In chapters one of Bill Strickland’s Making the Impossible Possible, Bill Strickland tells the story of how he opened the Manchester Bidwell in Pittsburgh. Chapter 1 told the story of some of the different kids affected by this center.
One kid’s name was Sharif. When he started to go to Manchester Bidwell, he said that he never has had a conversation with a white person before coming to the studio. He did not talk to Bill Strickland and some of the other workers there because he was not comfortable opening up to them. He then learned to communicate with the employes through the art of ceramics. Sharif eventually earned his master degree in fine arts.
One detail of Manchester Bidwell is that there is no metal detectors, no security guards. They do not pat down the kids entering the studio, and they do not take their bags before letting them in. This is small but very important for the kids. It makes them feel welcomed and appreciated. For most of the places in the city that these kids go to, even their schools, they would have to deal with most of these forms of security.
In the beginning of the second chapter, Bill Strickland wrote about his youth and the ghettos that surrounded him. He talked about the decayed buildings and the rusted doors that stayed with him in his memories. I think that this is a major reason that he created Manchester Bidwell. A clean building in the city would be a different experience and could help the kids for the better. If they experience these type of areas as kids, then when they grow up, they can build buildings or groups like Manchester to create more opportunities for the future generations. Near the end of chapter two Bill Strickland says that he grew by the end of his senior year. He was more focused and more mature as a person. One reason that he changed for the better was because of the ceramics courses he took. Ceramics changed him and made him look at the world differently.
The same has happened to me in the past year and a half. Before taking ceramics I thought it was just about making bowls and art was just painting, but I learned that it is so much more. There is art everywhere in the world and it changes people like Bill Strickland for the better. Seeing all of these youth without the access to experience art. He made Manchester Bidwell to help the kids interacting their also change for the better. All of these small memories that Bill Strickland has from his early life helped him to create such a large helpful environment that so many can benefit from.
The first chapter of Make the Impossible Possible talks about how the author was asked to talk at the Harvard business school. Ironically, Bill Strickland, the author, was not technically a businessman at all. He came from a rough neighborhood where the schooling system was horrendous. Kids despised the public schools of Manchester, thinking of them as prisons more than places of learning. Strickland’s organization, Manchester Bidwell, was a light in the darkness to the neighborhood. It was a place of learning, of peace and of joy. People who lived in the surrounding neighborhood could go there and make ceramic art. The point of Manchester Bidwell is to give its students a break from the outside world. Strickland’s own experience of founding this organization came from his first encounters with an art teacher named Frank Ross. The joy throwing brought him was to be passed down to Bill and Bill is passing it down to anyone who is apart of Manchester Bidwell. The way Strickland found out about his passion for ceramics was similar to the way I found out about mine: by chance. Bill Strickland wandered into a studio after hearing some jazz and smelling some coffee. He stumbled upon a potter, Frank Ross, the school ceramics teacher, throwing at a wheel. Frank gave Bill a try and Bill fell in love with the art. He felt there was “magic in the clay” (Strickland 42). Afterwards he kept coming back and learned the craft.
My first encounter with clay was on the middle school camp out in the 6th grade. Being new to the school I had no idea what to expect from anything and I certainly did not even know what ceramics was because ceramics is not offered in middle school art. I had been in the art room for class before and it was one of my favorite classes. I saw lights on through the big windows on the side of the Duffy Arts Center. I was curious because I had never thoroughly explored the building. I went in and was told by the instructor I could take a seat at any of the wheels and grab some clay. After sitting down I started to play with the clay until the instructor came over and showed me what to do. After a lot of trying I made something that kinda resembled a bowl. It was more like a rock with a whole in it. After that night though I was hooked and knew I was going to do that again.
Both our experiences involved us wandering into a Ceramics studio, not knowing what to expect. Chance plays a huge part in everyone’s lives. It is the reason we find things that we love to do.
Bill Strickland in Making the Impossible Possible chapter 1 dives right into his story of establishing Manchester Bidwell in a ghetto neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The idea sounds insane to the average reader but looking further into the text the story is amazing. It provided a place for the community to feel safe from the dangerous streets. Unlike schools and other buildings that had metal detectors at the doors Manchester Bidwell had a level of trust by having none establishing a very friendly area to work.
One of the very touching points made by Strickland was a story about Sharif a young man who came to Manchester Bidwell as a quiet separated person who had never been in a class with a white man. This was shocking from my standpoint. Slowly but surely Sharif opened up to Strickland and they formed a very good relationship through art that was quite interesting to read about. Sharif’s transformation from being the quiet kid in the corner to a great artist is something everyone should read about. With a little help and attention everyone can succeed but you just have to put in the work to realize what a student needs.
The other part of the chapters that really hit me on an emotional level was the story of the trip up to Canada. People who worked at Manchester Bidwell had the opportunity to travel up to Canada for research. These people who had been ignored for almost their entire lives were now given the opportunity to have their voice heard. This was an amazing experience for the people who went on the trip because for once in their lives they were treated as experts in their field that they had been studying in back home. No one before had given them a chance to speak on the same level just because of where they came from or what they looked like but the people up in Canada gave them that opportunity that made it all worth it which was beautiful.
I connected the Canada trip to a personal experience of going to the Bethesda Project headquarters to do research. We were just high school students outside that building but when we went inside we became part of the Bethesda Project. We were all treated as adults with everything to bring to the table which was a very empowering feeling. Sometimes people are just written off because of their age or appearance but with a small conversation connections can be made and you can realize how similar you really are to another person.
Bill Strickland’s ceramic journey is rather dissimilar to my own, but I still aspire to take away from ceramics what he has. In the first Chapter we learn that Mr. Strickland did not intend on going into the ceramic studio, but rather stumbled in because of the music he heard and coffee he smelled. Contrary, I have been surrounded by ceramics my whole life. From a young kid in the clay classes at Wayne at center, to my first Ceramics I class Freshman year, and now in Ceramics V and Art and Advocacy. I have seen my older brother flourish in the Malvern ceramics studio, and I wanted to do the same. I had every intent of being in the studio. However I have been able to experience similar feelings that Bill Strickland felt the first time he had the chance to work with clay.
It was nothing like I have ever done before, sitting at the wheel I feel the same way Bill Strickland does, like “Nothing I’d ever touched felt like that–like raw potential, like possibility.” That is the key thing that I have not been able to put into words as to why I love ceramics so much. Bill Strickland perfectly describes it on page 42 in the first paragraph. Bill Strickland was able to take his passion and love for Ceramics and transform the lives of many kids just as his life was transformed. With ceramics, Bill was able to change his life around and escape the terrible neighborhood and schooling system he was trapped in. He utilized what he did for himself and is now allowing a new generation or dreamers to do the same. Frank Ross instilled his ceramic wisdom into Bill Strickland, and now Bill is able to do the same through Manchester Bidwell.