The mission of People’s Pottery Project is simple – empower formerly imprisoned women through ceramics. The non-profit ceramics studio found that pottery, ceramics, and making art is vital in healing trauma. In addition to healing, it might provide formerly incarcerated persons opportunities to which they are not normally privy.
People’s Pottery Project is headed by those who have been in similar situations. In such those in charge understand how this avenue can empower those formerly jailed individuals by matching up parolees with mentors of similar backgrounds to providing job training and employment education. Employing three full-time and two part-time employees, the studio aims to provide professional as much as emotional support to those that left prison behind.
The project began when Molly Larkey hosted a free pottery workshop for those experiencing homelessness. She says “It was immediately apparent that people that people who came to class needed to be paid for their time; not only to value their creative contribution toward the organization that was starting to take form as a way to put more options in their pockets.”
These gatherings were successful in starting conversations about job options and housing opportunities among those that attended. It was 2018 when Larkey got involved in California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP). In 1995, CCWP was founded by women, trans, and gender-nonconforming prisoners in California as a way to respond to the “medical negligence and subsequent wrongful deaths that were occurring in prisons.” Since the organization’s mission works in conjunction to appropriating mutual aid, Larkey immediately understood the essential matter behind focusing on the needs of those most impacted.
Larkey co-founded People’s Pottery Project (PPP) with one of her first attendees. When the studio was brand new, Ilka Perkins attended through the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. The organization that works to help formerly incarcerated people through legislative reform and parole board support steered Perkins, and her wife Dominique, to the studio. In 2020, Larkey offered Perkins a job as an artist assistant and soon thereafter, the pair co-founded PPP.
Ilka and Dominque were different than the majority of those that came to PPP because they had stability; they had each other and lived with Ilka’s parents so their most basic needs were cared for. Understanding how lucky they were, the couple wanted to give back to their community while they worked to get their lives back.
The first piece, the “People’s Bowl,” was designed jointly with a number of the members. The bowl’s design and glaze were elegant, indicative of the members’ character, and easy to replicate. The ease of the design was intentional such as not to “scare off” people who were new to the studio.
The glaze originated through experimentation. The color, a signature blue, reminded the members of freedom which was very vital to all involved. After the bowl’s success, PPP worked on 10-inch plates and bowls that come in three different sizes. Each item is 100% handmade; thus, the pale blue colors and earthen tones vary from piece to piece.
Each item is sold for $50 and it creates employment opportunities for those to whom employment options are few and far between. Aligning with PPP’s goals, the idea is “to share our beauty, creativity, to employ as many formerly incarcerated people as we can in meaningful creative work and make our ceramics accessible to anyone and everyone.”