They are family. That's how Ruth Widener feels the students she teaches at a studio in her home three days a week.
"I have my problems but when I get out here they don't bother me. I forget about them," she said.
She teaches what some call china painting but the preferred term is porcelain art.
It's not ceramics.
The paint is made of ground glass and minerals.
Artists paint in stages, firing the china in a kiln after each paint application.
"All the oil and everything we use to mix that paint with to get it on the china burns away. So nothing but that dry powder goes down in to that glaze. So that's the thing that makes it permanent," she said.
Artist and student Danny Busler said, "The most I've ever done was a piece, it was an angel, and I stopped counting the firings at 22 firings to get the depth of color I really wanted in it."
He used to create oil painting and water colors but fell in love with this medium when he started classes at Ruth's Studio.
"My wish was always to paint my own dinnerware set. And I've been painting for 20 years and that dinnerware set is still in the box," he said.
Samples of Ruth's plates line the walls of her studio. She also makes vases, and cups, and tiles, and framed portraits in china that have been fired again and again to create the final form.
She encourages her students to develop their own style.
"She is the most giving person I have ever met in the art field. Many artists keep secrets. They'll tell you 90% or 95% of what they're doing and keep that little bit of extra information to themselves. Whereas she will tell you everything that needs to be done and she will help you in any way possible.," Danny Busler said.
She said, "I always tell them there's three ps you have to do. You have to be patient. You've got to practice. And perseverance, stay with it."
It's why some students stay in her class for decades to learn an art form Ruth picked up almost 40 years ago.
"I didn't get started until I was 50-something and by that time I was hooked," she said.
For 25 years Ruth Widener has sold her porcelain art at Dollywood during the fall festival. This year Dolly Parton gave her a signed picture for her 90th birthday.
"I have never concentrated on age," she said. "I've just thought about living and getting done what I want to get done."
She doesn't plan of getting done with porcelain art anytime soon.
"My mother was 94 when she passed away. I had an aunt, my mother's sister who was 101. So it will be somewhere in there," she said with a laugh.
To sign up for porcelain art classes at "Ruth's Studio" call 865-693-0865.