Dude, Do you Extrude?

extruded pottery and glazed ceramics

One of the ceramics hand-building techniques we teach in Rockbrook pottery classes is extruding. This involves creating clay forms, or consistent shapes, by pressing clay through an extruder, a simple hand-powered machine. An extruder is really a piston of sorts operated by a lever. On one end of the piston’s cylinder is a wooden or metal plate called a die. Different dies have different shapes cut out of them. The whole thing works by filling the cylinder with clay, and pulling the lever of the extruder, thereby forcing the piston to push the clay through the die, and out in the shape of the cutout. It takes muscles to pull that lever, but it’s so cool to see the extruded clay come out!

Some dies extrude circular tubes, but there are also square, hexagonal and octagonal tubes as well. You can extrude slabs, coils and even half-spherical shapes. Extruders are great at making long, even forms of clay.

Of course, these shapes then can become the building blocks for more complex hand-building projects. Extruded clay can be combined to make really complex sculptures, for example when extruded tubes are cut at different angles and joined to make multi-sided vessels.

And don’t forget glazing and firing these pieces. Like all the pottery and ceramics projects at camp, the artistic results are beautiful! Yep, at Rockbrook, we do extrude.

Plenty of Smiles

Camp Ceramics Colorful Examples
Proud Ceramics Pottery camper

This, the last full day of camp, is always a strange day of wrapping things up, cherishing moments with friends, and feeling a little melancholy knowing that we’ll all be heading home tomorrow. As we pack and move luggage, there is a certain reluctance to let camp end, even as there are last minute activities and time to be together.

Today we picked up our finished pottery projects. All of the pieces the girls made and glazed during the session have been fired, their shiny colors now leaping up at you from each dish, cup and piggy bank. This is the first time the campers have seen how the kiln has magically transformed their work into these amazing creations, so it’s very exciting for them.  Katie and Will, the lead ceramics instructors, take great care to fire everyone’s work and have it available in time to take home.  It’s so cool to see how everything turned out!

Girl riding a horse in the sun

Down and over at Rockbrook’s Equestrian Center, Audrey and her crew of horseback riding instructors invited everyone down for their “Barn Party.” This is an event with riding demonstrations, mounted games, and decorated horses. Everyone who took horseback riding was invited to participate and plenty of other campers came down to the main lower riding ring just to watch the festivities. The funniest game was “Herding Cows” where three staff members, dressed as cows in white t-shirts and black spots wandered randomly while riders tried to guide them to a pen. It was pretty funny to see and hear (moo!). It was a fun, cheerful event for everyone, complete with chilly popsicles as a surprise treat at the end.

Camp Drama Play Production

Lunch was a classic camp favorite: grilled cheese sandwiches and Rick’s homemade tomato soup. They also served an awesome fruit salad that included the sweetest pineapple. After lunch, we all assembled in he gym for this session’s production of Schoolhouse Rock, our camp-wide musical. This is a play written just for kids and is based on the popular TV series with its well-known songs: “The Great American Melting Pot,” “Conjunction Junction,” and “A Noun is a Person, Place or Thing.” All three age groups had roles to sing with a couple of solos mixed in with choral numbers. These girls have talent!

Rockbrook’s traditional “Spirit Fire” brought our day to a close just beautifully. As dusk approached, the whole camp, all of the campers and counselors dressed in their uniforms, gathered around a campfire circle by the lake to spend some time reflecting on everything camp has meant to us over these last few weeks. We remembered all the fun events, and those moments where things couldn’t be funnier. We expressed our thanks to one another, recognizing that Rockbrook is wonderful chiefly because it encourages all of us to be our best. It inspires us to help each other enjoy camp together. I suspect that’s one of the main reasons it’s such a friendly place. The Spirit Fire can sometimes be a little emotional too as the girls realize the close friends they’ve made at camp are going home in the morning. Tonight too, there were a few tears, but also plenty of smiles.

Campers at Girls Summer Camp
Girl Holding Spirit Fire Candle

Following a long tradition, we ended the Spirit Fire by each camper and counselor lighting a small white candle from the central campfire. Sarah and the other Directors first lit their larger candles and everyone else filed by to light their candle. We then spread out around the lake singing a couple of last songs. Standing around the lake, shoulder to shoulder gazing at the candlelight and softly singing with chirping crickets in the background, this is a scene generations of Rockbrook girls have experienced. It’s a truly beautiful moment they will remember for a very long time.

Overwhelming Joy

Today, the final full day of this camp session, was a great day for marking some of the amazing accomplishments we’ve been seeing over the last few weeks. All of these Rockbrook girls have a lot to show! It might simply be becoming a really good friend for someone, but probably includes a colorful creation of pottery or cloth and a new skill shooting, climbing or riding as well. Most importantly, these girls have created for themselves a haven where they can be adventurous, feel very good about the decisions they make, and have the (silliest!) time of their lives.

Campers Riding Horses at Rockbrook
Camp ceramics projects glazed

For the horseback riding girls, today was an exciting day because the Equestrian Staff planned a “horse show” for them. Not a horse show with competition, judging and ribbons, but it was more of a party with great mounted games to play. One funny example of this was “Herding Cows,” where three campers, dressed as cows (their white t-shirts had black spots on them), roamed about the ring while riders tried to keep them from wandering off. Another game involved girls holding “dollar bills” between their legs and their saddle while attempting to walk, trot and canter without dropping the bills. Several of the advanced riders even jumped while holding the bills tight.

Up in the ceramics studio, head instructors Katie and Will revealed all the pottery the girls had made over the session. Fresh from the kilns, all the sculptures and pots looked fantastic glazed in dozens of different colors. This session there were trays, cylinders, coin banks, and plenty of cups and bowls. It’s always fun for the girls to see how their pieces turn out. Glazes often do unexpected things in a kiln, so it’s generally a surprise.

Campers perform play

This afternoon, the whole camp assembled in the gym to see the performance of our camp-wide musical, Schoolhouse Rock. Adapted from the popular TV series, this is a wonderful play comprised mostly of songs and choral numbers, several of which are very well known: “A Noun is a Person, Place or Thing,” “Conjunction Junction,” and “The Great American Melting Pot,” for example. Several parents attended the performance and everyone was thrilled by the singing. The intermission gave the dance classes a chance to perform as well. All three age groups presented, in costume, a choreographed dance number they had been practicing. Here too, we were all very impressed!

campers at spirit fire with candle

Our traditional “Spirit Fire” ended the day just perfectly. After all the action of camp, the big fun that happens everyday around here, it’s nice to finish up with a quieter time to think about what our experience has meant to us. With the whole camp gathered around a campfire, we all sing songs and take turns talking about how we feel about Rockbrook. From the littlest Juniors on up to the Seniors, Hi-Ups and counselors, the girls spoke so eloquently last night. One junior camper simply said, “I think Rockbrook is great and should be for everyone… except for boys.” Hannah really provided some insight when she explained she loves Rockbrook because it “ignites our childhood spirit.” And Michelle summed up her experience this session as simply “overwhelming joy.”

We ended the Spirit Fire by each camper and counselor lighting a small white candle from the central campfire. Sarah first lit hers and, following this long tradition, everyone then filed by to light their candle. We then fanned out to stand around the lake and sing a couple of last songs. As the candles flicker in the night, casting a warm glow on the girls faces, and as chirping crickets in the distance blend with soft singing, it’s a beautiful scene. We are all a little emotional about camp ending, but we know that what we’ve shared will stay with us and Rockbrook will welcome us back another day.

Campers Smiling at end of Session

Confident Sense of Adventure

Camp counselor with girl camper

During one of the many tours of Rockbrook we’ve been giving lately, a parent asked an excellent question. “What do you look for when hiring counselors?” It’s really an important thing to ask, and it’s something we think about a lot, all year round, in fact. We know that our counselors are certainly role models for the campers, but also friends, teammates, sisters and moms to the girls as well. The first thing we look for in a counselor is simply an enthusiastic, energetic, friendly young (high school graduate or older) woman who loves children. The best counselors are naturally “kid people.” They have an innate ability to connect with children, to listen to them, and communicate with them authentically.  This allows them to become really good friends and to forge great trusting relationships with the campers.  Of course, this makes camp fun and rewarding for everyone, camper and counselor alike. Even more specifically, another trait we look for in counselors, among many others, is a confident sense of adventure. This describes someone who isn’t scared to branch out and try new things, who is generally up beat and positive even when faced with the unknown or when something isn’t going exactly right (Raining? “No big deal! Let’s sing some rain songs…!”) Having a confident sense of adventure means being resilient, flexible, creative and improvisational. See how those are great qualities, and something that makes a wonderful role model for girls? There really is a lot of that going around at RBC.

Tying the knots for a bracelet
bracelet being tied to camper's toe
pottery thrown on the wheel

This year we are having the jewelry making activity meet on the porch of the hillside stone lodge. This porch, which is made of rough-sawed, oak planks, overlooks the lake and at the right spot, has a view of the mountains in the distance. There are a few rocking chairs out there and a big table with benches for the girls to use as they tie friendship bracelets, twist wire, string beads and weave necklaces. It’s a beautiful setting to spend time learning new friendship bracelet techniques (like that toe-tie!), and naturally just talking and laughing about nothing in particular. 🙂

If you’ve ever tried to throw a pot on the wheel, you know that it’s not easy. It takes great patience to learn because there are so many ways a spinning ball of clay can crumple, wobble or even fly off the wheel. Everything can be going great, perfectly centered, and then suddenly your nice bowl collapses and it’s back to square one. All of this makes it such a victory, a moment of pride, when a camper successfully throws something on the wheel, especially the first time.

Posing on the Blue Ridge Parkway

The Hi-Ups took an exciting trip into the Pisgah Forest this afternoon, stopping first at Looking Glass Falls. This is one of the most well-known waterfalls in this area, partly because it’s about 60-feet tall, but also because it’s easily seen from the main road. We came ready to swim, so after walking down to base, all of us swam through the pool and the spray just past where the water was crashing down. A few of the girls ventured closer to let some of the water smack them on the back, but it looked a little intense, if not painful, so there weren’t many takers. The cold mountain water and the roar of the falls was enough for most of us. Back in the buses, it was then just a short trip further to reach the Pounding Mill overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of our favorite stopping spots up there. It’s 4700 feet up (Rockbrook’s elevation is about 2350 ft) and provides a grand view of Looking Glass Rock below, a popular rock climbing destination.  By the time we arrived it was getting near dinner time and there was a stop at Dolly’s in the plan as well, so today we came just for the view and a quick group picture.  It’s always nice to get a little altitude!

Doubling Friends

Making true friends at camp

One of the great things about coming to a sleepaway summer camp is the way the environment, the setting, and the culture of the place, all encourage kids to make friends. We’re really seeing this these days at Rockbrook, as obvious groups of laughing girls seem to always be together, to be signing up for activities together, and grabbing muffins together at “muffin break.” We’ve talked about the importance of camp friends before, but it’s so obvious to notice in action. These girls are sharing so many wonderful experiences, meeting so many nice people who are relaxed and open, and exploring the outdoors together, it’s just an ideal setting to forge meaningful relationships. Away from the more rigid expectations of school and their school peers, and immersed in a place like this where you can be your true self, camp is a magical place where girls easily make true friends.

This morning we were treated to amazing mountain weather with a little fog and low 60s when we woke up and then bright sunshine throughout the day. It made our morning activities in camp and our out of camp trips (a waterfall hike and a rock climb) just perfect. The girls were finishing up their first set of activities today, so it was great fun to dig deeper into camp. Shooting a real gun, making a cool new pottery mug, learning a few yoga poses, and climbing up a 100ft tall rock. Pause for muffin break… today “Oatmeal Cinnamon Raisin.” Then, we’re off for more adventure, sports, arts and horseback riding, sprinkled with a good dose imagination.

Kid at camp shooting a rifle

The afternoon, it being Wednesday, brought “Cabin Day,” a time each week when we stick together as a cabin group for activities instead of breaking up and following our individual activity schedules. Groups of girls were playing games on the hill, taking hikes to Castle Rock, swimming at the lake, making baskets and others enjoying smoothies in the dining hall… all great ways to build cabin camaraderie. Later in the afternoon, the entire Senior line took a trip into Pisgah to visit Sliding Rock. We waited until later so the crowds would be gone and we could have the rock for ourselves, which turned out to be a good idea since we had 85 people in our group! Most of the girls slid down 4 or 5 times, until we all got hungry enough for a picnic supper (some of Rick’s homemade salads— potato, egg, chicken and pimento cheese —on croissants, fruit and Alison’s lemon bars.  It felt so good to be out in the forest together enjoying each others company and good food after the big (and chilly!) adventure of Sliding Rock.  And to top it all off, we just had to stop at Dolly’s for a cone of their fantastic ice cream, the Rockbrook Chocolate Illusion being a favorite flavor.  An awesome trip.

Wonder, Creativity and Adventure

Whitewater Rafting Fun for Kids

Camp was full of wonder, creativity and adventure today, with so much going on. A big group of seniors and middlers headed over to the Nantahala River for a whitewater rafting trip. We packed up our gear, a great picnic lunch, and pulled the buses out of camp after breakfast. It was about a 2 hour drive, but with a quick bathroom/stretch/snack break, we arrived at the edge of the river in time for lunch. We really lathered on the sunscreen because it was a bright sunny day— perfectly warm to balance the cold river water. Clyde, the Rockbrook Adventure Director, and his crew met us at the top of the river with the RBC rafts blown up and ready to go. Every girl is outfitted with a life jacket (PFD), helmet and paddle before dividing up into groups of 5 for each raft. Then it’s 9 miles of rapids going down the river with the finale being the class III Nantahala Falls. True adventure!

Child glazing camp pottery mug
child horseback riding
girl climbing summer camp

Meanwhile in camp, the girls taking pottery were hard at work on their face mugs.  These are fun creative projects that start with slabs of clay they shape into a cylinder.  Then after attaching a handle, each mug gains character with an individualized face… eyes, nose, mouth, even teeth and eyebrows sometimes.  The final step for the girls is to paint on several colors of glaze before the pottery instructors fire the pieces in the kilns.

Down at the equestrian center, Cara and Audry along with the other horseback riding instructors are keeping the campers happy with the Rockbrook horses.  If you haven’t seen them in the photo gallery, they are a great looking bunch, from our smallest Welsh Ponies up to our 17.1 hand thoroughbred gelding Gordon.  There are lessons going on all day down there, from first time riders to girls learning to jump.  It’s always amazing to see the look of wonder on the girls faces as they learn to ride comfortably these great horses.

On the other side of camp, the alpine tower was crawling with campers, quite literally!  Every age group, from the youngest Juniors to the oldest Seniors, can sign up to climb this 50ft high ropes course tower.  It provides all levels of climbing challenges, and the staff members are great at starting girls out with the best route to match their ability.  There are easier ways to get to the top, and really tough obstacles for the more experienced climber.

Dressed up little girls at camp

Dinner tonight was a big surprise for the campers; it was “Restaurant Night,” but also with a dress up theme, the game of “Clue.” All the girls dressed up as players of the game in some “mysterious costume” they created, and the counselors dressed up as characters from “Clue” like Mrs. White, Professor Plum, and Ms. Peacock. The staff served the campers a wonderful meal of roasted chicken, pasta, salad and fresh fruit, but afterwords the game began. Each cabin was given an initial clue that when solved sent them to another part of the camp to meet one of the game’s characters and to receive a new clue. Each station/character also required the whole cabin group to perform some kind of challenge before receiving their next clue, challenges like singing a particular song, untying a human knot, or everyone telling a joke. Ultimately, once a cabin solved all the clues/riddles they were led back to the dining hall for prizes and treats. Wow, what a game! Everyone loved the action, the costumes, the imagination and cabin group cooperation it required, not to mention how much fun it was.

Activities for Everyone

Rockbrook Girls Smiles at Pottery Activity

The first day of activities this session is full speed ahead with all of the activities ready for action. As we all enjoyed perfect summer weather (warm during the day and cool at night), campers were making pottery, designing weaving projects, and decorating their first pillow case. A few girls also went rock climbing with Clyde, our adventure director. Girls shot arrows and guns, did flips at gymnastics and cannonballs at the lake. Down at the equestrian center, Cara had girls up and riding.

Halfway through the morning at our “Muffin Break,” everyone ran for a treat freshly baked by Liz. We look forward to seeing what flavor she makes for us everyday. Today, lemon.

Jerry Stone at Castle Rock

After rest hour, Jerry, Jessi, Tara and Michelle took a big group of campers on a hike to Kilroy’s Cabin. This is a special hike to a remote part of the Rockbrook property that first takes you to Castle Rock where you can rest and enjoy the unforgettable view of the French Broad river valley. From there, the hike is a bushwhack through the forest with no trail as a guide. Jerry knows the way, but few others can find the old abandoned cabin. Kilroy’s Cabin is the center of an elaborate, and maybe a little bit spooky, story told at camp. I’ll save the details for later, but it involves a nurse with red hair, love, jealousy and a car crash late one stormy night on a slippery bridge. Ooooooooo. (cue eery music!).

For dinner, a classic camp favorite was served— spaghetti with red sauce. In addition to the salad bar, each table had a bowl of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and basil, and warm bread. It really hit the spot after our action-packed day. But that’s pretty normal for Rockbrook. Camp is action!

Summer Pottery Program

Summer Pottery Arts Program

The Rockbrook pottery program continues to be a very popular activity at camp.  Both  pottery studios always seem to be humming— girls sculpting, pressing or decorating something, and instructors zipping around to give pointers, prepare materials, or plan a kiln firing. All this action means that there are some pretty cool things being made too! There are multi-colored tiles, sculpted miniature animals, giant coil pots (like the one in this photo), and delicate wheel-thrown cups and bowls.

One really cool project is to take a smooth flat slab of clay and press natural forms into it so that they leave intricate textures. Little twigs, leaves, and tree bark, for example, all leave amazing patterns. You can then use the slab to make a vase or some other vessel.

It’s easy to see why the Rockbrook summer arts program is so well loved.  There’s almost an endless variety of pottery projects to make, great satisfaction seeing how they turn out when glazed and fired, and the fun of being with your friends throughout.

How to Make Wheel-Thrown Ceramics

wheel-thrown ceramics at camp

“Can you learn how to use the potter’s wheel?”

Yes, you can! The Rockbrook ceramics camp activities let campers improve their pottery skills so they can learn to throw pots on the wheel.  After practicing other ceramics techniques, specifically hand-building methods like pinch, coil and slab pottery, it’s exciting to learn about the potter’s wheel. 

Like any skill, this takes practice, but to get started you’ll work on 4 key steps:

  1. Centering the clay on the wheel.
  2. Opening up the center of the clay.
  3. Pulling up the walls and shaping the piece.
  4. Trimming the base of the piece.

Of course there’s lots of detail to each of these steps, but this brief outline gives you a sense of what’s involved in learning to throw ceramics on the potter’s wheel. Real art! Over a few weeks at camp, you’ll be surprised how good you can get and be amazed at the cool things you can make.  Maybe next summer, you can finish a whole set of matching mugs!

P.S. If you want to read more about it, check out the book Wheel-Thrown Ceramics, by our friend Don Davis.  It’s the best one around.

Pottery — A craft tradition for girls at Rockbrook

Girls Crafts and Ceramics Camp

One of the many folk crafts of the Appalachian region, including the area around Rockbrook Camp, is pottery. Following a long tradition of people making household pots from clay, there are now, according to the Southern Highland Craft Guild, more than 125 ceramic artists and potters working in western North Carolina. Using traditional and modern techniques, the most amazing sculpture, tiles, pots and other vessels still spring from these hills.

At Rockbrook, girls and crafts definitely go together, and making pottery is something just about everyone does. It’s probably one of the most popular activities, in fact (not counting horseback riding 🙂 ). Working with clay, pinching, rolling, flattening, shaping, texturizing, and spinning on the wheel, the girls make some amazing things. It’s particularly exciting to see how the glazes come out after firing their work. Who would think continuing an Appalachian crafts tradition would be so fun!