Clayworks in Art Therapy: Plying the Sacred Circle

Clayworks in Art Therapy: Plying the Sacred Circle

Clayworks in Art Therapy: Plying the Sacred Circle

Clayworks in Art Therapy: Plying the Sacred Circle


Clay is recognised as a medium of creative expression & also has great potential for therapeutic application. These properties are celebrated together here, exploring the history, theory & techniques of claywork in eliciting therapeutic outcomes.


I have long been fascinated with the hands of potters. Powerful hands, rough hewn from their labor, ply the clay with exacting force and an intuition that often seems miraculous. In watching the masters work, whether in person or on film – Taekezu, Temple, Volkus, Hamada – I often marvel at how effortlessly the clay moves under their hands. Such extraordinary facility cannot be taken for granted. As a young art student, I lost much of the function in my hands due to paralysis, which has since made my life as a potter all the more challenging. Thus this capacity – to possess the intrinsic manual strength to exert such powerful, controlled force – still remains a highly charged issue for me, as I write about the children and young adults who must also cope with weakness and fragility.

As a child art therapist, I am of course also fascinated by the hand as one of the pivotal sensory centers of the young child, one that directly furthers creative exploration throughout one's life. In a poem I once wrote:

Our longing for a sense of place
is made special by the new-born hand
that plies the soft folds and aureoles
of mandalas that beckon us still.

Palms and lips model forth our sustenance
conjuring the shining face of mother…
an apparition hovering above –
it is life's first image.

(Henley 1999a)

During our most formative experiences from birth onward, the hands (and mouth) become the centers of organization for perceiving and bonding to the world around us. As we revel in the warmth and comfort that such contact provides, we set the stage for creative explorations that . . .

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