Molding Kindness with Clay - Communities Crossing State Lines

The stroke left Phil unable to feel the clay with his dominant hand. He takes the conventional techniques taught by Lori and modifies them into an unconventional method he can use to make his pottery his own.

Phillip Holeman has spent a lifetime creating a sense of happiness with his talents. He is a local boy to Roxboro, and his love for his hometown has been shown through his art. His pen and inks, watercolors, and pencil sketches, as well as his graphic design works decorate the streets of Roxboro. Phil began his own business at the age of 22. We all have heard the term “starving artist;” well, he is no stranger to this saying, as he has lived the life of one. While attempting to make his design business thrive, he also worked a full-time position at the former Collins & Aikman plant. It was there that he discovered his passion for textile engineering. Many years later this career led him to Culp, where he found his home and the place he felt he would never leave – until he suffered a stroke.

On a Saturday in February 2021, Phil was diagnosed with pneumonia. He didn’t always work from home, but since he wasn’t feeling his normal self, he decided on that Monday to login remotely for work and do some quality control with an overseas product. While working, he developed a horrible headache. This was unusual. The pain was so intense that he ceased his work and laid down to try and ease his pain. It was COVID times, so the entire family was at home with him that day. When he woke from the nap, his speech was slurred, his face drooped, his breathing was labored, and he was disoriented.

Molding Kindness with Clay - Communities Crossing State Lines
All smiles as Lori and Phil gather to create at Impotters Clayworx located in Downtown Danville.

Knowing the signs of a stroke, his wife rushed him to the local hospital. She didn’t contact 911 so as not to alarm the kids. There, Phil and his wife waited to be seen. As he and his wife waited anxiously in the parking lot for the nurse to finally arrive, local workers at the hospital kept checking on them. Finally, he was taken into the emergency room, without his wife. Phil had no voice in the matter because COVID prevented him from being accompanied by his wife, and the stroke had caused his speech to be slurred and incomprehensible. The nurse assured them both he would be fine. While in the ER, he was administered a drug. Unfortunately, he had a severe reaction and it caused him to go into anaphylactic shock. His wife was called into the hospital hours later. She sat in a room amongst a group of strangers as they told her the news. As she entered the small, stale hospital room, she saw her soulmate of 25-plus years blue in color, intubated, and unresponsive. Later that evening, Phil was rushed to UNC Hospitals by Life Flight to spend the next few days fighting for his life.

The stroke he suffered stole his ability but not his love to create. He just had to revamp. Therapy was long and challenging. During the therapy, he used putty to rehabilitate his hand. As he sat at the kitchen table, he said to his wife, “I should be making something.” This idea sparked a search for a “what next” moment.

Molding Kindness with Clay - Communities Crossing State Lines
All handcrafted and unique. Phil’s new and old creations combine to make a beautiful display.

His wife found a place in Danville, Va. that seemed to be the perfect match. What a match it was for Phil! This discovery landed him in a studio by the name of Impotters Clayworx. Pottery! His wife scheduled a hands-on session working with a pottery wheel; however, this was a bit too difficult due to the physical impairments from the stroke and Phil experienced a failed attempt.

Lori Bidgood – one of the owners and a well-known potter – noticed this struggle. She and her husband Berkley set out on a mission to help Phil with his new-found way to be creative. Berkely set aside his personal time to show Phil how to drape clay, and Lori kindly gave him a slab of clay to take home for practice. And so it goes. To this day, Lori and Berkley still support Phil.

Molding Kindness with Clay - Communities Crossing State Lines
A few of Phil’s first pieces used a balloon technique. An unconventional process made conventional as he adapts to his disability.

He was able to adapt Berkely’s way of making bowls into an unconventional method of draping clay with balloons. Having no previous pottery experience made for a challenging start.

He called his creations prayer bowls. He then took his newly created art to An Artisan’s Emporium in Roxboro, where the owners embraced his efforts and provided him with a larger space to display his works alongside his prints, paintings, and other items.

Community support has always been a key factor in Phil’s healing. He stayed nearly a month at UNC Hospitals before being transferred to Duke Regional Hospital for therapy. During this time, a meal train was put into place. There was an overwhelming response from the community. His church family had a spaghetti dinner to help the cause. All the while, devoted friends organized a fundraiser to help with medical expenses. Again, the community answered. Prayer vigils were held, and God answered in a mighty way.

Molding Kindness with Clay - Communities Crossing State Lines
Lori teaches Phil about her new piece and the process.

The days passed and Phil and his wife had no idea how they would make ends meet as they both were without a job. Phil was a mere two weeks shy of FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) eligibility and his wife had to make a choice to work or to care for him until he could care for himself. She chose her family. Thankfully, kindness and love radiated within the community and between the two of them. Together with the communities, and by the grace of God, their life has been manageable.

As a way to give thanks to God and the communities that have shown an outpouring of kindness, Phil places a cross in all of his works. He said, “It is my signature for what I’ve been going through, the faith in my wife, family, and the community that has helped me recover.”

Molding Kindness with Clay - Communities Crossing State Lines
Phil deemed these prayer pebbles. He makes them from his discarded clay, giving it meaning and purpose. His prayer pebbles have traveled worldwide with many ministries to spread the word of love and hope.

Two years later, Phil and his family are still humbled by the journey. Phil continues to make his way through life as the artist he has always been. He now sparks happiness from clay. Impotters Clayworx allows him to give back to the Danville community by occasionally teaching small classes. He donates his pottery to many local charities in Roxboro. Currently, Phil has a variety of pieces he has created: prayer bowls, spoon rests, soap dishes, crocks, wine coolers and his pocket prayer pebbles. You can find out more about Phil’s journey on Facebook. Look for him as Phendystrong.

Impotters Clayworx

406 Lynn St
Danville, Va. 24541
(434) 448-4677