A year ago this month, Kelvin Crosby was at an all-time low, when the tiny bit of clear vision he had left was gone. Then things got worse. Last fall, development funding for his start-up ran out, leaving him with no income.
But with the help of handmade pottery – a craft he learned in high school and resumed last December – Crosby, 33, is now back on top, both emotionally and on TikTok, where he has amassed over 258,000 subscribers and 4.1 million likes for his 6-month-old TikTok DeafBlindPotter channel.
Up to 1.4 million people a day log on to watch videos of an Old Town resident making cups and vases on a potter’s wheel at his parents’ home in Clairemont. Using only his fingers, instinct and memory as a guide, he spends 12-14 hours a day crafting up to 20 ceramic objects which he periodically sells on his new website deafblindpotter.com.
Crosby said pottery has been his saving grace on several occasions during his 20-year battle with Usher type II syndrome. He was born with severe hearing loss and at the age of 13 he began to lose his eyesight. Today, hearing aids help him hear and talk to people, but his vision is now reduced to what people would see if they looked at the world through a sheet of waxed paper.
On June 27, Helen Keller’s birthday, Crosby is planning a fundraising auction, where he will sell 100 of his last ceramic pieces and host a potting marathon, in which he will attempt to throw 50 cups in seven hours. He plans to use the proceeds from the event to raise funds for his next big idea, the DeafBlindPotter Training School for People with Developmental Disabilities.
Crosby said he believed his mission was to teach others about the healing properties of this art form.
âThanks to pottery, I realized that I had so much to live for. And I realized that if I could help others live beyond their challenges, I would also find joy in my life, âhe said.
Crosby’s mother Cherri Crosby said her son was an active boy who played sports and never let his hearing impairment slow him down. But when Crosby was 13, the stadium lights went out during an evening football game and he suddenly realized he had no night vision. A few months later, he was diagnosed with Usher Syndrome and told that he would gradually lose all of his vision. Crosby said he ignored the doctors and continued.
âIt was a journey for me. I didn’t accept it when I was young. I just lived my life, got my driver’s license and tried to forget about it, âhe said.
But at 19, he lost his peripheral vision and had to give up his license. He went to a Bible school in the mountains of central California and tried to hide his vision loss from others until he tripped over a lawn mower and fell into the blades, then collided to a chair in the cafeteria and suffered another bad fall.
âI started to cry. It was a moment of emotion. That’s when I had to realize that I was really deaf and blind, âhe said.
To adjust to his new life, he took classes at the Helen Keller National Center, where teachers asked Crosby if he had any hobbies. He remembered how much he enjoyed throwing pottery on an art class lathe at University City High School, so teachers at the center taught him techniques for making pottery without a vision. He later attended classes at Mesa College and then learned glazing techniques at San Diego State University. He said it took a long time to come to terms with the vision imperfections in his work.
âOnce I got over the urge to be perfect, I started to heal. Healing has been the most important part of the ceramic process for me, âhe said.
In his mid-twenties, Crosby developed his signature artistry, which consists of three horizontal rings engraved on every piece he made. They represent joy, perseverance, and character, while the piece itself represents hope.
At 28, Crosby lost all clarity in one of his eyes, which led him to put pottery aside and focus on developing a new invention, Smart Guider, a light-up cane for children. visually impaired people. This product was in the final stages of development last year when funding dried up.
Around the same time, a family friend, Michaela Harding, asked Crosby if he would teach her how to make pottery. He offered to take her gear out of storage and give her lessons if she let him take a few laps at the wheel to see what he could do without any clarity of vision. The experience was a revelation.
âWhen I touched the clay, the healing started again. The next thing I knew, I was doing 10 pieces a day, âhe said.
Michaela’s older sister Natalie Harding – a recent graduate of SDSU Business School – saw the work Crosby was doing and together they came up with the idea to develop a new brand of pottery, DeafBlindPotter. Crosby started his own website and Harding began filming and posting videos on TikTok. The first video for December 1 had 100,000 views overnight and now has over 800,000 views. The third video has 1.4 million views.
Crosby’s videos, which he films and publishes himself now, are a mix of pottery tutorial and upbeat motivational talk. He starts from a mound of clay which he sponge with water and then spins. He cannot see if the clay is centered on the wheel, but can smell it if the container wobbles in his hands. If the top is twisted, it cuts it off. If he collapses, he shares it too, because everyone makes mistakes. He mixes pots of ceramic glaze with his fingers so that he can feel the required consistency, and he dips the vessels in the glaze with his bare hands so that he can measure the depth of the bands of color with his fingers. The process from mud to finished ship takes about three weeks.
Crosby’s “office” is a shed in the yard of the house of his parents, Jerry and Cherri. Crosby’s 10-year-old wife Abigail drops him off six mornings a week on his way to work. He calls Abigail his “rock” because she keeps him down to earth whenever his entrepreneurial dreams get carried away. But Cherri Crosby said she believes her son will be able to successfully make his pottery school, or any other dream, a reality.
âIf anyone can do it, they can,â Cherri said. âIt’s an inspiring story, for sure. He feels very blessed and feels like he can see better now that his eyes are not working properly.
In the weeks leading up to its June 27 auction, Crosby will be selling mugs, bowls and vases on the DeafBlindPotter page of a new interactive e-commerce and social media app called Auxxit. He will broadcast his potting marathon and auction live on Auxxit. It will also stream on tiktok.com/@deafblindpotter and its YouTube channel (youtube.com, search for âDeafBlind Potterâ). Its website is deafblindpotter.com.