Tag Archives: 9th Street

East Villager discovers her true calling

13 Jun

Thirty-eight years after earning an anthropology degree and then deciding that wasn’t her calling, Helaine Sorgen has taught herself the art of potting and now runs a successful pottery shop on 9 Street in the East Village.

Clayworks, located on 332 East 9 Street, has been owned by Helaine Sorgen since 1974. “The store was a pottery before I even got here, and I’ve kept it that way as the neighborhood has changed around me.”

In 1971, Sorgen took a beginner level pottery class being offered at Clayworks. After a year of being in class, the store owners decided to close the shop. Sorgen then stepped up along with some friends also taking the class to keep the store in business.

“The original owner wanted out of the store,” said Sorgen. “All of the people taking the class decided to take over the store because we didn’t want to see it close.”

As Sorgen and her friends began to run the store, some of them backed out, but she remained at the shop.

Helaine Sorgen stands proudly outside of the shop she has owned since 1974. “I took this business over with a lot of apprehension, but I learned as I went, and things have turned out alright,” said Sorgen.

“Life happened. People grew up and got married and moved away,” said Sorgen. “Eventually, it was just me here and I decided to give running the business a shot.”

After operating on her own for two years, Sorgen signed the lease for the building under her name in 1974.

“I enjoyed being my own boss. I enjoyed the clay,” said Sorgen. “I asked myself, ‘What am I fooling around for?’ and realized that I had to take the plunge and lease the building.”

As Sorgen took complete control over Clayworks, she taught herself more and more about being a potter as time went on and the shop is now a successful local-run business.

“Learning to run the store and make pottery was a process,” she said. “I started small and just saw what I could do. Eventually I got better.”

Though Sorgen was truly passionate about potting, she remained in school and finished with degrees in anthropology and classical Greek civilization.

“Anthropology taught me that we’re all human,” she said. “We’re all essentially the same. The same parts of anthropology that appealed to me apply to pottery too.”

Sorgen now devotes most of her time to working on pieces to sell in her store.

“I spend a lot of time on each piece,” said Sorgen. “I rarely begin a piece knowing exactly what it will be. I try to make things that are practical for everyday life, and I also take requests from customers.”

Though passionate about anthropology, Sorgen doesn’t regret pursuing a career directly related to her degree.

“As a woman, there was no place in anthropology unless you were married to a man and wanted to be his secretary. I didn’t want that for myself,” said Sorgen.

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