After a decade as a potter, Jill Van Zanten received a challenge that sparked a new project: Create accessible ceramics, or cups, plates and bowls that would be functional for people with hand dexterity issues or movement disorders.
She learned that full access for the disabled means a lot more than wheelchair ramps and automatic doors. For some, plates need walls to act as backstops, and mugs need wide, tall handles for easier gripping. Cups should be square-shaped and indented rather than round and smooth.
“I had never heard the term ‘dexterity access,’” said Van Zanten. “When someone gives you a new word, it often gives you a new way to think.”
The result of her work, Purely Functional: Access Ceramics, is running in the Craft Center Gallery through June 3. A reception, free and open to the public, will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. this Sunday (May 15).
A show of support
Van Zanten, an English instructor with UC Davis Extension, brings more than 30 pieces for this solo show, with several set on a table for visitors to pick up and handle. Feedback, via a guest book, is encouraged.
“That’s the purpose of this show: It’s kind of the beginning of this project,” she said. “It’s very dependent on people coming and giving their feedback. I consider all of these works in progress.”
The pieces, in their current incarnation, are the result of discussions with her Village Homes neighbor Paul Knott, a C-6 quadriplegic, who posed the original challenge. She also met with a support group for people with essential tremor, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary shaking.
Then, lots of experimentation. One person wanted shallow plates; another requested bowls with spouts. Everything is microwave and dishwasher safe.
The exhibit includes several testimonials, including one from her neighbor.
More recently, she met with two members of the Parkinson’s Support Group in Davis. Their reactions were positive.
“I especially like the smaller, lighter pieces,” said Dorothy Ross, who facilitates the support group. “One of my problems with Parkinson’s is that I get tired and weak, so I need things that are easy to lift.”
For Susan Curry, who was diagnosed a year ago, the concept was new, but good to see. “I think it’s something I might really use in a few years’ time,” she said. “But at the moment I don’t need it.”
Passion projects and pottery
Van Zanten’s interest in pottery started as a hobby. While her children were not interested in their clay class, she was. Classes at the Craft Center led to her enrollment in 2007 in the ceramics program at Solano Community College in Fairfield.
“There’s something about working with your hands and clay,” she said. “It’s very therapeutic, very forgiving, compared to watercolor painting, for instance.”
The program required its participants to create their own websites and business cards — and to show their work. Potential customers can now find her pieces at the Davis Food Co-Op, Mishka’s Café, Redwood Barn Nursery and the annual holiday fair in Village Homes. She also sells her work online on Etsy.
Perhaps most gratifying, she said, was getting her pieces in the hands of the day-to-day customers at Cloud Forest Café in downtown Davis. To-stay coffee orders are served in Jill Van Zanten cups, which are also for sale.
“It’s very satisfying to walk in there and see people having coffee with my cups,” she said. “I just always get a kick out of that.”
The Craft Center Gallery, located in the South Silo, is open from 12:30 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 12:30 to 7 p.m. Friday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It will be closed May 28-30.