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You Don't Have to Ask Permission to Play with Clay: T’uru Art Studio Manta

By Julie Harper

As a little girl, I used to go down to the creek bed to play in the thick red Georgia clay. I felt amused taking a handful of that ‘red mess’ and squishing it really hard, watching it ooze out between the fingers of my tightly closed fist, amazed at how, no matter how tightly together I held my fist, the clay always found a path of escape. I was curious at how silky smooth it was in its wet form because it was so crude when dry and hard. I formed it into different shapes, then lovingly decorated my clay cakes with dandelion flowers, tiny wild strawberries, and an occasional bird feather. It also was something I could do alone. No playmates needed, thank you very much. You don’t have to ask permission to play with clay. It’s always there, and there was always enough for everyone down by that creek. It was blissful!

The very image of working with clay undoubtedly transports many of us to that super sensuous and passion-riddled scene in Ghost between Demi Moore and the beloved Patrick Swayze, as “Unchained Melody” plays hauntingly in the background. That was about 30 years ago, but it still burns in our minds, sizzling! The true lovemaking was in the clay.

Though the polar opposite of that sizzling, yet fully clothed scene, to actually watching a potter’s hands gently spin and mold a clump of wet clay, gently transforming it into a beautifully crafted piece of art, one can almost feel their blood pressure drop. Just watching the action moves us into a peaceful, zen-like space and creates an undeniable urge to ‘participate.’

I absolutely want to participate.

Now, go ahead and imagine being the artist, molding the clay, caressing it, and feeling it slowly warm in your hands, shaping it as you alone desire. It doesn’t fight back. You are the creator of this bliss.

The beautiful thing about clay is it is quick to forgive and easily lets you completely erase the errors of your clumsy virgin hands’ ways like it never happened. The clay doesn’t care. And that’s good, because it takes time and patience to learn how much pressure to apply, or not, to learn the designs that one’s fingers create on its surface as opposed to a slightly curved caress of your entire hands, or perhaps a pinch at the lip of the mouth to your vessel. It takes time and patience. You need to find your rhythm. And, of course, a safe and un-intimidating place to learn with loving guidance and gentle direction.

I tried to find such a place after losing my husband while living in southern Indiana, just last year. I had a deep need to touch, caress, and create. I needed something to immerse myself in other than loss and sorrow.

Once, in my internet search, I thought I’d hit paydirt when I found a place called The Potter’s Wheel. Come to find out, it was a Christian outreach organization that took its name from one of perhaps the 85 references to a potter and clay in the Bible, our Creator being the supreme potter and we the clay.

Fast forward, I returned to Manta knowing full well that anything I ever hoped for always comes forth in Ecuador. That’s just my truth here. Therefore, I wasn’t totally shocked when I received a call from my friends, Michael and Amy, wanting me to come along for a tour of T’uru. “Disconnect from your routine, connect with your hands.”

Jose Gabriel, (owner of the Clara Barton School which is next door) walked us into the beautiful oversized artisanal doors. The brand new building is stunning and is flanked by gorgeous topiaries. The moment you walk into the space, ahhh, you are transformed. There is such a feeling of harmony. My respiration softly, gently slows…I think to myself, ‘I can learn here.’

One of the shop’s owners and José’s mother, Aida Herrera, met us just inside and gave us all a beautiful smile and a genuine warm welcome with her kind and patient demeanor. You can just, I don’t know, ‘feel’ it. Aida’s business partner, Suanny Cantos is her daughter-in-law. While Aida is the face you see when you walk in the door, Suanny shares in the day-to-day operations, and also does the daunting task of marketing and ensuring that their teamwork is indeed, going to bring something new and fresh to Manta.

My friend Amy and I were immediately transformed. We became a couple of ‘little kittens’ with new spaces and objects of art to explore. We go our separate ways, only to greet each other every now and again with a huge smile and a hearty laugh and hug, knowing we had found bliss! Yes….it’s that kind of place! And as curious as kittens, we relentlessly peppered our gentle hostess with 1,000 questions to which she responded patiently and in detail to each of them. Aida escorted us through the sweeping space with high ceilings, pointing out that it isn’t just clay they work with, but other malleable materials, using different techniques which also include window pane glass. The shelves throughout the space contained lovely fired pottery, ceramics, and glassware crafted by her students. But it’s not for sale…only a display, like a museum of fine art. There are beautiful work tables, colorful chairs, and spaces that beckon you to ‘be still, sit down and start creating.’ The space is clean, well-lit, and impeccably organized. There is a calming soft drone of these new artisans talking about nothing but materials and technique; the art and sheer joy of learning.

This is truly a family business. A family project. And with the launching of this project, it is obvious that they have each other’s backs. It’s a brave and beautiful undertaking.

How lucky are we, fellow expats? Every day we wake up, it gets better and better. Another business launched, another place to explore!

Everyone I encountered at T’uru was bilingual.

T’uru is located right here in Manta. It is next door to the Clara Barton School in the Gavilanes Urbanización.

They are open M-F 9:30 to 12:30 and 3:30-6:00. They do have Saturday hours with a 6-person minimum requirement. Call for class options and prices or feel free to drop in and check it out. They can be contacted through WhatsApp at 0987515619. Let’s start crossing things off our bucket lists.


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