From humble beginnings a decade ago — no joke, she started her pottery studio in her parents' garage — Lyndsay Meiklem has established an arts and wellness center which fills many roles in her community.
Meiklem Kiln Works Art Studio & Centerspace Wellness Studio at 44-46 Lebanon Road in Bozrah is a pottery and yoga studio writ large. Beyond a full schedule of arts and wellness classes, which include wheel and hand built pottery, art marketing, Zentangle (creating drawn images from repetitive patterns), beaded jewelry-making, food and nutrition-related workshops, and yoga for families, couples and athletes; the center hosts unique workshops and events, like Holographic Sound Healing Concerts, Group Intuitive Readings, Summer and Winter Arts & Wellness Fairs and an annual pottery/art sale November 17-18.
A gluten-free support group meets monthly, and the studio hosts a free community yoga night once a month. (The next one is Friday, Oct. 19 from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.) A 200-hour yoga teacher training program is scheduled next September. There are even classes on making your own glycerin soap or lip balm.
Over the past decade, the center has come to mean many things to many people. "It's a social outlet, it's therapy, it's a sanctuary and it's a creative outlet," Meiklem said. "And I don't feel that any of that is provided by us as teachers; it's really the space that is created by the community of people that are here. New friendships are formed" all the time she said, noting that it can be difficult to make new connections as an adult, when life tends to move in established patterns.
Younger souls, too, gravitate toward the offerings. Meiklem described her summer as "whirlwind of kids classes."
Art classes start at age 6, and wheel-thrown pottery for all ages is offered so kids can learn alongside a special grown-up in their life. The kids, she said, love pottery. Love it.
"They're into the tactile, sensory experience of it, and that puts them into a meditative state. Even the wildest child," she said, relaxes in front of the wheel.
"The wheel is spinning and they're controlling it, so there's a mind-body connection that has to happen. And I think that helps tune their brains in a bit. They have a really good time. Plus, they're getting dirty," she laughed.
While Meiklem herself creates and appreciates beautiful art, her programs emphasize experience and human connection over technical perfection. She believes creative havens are a necessity in a "product-oriented" culture.
"So many adults, I find, call this their 'therapy.'"
The play's the thing
The need for psychological and physical exploration is one Meiklem believes all people share.
"Grownups don't have a word for play. We call it different things — hobbies, meditation, etc. It's getting back to that place, when you were a child: carefree, non-judgmental, not ego-centered."
What she loves about teaching, she said, is providing the space for students to "exit their thinking mind" and let the brain stretch and see what it can do and make.
"So many times I hear people say, "Oh, I'm not creative, I can't draw, I can't do art.' And the great thing about pottery on the wheel is I can reply, 'Well, can you drive a car? Because it's the same mind-body connection,'" she said.
Fear of failure is the biggest challenge she confronts in her teaching. Learning a new skill or art can awaken a natural talent, prompt personal insight or transformation, or it can just be plain fun. But to get at the good stuff, you have to stop comparing yourself to others she said.
"The most difficult piece is the mental block that people have, that really only happens when we cross over into adulthood — the vocabulary of "I can't" is suddenly born. There's no such thing as 'I can't.' That's another piece my parents instilled in me. What you're truly saying is 'I won't' or 'I don't want to.' Because you can always try."
Meiklem was living in Montreal, working at the Canadian branch of the Jane Goodall Institute — an international organization dedicated to wildlife protection, and founded by the celebrated primate researcher — and volunteering at the Fauna Foundation, a sanctuary for chimpanzees retired from biomedical research.
That experience "prepared me for a lot more than I thought," she said. "It's humbling to work in a space where you can't communicate with words."
She found herself each day inspired by the total dedication Goodall and Fauna Foundation director Gloria Grow, gave their work, describing them as women who "lived their passion."
When the owner of the pottery studio she attended offered to sell her the business, a light went on.
"I realized I really, really wanted to run my own business. But not in a foreign country."
She missed her parents. Returning home was the right decision, she reflected, but "a heart-wrenching one."
"I was leaving a life behind."
Meiklem speaks of her parents touchingly, describing them as "the grounding force" in her life. Her father, David, is a furniture maker and master craftsman who retired from his own business of 35 years. In addition to handling several small business book-keeping accounts, her mother, Cathy, has a long work history in community organizations and outreach, including as Director of Project Outreach for 15 years at the Norwich Free Academy.
Meiklem views her life work as an expression of both of her parents' talents and values.
"I am an artist," she explained, "but I need community."
Her parents were there to help her rebuild.
Her first pottery studio was in Yantic, next to her dad's workshop. A tiny, modest operation it was, with "10 wheels all crunched together and a little kiln," she laughed, thinking back.
That was in 2002. Today her studio is triple its original size. She described the center's growth as "a long and arduous, journey, with many a renovation project thrown in," she said, smiling.
Movement and form
Meiklem has been practicing yoga for more than a decade as a response to the scoliosis she has lived with since childhood.
"I knew that for me doing yoga was an absolute necessity, because I hunch over my pottery wheel for hours at a time."
Becoming a full-fledged yoga instructor in 2010, she said, informed her pottery teaching in wonderful ways. She experienced a growing awareness of the body language of her students, and noticed when people seemed anxious, or stressed.
"My language around my pottery teaching shifted," she said. "It shifted as my knowledge of how to look at and work with people's bodies was growing. My lens changed."
Looking to the future, Meiklem hopes to see more people embrace the "moving meditations" of pottery and yoga. In particular, she'd like to see yoga programs take hold in public schools.
"Our bodies are our most important form of expression, and sometimes we treat them like we're just using them to carry our brains around."
Meiklem Kiln Works Art Studio & Centerspace Wellness Studio welcomes walk-ins for any weekly yoga class. Other classes have limited space and generally fill in advance. www.centerspacewellnessstudio.com 860-886-8562