Have you ever asked yourself the “what ifs” about pursuing your childhood dream job?
Some questions you might ask could include: “Would I be good at it?”“Would I be happy?” “Would I be fulfilled?” Fortunately, Ellen Silberlicht doesn’t have to ask these questions. As early as she could remember, she knew what she wanted to do and she has worked to achieve it – a conduit of creativity, community, and joy.
The Potter’s Life
Ellen grew up in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. At an early age, she had a knack at creativity by playing in a sandbox and making sandcastles. One day, her mother brought home a book by Paulus Berensohn, a very well known potter and author. She took this book to heart. She studied it and lived by it. It was then that she realized that she wanted to be a potter.
But pottery wasn’t the only creative outlet young Ellen had. She was also good at embroidery, an interest she picked from her grandmother. She was so good that she won an award from the National Embroidery Guild at the age of 10. This led her to love and work with fabrics – felt to be specific.
Even though she was determined to pursue pottery, her lack of experience in high school may have hindered her in going to art school. College was fast approaching but she hadn’t started her portfolio yet.
Thankfully, her mother went above and beyond to support her creative pursuits. She enrolled Ellen in a 5-week summer course for pottery after her junior year of high school and even negotiated with the school principal to help her build her portfolio.
With only two days before the start of senior year, her schedule was redone, allowing her for a more focused approach to her chosen career path. To this day she credits the support and encouragement she received from her parents as a major contributing factor in her fulfillment. During her college years, Ellen pursued a BFA in ceramics and ceramics sculpture from within the school of American Craftsmen at Rochester Institute of Technology.
After graduation, she moved to many places including Israel, Oklahoma, and Arkansas before landing in Lancaster, PA. Unlike typical 9-to-5 jobs, pottery required constant attention and presence – it resulted in a completely different lifestyle – Ellen lived that lifestyle to the fullest.
“Clay tells you when it’s time to do the next step.”
When asked if she ever thought she’d return to Honesdale, “never say never“ was her response.
As a young adult, Ellen wasn’t interested in moving back to Honesdale. She also didn’t imagine becoming a teacher. That changed when she was living in Lancaster. At one point, she had the chance to teach middle school students about the arts, and she fell in love with it.
After spending 25 years living outside of her hometown, she returned to Honesdale and had the opportunity to teach at the very school she graduated from. Her memories as a student there allowed her to relate with and connect to her students better. Paired with her burning passion for the arts and her constant desire to learn, Ellen found a purpose teaching her students to express themselves through creativity.
“I really feel that my job was not an art teacher, but more so to open the minds and eyes of students at Honesdale high school through the arts.”
After 15 years as a full time educator, Ellen retired. She still continues imparting her passion on others. She posts a variety of instructional videos on some online learning platforms and is serving as a co-president for Northeast Feltmakers Guild. She has also used the opportunity to actively look for new techniques and resources and connect with like-minded individuals. In fact, she will be teaching a felting class in Amsterdam next September in 2023!
Ellen stresses the importance of connecting with people, especially with how the pandemic has affected communication with others. She cites the recent extended periods of time spent at home as huge boosts to her artistic productivity. Although the isolation has given her time to focus on her craft, she acknowledges that it’s not the same case for everyone else.
She reiterates the role of creativity in binding the community. Even with so many things being divisive today, Ellen believes that creativity connects us with others. May it be through shared sentiments, feelings, or reactions. Art lets us realize that we are not alone.
“I think that part of the ongoing mental health crisis is the lack of community. Creativity is an easy and fun way to connect with people.”
Parking the Potter’s Wheel
“We are all creative. And the more you can think outside of the box, the more creative you become.”
Now, Ellen is connecting with other people to explore her creativity further. Although she combines other forms of craft with pottery to create unique beautiful pieces, she decided to park her potter’s wheel to focus with other media like felt, sculpture, and wool.
With how fulfilled she is as an artist today, we asked her what her advice would be to a 12 year old version of herself. This was her answer:
“Life is going to present obstacles. Things that affect our lives in negative ways. Don’t be swayed by them, stay on your path and go after your passion. Be braver and stronger than you think you can ever be.”
Little did young Ellen know, she will not only achieve her passion, but will also find purpose along with it.