Over 90 years ago Trudy Battershall proudly presented a drawing of a cat to her mother. “It’s a very nice cat, and did you copy it?” queried her mother. “Yes,” Trudy answered, “I copied it from the cat.”
“After that, I simply had to study art,” Battershall said Tuesday evening, during her weekly pottery session at Under the Horizon Pottery and Arts Studio north of Gettysburg.
Her initial studies after high school were at Oberlin College, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the University of Pennsylvania.
A year-long sabbatical in the mid-1970s enabled the gifted artist to study and expand her creative impulses at several of Spain’s most renowned artistic centers.
Not only has she studied at some of the world’s most prestigious schools, but during a career spanning decades Battershall taught art in multiple media to generations of students.
A long-time teacher at Swarthmore High School near Philadelphia, Battershall was also affiliated with that community’s public arts center and Swarthmore College.
She collaborated with the famous potter Paulus Berensohn, whose book “Finding One’s Way with Clay” has inspired countless budding artists for nearly five decades.
As Battershall’s loss of sight due to macular degeneration progressed and she could no longer live on her own, she moved to Gettysburg four years ago, where she resides with her daughter, Chris Starry.
In early 2018, Trudy got connected with Under the Horizon (UTH), which she says has become “the center of my existence.”
“We were lucky to find this place,” the nonagenarian artist declares. It’s evident the feeling is mutual and neophyte potters of all ages who attend the Tuesday classes are inspired by Battershall’s persistence and creative talent.
“She’s passionate about her work,” said Katerina Spangler, potter’s assistant at UTH. “Whenever she comes, I help her as much as I can,” Spangler said.
Spangler came to the U.S. as a teenager 10 years ago when the Spanglers adopted her from an orphanage in Latvia.
Now in her mid-20s, Spangler has forged a special bond with the artist 70 years her senior. Battershall addresses her young friend as “sweetheart.”
Although legally blind, Spangler can see enough to distinguish colors and in other ways assist Battershall as the two co-create beautiful pieces of pottery.
Her brightly colored fingernails covered with clay and wrapped around a platter taking shape on the table before her, Battershall said of Spangler, “She’s a wonderful assistant and I couldn’t do without her.”
While most of those who are learning to work with clay at Under the Horizon have normal vision, the pair of sight-impaired potters encourage all their students to close their eyes or look away while throwing pots and molding clay.
“I teach them to see with their hands,” Spangler said.
The studio’s founder and UTH’s driving force Cathleen Lerew said of Battershall, “I want to be Trudy when I grow up.”
Recognizing her elder has been a potter since before she was born, Lerew recalled that upon meeting Battershall and seeing her at work, “I was completely blown away.”
While Battershall modestly claims that her advancing age renders her unable to teach anymore, Lerew is insistent that “Trudy continues to teach more than she realizes.”
Above all, it’s Battershall passion for her vocation that inspires all who meet her.
“You never get over a love of art, it’s like a disease,” she said. “And I hope this article encourages other people to come here,” she said.
For more information about Under the Horizon’s programs and items, including the popular “prayer thumbprints” now sold in 25 states and five foreign countries, visit its website at www.UnderTheHorizon.net.