Area woman shares the arts and empowers Kenyan women
Life comes with its challenges but through persistence sometimes it can turn out to be better than expected.
In 2015, Eternity Gospel Ministry in Karen, a suburb of Nairobi, Kenya, reached out to artist Gail Jones, of Muncy Valley, to help open a clay studio. The ministry wanted her to set up the Eternity Pottery Studio and instruct people to teach future classes.
It took most of 2016 to get everything sorted out for Jones and her husband, Wyatt Timmins, to get to the country last November.
They took with them three 55-gallon drums and a kiln.
“It was all about empowering women and doing what God’s called me to do,” Jones said.
By teaching women how to make pottery, they can possibly sell it to create an income for themselves.
The church also wants to put the art program into its preschool as not many children get exposed to the arts because academics are seen as more important, Jones said.
Upon arrival in Karen for her month-long trip, Jones was given a 20-foot-by-16-foot room that was a storage closet. For three days she, Timmins and others cleared it out, painted and had outlets installed.
Jones worked with a carpenter to have benches and a table made to seat six people. When she was telling them how tall she wanted everything, it did not translate well.
“The benches were normal but the table was really tall,” Jones said. “While sitting I could raise my arms and touch the table top.”
While Jones was beginning to start teaching the art of hand building, Timmons was teaching and preaching at the church. He spoke during multiple services during the month as well as taught adult Sunday school and worked with Bible students.
In addition to the table situation, Jones faced other similar challenges each day, which were frustrating.
Once the studio was prepared, in order to start teaching Jones needed clay. She met an art teacher named Peter who made his own low-fire clay.
She said it was softer with no grog, which are particles of ground up pottery to bind the clay. The clay was about a week old, which is more fresh than she is used to.
The first time she was going to fire it in the kiln, the electricity went off.
“I didn’t know it went out,” Jones said. “Everything was immature, I was ready to have a meltdown.”
In Kenya, people put in tokens to get electricity. Once the meter runs out, the power is shut off.
She began teaching a group of 20 women during the day then a group of young professionals in the evening. Both groups were excited to begin learning but it was not as easy as they may have hoped.
Due to a language barrier and some not having a knack for it, those aspects made teaching a challenge for Jones.
“I knew I was supposed to be there,” she said. “But I realized not all of them are fit for it.”
After weeks of not getting very far with that group, she met a chef named Matilda.
“She is my angel from God,” Jones said.
At first Jones was not interested in trying to teach someone else to handle the clay. She had assumed that it would be another challenge to add to her plate.
Fortunately, things do not always go the way one thinks they will.
The two women met in the studio where Jones showed Matilda how to press the clay to make a plate.
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Having a culinary background, Matilda asked Jones if she was meant to make it as if she were preparing a tart. Jones said she smiled and knew that God had provided the right person to be the studio instructor.
They continued to work together and one day Jones brought in different stamps to create unique dishware.
“(Matilda) grabbed a circle and plastic fork, then she took what I showed her and quickly turned it into an African piece,” she said.
Jones’ heart was full. She was glad to see that Matilda was able to take her experience as an African woman and translate it into art. Her prayer had been answered.
“I wanted to give them the basics but have them make it their own,” Jones said. “This is what my heart’s cry was.”
Matilda was able to translate her culinary skills to the studio with ease.
One day when the group of women were working on their projects, one woman was having a difficult time. Jones came over to the woman, spoke with her then began guiding her hands, showing her how to manipulate the clay.
“Without being asked, she was taking responsibility gently, calmly and confidently,” Jones said.
From then on she was able to pour herself into Matilda to give her as much knowledge she could.
To make the classes affordable for women, they cost $5 or 500 shillings for three sessions, 1 kilogram of clay, firing time and to glaze.
Jones said she hopes people will want to participate in the classes.
As of now, Jones has no plans to return to Karen anytime soon, unless God opens the right doors for her to go back.
Even though Jones has been home for months, she said she has yet to properly digest everything that happened there.
“It was challenging but very successful,” she said.
Taking that time to start up the studio inspired her to move forward with her own art.
Matilda and Jones email one another throughout the week to encourage each another and remain friends.
During her time in Kenya, Jones said she was able to evangelize through her art.
“I truly believe helping people to wake up their creative selves helps them to become more of what the creator, God, desires for them to become,” she said.