PARKTON — Thirteen years ago, after a stroke robbed Tim McMillian of the use of his left leg, he thought his life was over.
“The first year after the stroke was pretty rough,” said his wife Martha. “He got depressed because he was stuck inside all the time and he had never been the kind of person to be inside. … He needed something he could feel useful at. Pottery filled that.”
Today, sitting in his pottery shed in his back yard in Parkton, a smile plays on his face as he talks about his passion, gesturing toward hundreds of pots, vases, plates, and bowls sitting on shelves around him.
Following the stroke, a friend’s invite to a pottery class became a light through the darkness.
“It was a lifesaver for him after the stroke because he was always an outdoor person and always busy and I think it was a really good outlet for him,” Martha said. “And he discovered a talent that he did not know he had.”
The passion grabbed him with such force that a second stroke last summer, which threatened the use of his left arm and hand, didn’t stop him from churning out creations.
“After my last stroke, they told me they didn’t know if I’d ever be able to use my hand or arm again so I started learning to do pottery with one hand,” Tim said. “I found I could still do it with one hand, not to the extent that I was doing it before, but I was able to do it.”
McMillian credits much of the recovery of his arm to his hobby, as it not only strengthened his limb, but his mind.
“I contribute a lot of my recovery to the point that I am to pottery,” Tim said. “It’s been something that I enjoy doing and it gives me the will to get up and come out and do something. If I didn’t have this, I’d probably be sitting in the house watching TV all the time.”
McMillian has been throwing clay for 10 years, and teaches classes to about five people. He has three kilns and pottery wheels and tools of all types. It’s clear he could easily fill a day with pottery talk.
“To be able to just take a piece of clay and turn it into something useful or something that’s funny or folkish or just something that is just plain dirt, and you make something that somebody comes by and just loves it to death … it just gives you a real good feeling,” he said.
His creations are varied — mostly simple shapes, but others emblazoned with a team name or a surprising color combination. Each has a story attached.
There’s the piece he learned to make with horse hairs and sugar to create indentations, or his Raku pottery, which requires the piece to be put in the kiln while still wet and features tiny decorative cracks.
Mary Ann Sherer, a student in Tim’s class, said she used to take pottery classes at a school, but has learned more from Tim. Even in the blistering heat, she enjoys spending time in the shed.
“When you sit down and you make something, it doesn’t matter what’s going on in your life, nothing matters,” Sherer said. “Everything goes away. It’s just you and that piece of clay. It’s wonderful, very therapeutic.”
McMillian’s home is decorated with the fruits of his labor. A blue bowl sits atop the coffee table, a tall vase holds flowers by the door, and a yellow fruit bowl displays a cantaloupe and peach on the counter. Martha takes the pieces she likes and blends them into her decor.
“To go to a show, I have to rob the house,” Tim said.
McMillan said part of the magic of pottery is that even pieces that he sees as flawed please someone — like that blue bowl on the coffee table.
“The glaze didn’t come out like I liked,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned it’s trash.”
While the underbelly and the inside of the concave are a shiny blue, the rim is a matte brown-blue — something Martha loves about the piece.
McMillian sells some of his work, but only charges to recoup his costs. He said the hobby is more for his mind than money.
“I just love doing it,” Tim said. “I sit down and in a matter of a few minutes, I turn a handful of mud into a bowl or a vase.”
— Features Editor Amanda Munger can be reached by phone at (910) 272-6144 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.