Clay Man A Life After Writing: Ron Arias (Peru 1963-64) Turns to Ceramics

A former English teacher and newspaper and magazine journalist, most recently for 22 years at People Ron Arias has published the following books: The Road To Tamazunchale, a novel nominated for a National Book Award; Five Against the Sea, a true survival saga; Healing from the Heart, with Dr. Mehmet Oz; Moving Target: A Memoir of Pursuit, and White’s Rules:Saving Our Youth, One Kid At A Time, with Paul D. White. Most recently he publish a memoir entitled, My Life as a Pencil. An amateur potter, he now lives with his wife Joan in Hermosa Beach, California. This  article appeared recently in Southbay Magazine.

Southbay Magazine

by Kelly Dawson

A soft melody of classical music is playing when Ron Arias enters his studio, lifting a curtain that divides the workspace from the rest of the dark garage. A single light shines above the small area and casts a warm glow on the clay-crusted potter’s wheel, desk and others tools that comprise his sanctuary.

Ron has been making the short walk from the home he shares with his wife, Joan, to this converted studio for years. It’s where he spends afternoons creating ceramics from the tan-colored mica clay he discovered on a trip to New Mexico. But it’s also a place where he’s learned to recast his detailed journalistic eye for the more relaxed gaze of an artist.

“It uses a different part of my brain,” Ron says. “I’m not thinking. I’m just doing.”pottermain

This calm enclave is in notable contrast to his previous office, where a flak jacket and helmet were stored away so he could leave at a moment’s notice. As a reporter for People magazine, Ron spent two decades traveling from one devastating tragedy to another, seeking out survivors who would articulate how it felt to be in events as graphic as an earthquake, a war or a famine.

But when Ron retired in 2007, he struggled to find something that “grabbed” him after those adventures. On a whim, he signed up for a ceramics class at El Camino College a year later, which led to further studies in painting and drawing. A passion turned into a business, and he’s been selling his work at Curious… in Hermosa Beach for the past five years.

“I just get off on the act itself. Hours can go by. Every now and then, when I get into writing well, hours can also go by. Then I know I’m in that creative zone,” Ron says. “When you’re in it, you’re oblivious to time. You’re just reacting to your senses.”

Ron balances what he calls “non-think” between his cozy garage studio-which has a back office for his morning sessions of writing fiction-and a community workshop in Manhattan Beach. At that space he molds brown, porcelain and red clays that are fired in a kiln and then dipped in a kaleidoscope of glazes for a distinctive sheen.

After a second firing he decides whether or not these bowls, mugs, tiles and other items are complete. If he wants, he can adhere a hand-drawn decal of a beach scene to please customers. But he could bring new creations home too, where his pottery blends with decorations purchased throughout the world.

“We have so many bowls, and I would give some away-but Joan has first dibs,” he says.

Ron visits Curious… regularly to take inventory of what he should make next, but he does have one thing for sale that no longer requires the same level of creativity. He published a chapbook earlier this year, My Life as a Pencil, to add behind-the-scenes details to his vivid experiences as a writer. The first story, about the time he had wine with Ernest Hemingway during a teenage hitchhiking trip to Pamplona, Spain, is appropriately available up the street at local wine shop Uncorked.

But those stories, as interesting as they may be, were not what caught Sophia Cesaro’s attention when she went to Curious… to buy a gift and was intrigued by a “blue vessel” that Ron made. After continuing to buy Ron’s goods, employees told her that if she ever wanted to meet him, she could. When they met, Sophia commissioned an idea that became a platter with an illustrated underwater scene.

“The different shapes and glazes he uses make it look like you’re staring at the ocean floor,” she says.

The platter is currently being shown at Java Man Coffee House in Hermosa Beach as part of an exhibition Sophia helped organize for the nonprofit Oceans Global. The process to complete this piece, like all the other pieces and stories to his name, did take some time, Ron says.

“But I like it,” he says. “I’ll do it if it’s a challenge.”

See Ron’s work at Java Man, on display July 16 through August 31.


5 Comments

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  • I am always honored and left with a beautiful feeling whenever my brother shares his talent. As kids he always had a piece of string in his pocket…his pet worm he would say. Making up stories of his “pet.”
    Thanks Ronnie for sharing again, Bobby.

  • Great article about a great and fascinating man. Last night I drafted this section for an article about my Peace Corps experience in Colombia:

    “In 2011 things changed in unexpected ways. Partners of the Americas joined forces with IAVE to organize the second World Summit on International Voluntary Service. We chose Barranquilla, Colombia as the site to host this world meeting, expecting to have around 250 young participants from a dozen countries. 900 from 32 countries arrived at about the same time that the first round of new Peace Corps volunteers arrived in Barranquilla. Many of the staff and volunteers from Partners were also RPCV’s so on the second day of the world meeting we had our 900 students who wanted to learn how to volunteers to serve, along with the new class of 30 or so fresh PCV’s to arrive in country after almost 40 years. I had no ideas that the Peace Corps volunteers were even in attendance until I saw an old, familiar face: Bob “Flaco” Arias. Bob had been the regional Colombian director for the Atlantic coast back in the late 60’s and now he was being tapped to do the same thing in basically the same area. It was like “déjà vu all over again.”

    Two years later I was in Panama and recounted this “harmonic convergence” with the US Ambassador, who said, “Flaco Bob is now in Panama working in a poor community out in the Darien.” Another jaw-dropper and another part of this remarkable story of Bob Arias.

  • Great article about a great and fascinating man. Last night I drafted this section for an article about my Peace Corps experience in Colombia:

    “In 2011 things changed in unexpected ways. Partners of the Americas joined forces with IAVE to organize the second World Summit on International Voluntary Service. We chose Barranquilla, Colombia as the site to host this world meeting, expecting to have around 250 young participants from a dozen countries. 900 from 32 countries arrived at about the same time that the first round of new Peace Corps volunteers arrived in Barranquilla. Many of the staff and volunteers from Partners were also RPCV’s so on the second day of the world meeting we had our 900 students who wanted to learn how to volunteers to serve, along with the new class of 30 or so fresh PCV’s to arrive in country after almost 40 years. I had no ideas that the Peace Corps volunteers were even in attendance until I saw an old, familiar face: Bob “Flaco” Arias. Bob had been the regional Colombian director for the Atlantic coast back in the late 60’s and now he was being tapped to do the same thing in basically the same area. It was like “déjà vu all over again.”

    Two years later I was in Panama and recounted this “harmonic convergence” with the US Ambassador, who said, “Flaco Bob is now in Panama working in a poor community out in the Darien.” Another jaw-dropper and another part of this remarkable story of Bob Arias.

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