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  • C Johnston

Jim Caldwell: Inspiration Through an Unlikely Gift

Rarely is a progressive disease considered a gift. But that’s exactly what Jim Caldwell came to call his disease and its impact on his life.

After Jim retired, he took up pottery at Stray Cat Studio in his hometown of Beaver Falls, PA. He was good at throwing clay and the material became works of art under his hands. His pottery was exhibited and sold from the University of Guam to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia.

The years crept by and Jim’s once-steady steady hands became shakier with age. Following medical tests, he was diagnosed with “essential tremors.” And life went on.

As Jim was using a pottery wheel at the Colonial Folk Art Studio in Williamsburg, VA one day, a man approached Jim to discuss his tremors and give an unofficial diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. The man was a retired neurologist, and provided encouragement for Jim to see a new doctor and undergo more tests. This time, the results were positive for Parkinson’s. Even as Jim was getting proper treatment, the progressive movement disorder got worse.

With increasing tremors, Jim found that he had a harder time creating his pottery. He constantly battled with the clay as he tried to keep his hands steady, which became more and more difficult. What he once loved became a source of frustration.

Jim, a man of strong Christian faith, went through a lot of emotions. He experienced questioning, fear, and certainly anger at God for a disease that was taking away the joy he found in creating his art. Why would the Lord give him this affliction? Where was the good in it?

“The good in it … the blessing.” Everything from God is a blessing, Jim knew in his heart, and so he accepted that Parkinson’s had to be a blessing, too. Rather than battling the clay on the wheel, trying to keep his hands steady, Jim embraced the tremors and let them guide the creative process.

Soon he realized a rhythm to the tremors as his shaky hands rendered a recurring pattern onto the clay. Every vessel he formed expressed color in motion. There became a beauty in his art that would never have existed had it not been for the challenges of his Parkinson’s.

And his wife Ginny pointed out the therapeutic benefits to the art. She recalled telling Jim’s neurologist, with concern, that Jim had bought a standard shift car. Would that additional action tax his shaking hand? The doctor said that the standard shift could actually provide great benefit, enabling and training his brain and body to work in tandem – just as his hands and eyes on the pottery wheel did as they molded the clay.

“I wanted to make things easy for him, to protect him,” she said. “I learned to step back and let him create and live life, and to especially enjoy the gift he’s discovered along this journey.”

Jim Caldwell’s pottery is more popular than ever now. People have tried to imitate it, but find it impossible. What some people might consider to be a death sentence, Jim knows is a gift from God.

Jim Caldwell may be contacted at

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