layers of resin over actual matza to create the mold.
Plucking inspiration from one’s surroundings and employing ingenuity to help express it is what she has done with increasing fluency through her three decades as a potter.
“I finally feel that what I’m doing is really good enough,” she said, showing a visitor around the gleaming “gallery” in the basement of her home and the adjoining studio, with its electric and manual wheels, kiln, glaze ingredients, assorted brushes, and — of course — boxes of clay.
That question of competence might surprise others. Stadler, one of the organizers of the fund-raiser art shows run for a number of years by Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey, has exhibited and sold her work across the region. She is also an accomplished sculptor. But every day she continues to experiment. “My question is always, ‘What if I…?’” she said.
On this particular morning, she has on her work table a tribute to spring — a collection of little blue and white birds inspired by a cluster she spotted in her backyard and created out of what is usually a vase shape. “They’re blue-spotted desk birds,” she announced with authority.
Having reached this place of pleasurable confidence, Stadler has found herself eager to help others express themselves creatively. Teaching isn’t new to her; the mother of three has taught youngsters over the years, including eight summers at Camp Simcha, the vacation center in New York’s Catskill Mountains geared for children dealing with cancer.
But now she is taking on adult students, too, meeting a growing desire she has noticed not just for possession of unique, handmade household objects, but to acquire them through the use of one’s own hands. Stadler has one woman who comes to her after a watercolor class, and two young mothers who come one morning a week while their children are in school, just for the therapeutic pleasure.
“Have you noticed the painting parties, and couples’ art sessions, and ceramics parties?” she asked, as she and a friend looked over her bowls and cups, mezuzas and menoras.
There will always be pleasure in acquiring wonderful objects, Stadler said. But when it comes to giving gifts these days, people often opt to give experiential treats like massages or dinners or — as happened in her own family recently — an on-line class. But coming away with something tangible has an added appeal. “I think the art classes and jewelry parties are part of that,” Stadler said.
Sherry Stein of Springfield started taking what potters call “handbuilding” classes in Summit, and then her husband surprised her with a birthday gift of private classes with Stadler, so she could learn wheel-throwing techniques. She is on her third set of eight classes.
“Mimi is such a talented and inspiring ceramicist,” Stein said. “I’ve grown more confident on the wheel because of her encouragement and patience and see real progress from the first pieces to the current ones.”
Asked what Passover piece she’d most like to create for herself, Stein answered, “a washing cup.” Whether that is a challenge for wheel, coil, or slab, student and teacher will decide together.