By Carmen Anderson

Ermelinda began holding clay workshops for ages 6-16 as part of the local Youth Jamboree programme just before the COVID19 outbreak began to threaten Gibraltar. As the resulting lockdown eased and the summer approached, Ermelinda started up these workshops again, following, of course, COVID guidelines and regulations.

Within moments of meeting, I could tell Ermelinda was passionate about sculpting and working with clay. Her workshop, situated in Gibraltar’s South District, is lined with numerous clay creations. Works in progress catch the eye as soon as you walk in the door and the musty scent of the materials is pervasive. From this small, calm space, Ermelinda creates her pieces; work imbued with meaning, colour, texture.

Clay is such a traditional medium, as ancient as humanity. It is utilitarian and yet can be representative of conceptual meaning. Yet, as an art form, it is perhaps a little unusual in Gibraltar. I was eager to discuss this with Ermelinda and she explained that she felt there wasn’t enough emphasis on working with this particular medium locally. Here was her motivation for the recent workshops: she wanted to offer these to show the younger generation how positive and gratifying working with clay can be.

Ermelinda’s work is imbued with meaning, colour, and texture.

Ermelinda has a degree in ceramics and has wanted to hold these workshops for a long time. She explained that working with clay isn’t necessarily easy but that her students really enjoy it, saying: “Working with clay can be quite a long process, but once the kids get to see their creations, it can be really rewarding for them; it teaches them patience.” For Ermelinda, any way to get kids involved in the arts is positive, and introducing them to working with clay was just another way of doing so. A more physical, immersive experience, giving them ‘’something to look forward to’’ leaving them “so proud of their work at the end of it.”

During these workshops, Ermelinda also introduced the idea of how sustainable working with clay can be: “The pieces created with clay are durable and can last hundreds of years. You can also make functional products which can be used in many different ways.”

Initially, Ermelinda planned to show off her students’ work in an exhibition but wasn’t able to do so due to restrictions. Instead, she decided to go online and post a virtual exhibition consisting of a video showcasing her students’ wonderful creations. This can be found on her Facebook page ‘Ermelinda’s Contemporary Ceramics’. This video received a great response, with people even asking Ermelinda when she would be starting up adult classes!

Whilst lockdown has been extremely taxing on the creative industries, some artists, including Ermelinda, have expressed that it has given them the much-needed time to really focus on their passion. For Ermelinda, inspiration came from the coronavirus itself. She started work to create a project based on the highest number of active cases we had in Gibraltar during lockdown. It’s taking her a while to complete but that’s exactly what she wanted; a project that was absorbing and in which she could be totally immersed. She is now working on putting all of the pieces of the project together to make a complete, final sculpture.

“It can be really rewarding for them; it teaches them patience.”

She also created a sculpture called ‘Stay Home. Stay Safe?’ which won her the sculpture award in the Spring Visual Arts Competition. Ermelinda had seen a video about domestic violence during lockdown which contradicted the idea that home was a place of safety since for some it was the scene of threat and danger, and the idea for her piece stemmed from this; “It really affected me,” she said. She had a limited amount of clay available and so she decided to create a slightly smaller sculpture using a variety of different materials including plaster.

Ermelinda describes herself as a very curious person who enjoys becoming involved in multiple different projects and styles of art. It stands to reason, then, that she is currently working on a number of different sculptures at the same time and is also creating a collection of vessels; “I want to be able to lose myself in this collection and be experimental in my techniques”. She is also trying to organize an exhibition of her work for next year. She told us that it will have a theme, but it will showcase “a bit of everything.” And we can’t wait to see her work.

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