Monday, November 28, 2011
VIDEOS IN CERAMICS EDUCATION
Recently I became a Mentor for the Potters Council, which is an online component to Ceramics Monthly Magazine. My Mentee lives quite a distance from me, yet through the Council's online Mentoring Program, we are able to work together- as teacher and student.
I employ several methods in dealing with my student, for teaching as well as assessment. Most of our contact is through email, yet we have also spoken on the telephone. Our work began with a submission of photos of her work to me via email as well as a lengthy commentary on the areas in which she wished to work.
We began working together in July of 2011, and during the months that followed, she has built a new studio and began a serious concentration in throwing. I created a series of Beginning Throwing DVD's for her which formed support as well as motivation for her work.
Included here is an abbreviated version of a video I produced to supplement my teaching in ceramics.
BEGINNING THROWING SERIES
* THROWING A CYLINDER
* THROWING AN ANGULAR BOWL PART 1 AND 2
* THROWING A WIDE BOWL
BEGINNING THROWING SERIES
* THROWING A CYLINDER
* THROWING AN ANGULAR BOWL PART 1 AND 2
* THROWING A WIDE BOWL
Thursday, October 13, 2011
I tried very hard to find this quote that I kept in my previous studio, but I think when I moved, I misplaced it. I went through my books on Hamada, and it did not jump out at me, so I tried to remember, and I think I got it almost exactly. I figured, so if it is a bit off, let us just say- it is in the translation!
When I think of an important lesson for you, sometimes It’s not the projects, the critiques, or the support, sometimes, it is more- it is the life lessons, things that come from a lifetime of living and working with clay.
Life has taken me through so many changes with this clay thing, too many to put down here. However, what is important to note is that life always is changing, in flux, and if you want to really do this clay thing, then it has to have a very high priority in your life.
Before I met my husband, clay was the most important thing in my life, other than my little nuclear family. I felt married to it. Actually, the commitment became similar to a marriage. I was 26 years old when I understood that it was a marriage, and I made the commitment. I remember the day.
For several years I moved around a bit, yet, I never missed a beat with my work. No matter where I lived, I always had a studio in my home, sometimes very scant, but workable. Hamada once had to work for two years in a closet.
Years later, at 58, I got cancer. It wasn’t a good time to get cancer, then, when is? Never, but I was really busy at the time. I was in the middle of a gallery exhibit, that I was co- curating, making artwork, developing the wall text for the show and putting together a slide presentation and talk on the subject, "Environmental Ceramics”. On the day of the opening, the reception was from 4:00 pm until 7:00 pm, and then I gave my talk from 7:30 until 9:00pm. The only kink in the day was that morning, at 7:00 am, I had an MRI biopsy, which was not fun, and I was tired from it. I just had to do it, so I did. By the time my talk was over, I thought I would collapse, so, my husband, Ron whisked me off into the car, took me home and I went to sleep. I did it all that day.
Those kinds of things happened throughout my adult life, of course, not as serious as cancer, but life always offers something difficult in your path, and the clay thing, looms in front of me all the time.
How does one handle this? Well, some things that have worked for me is to look ahead, and be organized.
Another example. This past month (October 2011) was extraordinarily difficult. It seemed everything was crashing down in front of me. On a Tuesday morning, we had a disturbing earthquake, not very large, but frightening. Then we heard that by Friday night we were to have a hurricane that was going to be BIG! I know that BIG for us here in Annapolis means, we will lose power. The following week, we were to go to Europe and we were not finished making travel arrangements. In addition, I was trying to be ready for kiln firings as soon as we came back from Europe as the weather is then cool enough to begin firing work for all my autumn and winter exhibits/sales. So I figured it out, to make it all work and to keep my clay schedule going, no matter what. I had three days to do the work I needed to do, before I would lose electricity. I first stacked a very large bisque kiln, and let it sit. Then I got online and finished all the google maps and tours needed for the Europe trip. I mixed up two glazes that were low, and finally went grocery shopping. We did lose power, for four days, but we have a generator to keep us going minimally, sump pump freezer and refrigerator as well as lights and a fan for the bedroom and anything that could be charged that might work. We made it work, went to Europe, came home to more rain and an ant infestation, and began bisque firing. I had just four days before I went to the clay conference, and had to get my presenting as well as coordinating materials together, and pack the car, which took a great deal of time. However, my glazes were out, ready to go. I glazed, packed, fired and restacked a kiln and went to Virginia. When I got home from the conference, the glaze kiln was ready to be fired. The conference was so stimulating that I needed to somehow extract a few days to make new work. I was hot! However, my studio is all set up for glazing now. I do not usually make new work at this time; I glaze and fire all the work I made during the summer for the fall/winter season. But I was on a roll; I glazed all the work I had, moved the buckets aside, and began working. I spent two and a half days making new work, which was exhilarating. I did it, while continually firing. I will let these new pieces dry, do a couple of bisque firings and finish glazing. Whew!
Therefore, what I am saying is this. If I did not make clay my priority, then I would not have been able to accomplish all I did this month. I had to make choices, so much of my personal life needed attention. Nevertheless, knowing that the clay is a priority, I did what needed to be done. I looked ahead to see what I needed to do to get all this accomplished. It looked like I was dealing with my personal life all the time, yet I was going down into the studio for a bit each day. With all the diversions, I put together a major amount of work. This is a crucial time to work, as it is the best selling period of the year, so I had to do it.
Therefore, I have held you at bay all week, but this lesson is very important. Think about this, make your decision carefully, and you will always know what to do to make this clay thing work. Remember Hamada’s words-
"Never let the pottery defeat you, but be quite defeatable in everything else in life."
October, 11, 2011
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Oh, the love and touch of a book, a magazine.
To rifle through the pages, one by one and gaze
At images that dance in front of my eyes.
A collection of texts from years that span forty,
A part of my toolbox, a beacon of knowledge.
Books are dear, revered for ages, and kept clean.
A magazine is the Now, appearing monthly,
A tool for learning.
Those magazines laid across clay spotted tables, strewn among students’ work.
A part of everyday, they were Used.
After decades, books and magazines possessed my studio.
No longer could I keep the mass, they had to be shared.
When I moved, they were fervently seized by loving hands, eager to scrutinize their pages.
They acquired new homes, and I was content.
However, I had no illusions- they were gone.
A new city, a new studio, a new life,
Filled me with the excitement of starting afresh.
Magazines again materialized in the mailbox,
With promises of the familiar.
And books once more created new stacks.
Now, in private sessions of feverous students,
Aglow with the excitement of clay,
Publications once more lay scattered across my table
Providing images, suppliers, and events,
Necessary substance for aspiring potters, sculptors, and enthusiasts.
How many new piles can I amass?
This studio is private, not that of a school’s dimension.
Consolidate! Glean the best from the lot.
How to choose? I will go electronic.
I never thought this day would come.
Yes, I bought CD’s, burning with images,
Cataloged for my needs, ready at the click of a finger.
But that screen! So small, so non-genuine, so flat.
How can I examine images this way?
Without haste, I plunged into the 21st century.
Oh, new computer, your dazzling screen enticing me,
Luring me, tempting me to stay.
You are beguiling; you are a magnet.
Your presence is pervasive, filling the abyss.
I am primed for you, this new instrument.
You are vast! Where gigabytes once reigned supreme,
Now terabytes fill the void.
What was once a mass, is now a bookmark,
Filled with the promise of years to come.
For now, the ceramic encounter is digital, a short URL away.
Books, magazines, sites and networking,
All share a life together, in the Cloud.
As I work in the studio, office and car,
On screens you dwell,
Waiting to inspire me, offering me wisdom.
Ahh, my space is finally free!
Saturday, December 26, 2009
By Jayne E. Shatz, PhD
www.jayneshatzpottery.com--FREE Ceramic History presentations and GALLERY of artwork.
Environmental ceramics is art that is produced in conjunction with the architecture of a building or a landscape. Environmental art’s main purpose is to embellish human spaces and enrich our surroundings. Ceramic works have decorated buildings for centuries; clay tiles have adorned exterior facades, interior walls, city streets and murals. We enjoy ceramics in our homes with our tables, floorings, sculptural wall art, fountains, walking stones, benches and fireplaces.
I was featured along with The Potters Guild of Annapolis in an exhibit entitled “Art in Living Spaces”, at the Kent Island Federation of Art in Stevensville, Maryland in September 2008. The exhibit was very exciting and displayed sixteen artists displaying Environmental Ceramic Art.
To better appreciate this exhibit and environmental ceramics, I will present some background on the subject in this article. For a more thorough discussion of the subject, go to my website, www.jayneshatzpottery.com and click on the "Moments in Ceramic History" lectures and read the Environmental Ceramics article with beautiful images. Navigate to my Gallery on the website and you can see some examples of wall sculptures and environmental ceramics that I have produced.
The development of a design is usually accomplished through the collaboration between architect and artist. Great historic buildings such as the “Dome of the Rock” in Jerusalem used clay tiles as a decorative element to the exterior of the building. This building was first constructed in 692, and then completed with its decorated façade of beautiful tiles in the 16th century.
Not only has clay been used in architecture, but also in a sculptural context, implemented to adorn internal environments, such as intimate church niches in the majestic Italian Cathedrals. The Renaissance family, the della Robbias, 1400's, produced sculptural wall plaques in the form of majolica tondos, which are circular reliefs in tin glazed earthenware. As Luca della Robbia switched from the expensive marble and bronze to clay, so have many of our own contemporary sculptors. Many luxurious interiors in 18th and 19th century Europe were ornately decorated with ceramic tiles. Sometimes entire rooms, including floors, walls and ceilings were totally produced in tile.
Clay sculpture has also been displayed in front of buildings, in the same manner as the marble sculptures of Greece, Rome and Renaissance Italy. One beautiful example is Juan Miro’s “Wall”, installed in front of the Paris UNESCO headquarters, 1958.
Due to the high costs of producing bronze sculpture, many modern day artists have re-discovered the techniques of large ceramic constructions for architectural and environmental purposes. However, ceramics for the environment can be much more than tile work. Clay can be hung, draped, and mounted on wood, metal, and plastic. Embedding other materials into the surface of the clay in a multimedia context provides enormous avenues of expression. Ceramic art for the wall can be displayed like a painting, making it portable and transferable. This art form can “float” off a wall or appear grounded as traditional tile work. Ceramics for the wall can be viewed as either sculptures or three-dimensional paintings, and endless possibilities can be fabricated.
I have been producing ceramic sculpture for the walls since the 1970’s, creating work that can be hung like a painting. Most recently I have been producing environmental work for the garden and home such as tables, fountains and birdbaths. A tiled table is a style of ceramic art that is presented in the environment as a utilitarian idiom. While functional in scope, tiled tables are mostly produced as an aesthetic form. Tables can be produced to conform to a specific size and shape of a room or setting in order to relate to an environmental plan or a specific architectural concept.
What ceramic artists need to understand is that environmental art such as wall pieces or tiled facades can be made in any size kiln because they are produced in segments. This allows a small studio potter to produce large-scale ceramic installations. The same basic techniques are used for a large-scale architectural construction as is for an intimate interior display.
Today, ceramic sculpture is viewed as an important art form. The spontaneity and aliveness of clay enables an artist to work in an excitingly liberating manner. Working with ceramics in the environment allows a ceramist to be a designer, technician and artist and is one of the most exciting ways to work in contemporary art.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
My first three years were in a country school, in the beautiful Schoharie Valley of upstate New York. I became the sole teacher in a K-12 art program that was housed in a small one-room classroom. The student body was comprised of the children of farmers and local town folk; their artistic education was far from sophisticated. I saw a great challenge ahead of me and put my educational philosophy to the test. I believe a true artist can emerge from any situation, regardless of their slice in life. It was up to me to open their world to the great artworks of the past and the present. The superintendent that hired me was evidently very impressed. He agreed with what I wanted to accomplish with his students. He immediately purchased a new kiln for my classroom and let me begin. I taught ceramics along with all the other art disciplines, and became very intrigued with the possibilities of my high school students.
This new young group marched into my room with muscles, mustaches, tight skirts, high heels, and eager smiles. I pulled out the music box, put on the Rock, and we began to work. I taught them how to lay out slop, coil pots, roll out slabs, weigh out glaze chemicals, and stack kilns. We reviewed slides, looked through ceramic books and magazines and began the job of creating art. Their energy blossomed. I located an old motorized kick wheel and taught them how to throw. They learned the difference between functional pottery and the vessel and explored clay sculpture. Their work became refined and extremely creative. As their technical skills developed, their artistic awareness became more sophisticated. Fascinated, I watched these children execute the singular most exciting act a teacher is privileged to witness- a student's moment of decision. I watched them scrutinize their pieces, alter their forms, choose their palate of glazes-think, decide and create.
While teaching in the school during the day, I was also directing and teaching in a ceramics program at night in Troy, New York. This program merged the Troy Art Center with the Hudson Valley Community College’s Program in Contemporary Crafts. It fulfilled the educational needs of both the college and the community’s continuing adult education population. I organized field trips for my high school students to the evening studio. With the help of assistants, my high school students participated in raku and sawdust firings with college students and adults. They were so excited that we went back to school and built a simple sawdust kiln from an old garbage can, which we fired in the school’s athletic field. Their eyes glowed with anticipation and zeal upon each kiln unloading. With some enthusiastic support, my students became a part of the ceramic tradition.
I exhibited their work in various H.S. art competitions. They became award-winning students, competing against the best suburban schools both statewide and nationally. At art receptions they shyly stood beside their work with quiet dignity, as photographers flashed their cameras. Coming from a low-income community where the cultural opportunities were at a minimum, these children became serious art students. I fell in love with these Rock n' Rollin' teenagers. They showed me that fine artwork lies within the child as well as the adult, the poor as well as the affluent. Many times I have wondered why my life took the turn it did. I didn’t fully understand this until many years later. I have had a wonderful experience teaching ceramics to young people; I have also been in awe of their talent.
I left that country school and moved to a suburban school closer to home. In that new academically oriented district, I pursued my remaining years in public education. During that time there was much attention placed upon art in the New York State public educational system. With this focus on our young artists, an atmosphere of validity and recognition of their artwork followed.
New York developed a “Standards in Education” criterion, and art criticism was a major component of the assessment for the arts. As our students were decidedly college bound, our art department took this charge very seriously. I held formal critiques with my Beginning, Advanced and Independent Studies students in both my Ceramics and Sculpture classes. I had to establish my own criteria of evaluation that would not only satisfy the traditional model of art criticism that integrated line, color, shape, form, texture, space, rhythm and balance, but would also personalize the art of ceramics. Students were required to write critiques about the great artworks as well as each other’s pieces. They learned to self-critique and how to critique each other in both a positive and instructive manner. Critiques became an essential part of the art program, elevating our students to an increased level of awareness. They learned to change, grow and take risks, because after all, that is the essence of art. Mostly, they learned to achieve with knowledge and purpose.
One of the most critical issues I see in today’s educational environment is that the general public, and unfortunately many artists themselves, are undereducated in the history and appreciation of art. This lack of knowledge eventually creates an atmosphere of disinterest in the arts, a diminishing attendance to museums, and ultimately a dwindling intellectual population. In today’s economic climate, a growing number of our public schools’ educational curriculum have reduced their art programs in favor of an expansion in science, math and special needs. In some colleges, there lacks an emphasis towards mandatory art history courses for all art students. In specialized art programs, such as ceramics, there is modest funding for a course in ceramic history, so there too, is a void. As an adjunct, I now present ceramic history lectures at colleges and art centers. When I lecture, I compare the media of traditional artists and sculptors to that of ceramic artists, therefore, bridging the gap between the disciplines. I am oftentimes surprised at the lack of knowledge students have in the history of their art fields. When I toured European schools, I was amazed to discover how culture and art history courses are basic to their academic regime. Europeans are quite fluent in their country’s artistic heritage, and are proud to partake in discussions concerning art. When a society is knowledgeable about art, they tend to visit museums and galleries more regularly.
Ceramics has a magnificent heritage, spanning almost 30 thousand years of artistic triumph. It is the most primitive of all art forms. European Shamans were producing bone-fired clay Venus figurines in small beehive type kilns as early as 27,000 BCE (Before the Current Era). These lovely black carbon infused sculptures were the beginnings of our ceramic legacy, similar to the wildly colored images parading along prehistoric cave walls in 15,000 BCE that were ancestor to modern day painting. How magnificent were the vessels of ancient Greece, portraying the mythology and art of a culture on the surfaces of their ware? These vessels are significantly viewed as high art in Greece.
As a society we need to investigate who we were in order to fully appreciate who we are and to fantasize who we might become. The endless spiral of discovery is what congeals an art form that is rich in depth and mystery. The history of a culture is viewed through its art; the future of a culture’s art is built upon its history.
We need to convince our schools to continue offering ceramics with all the art courses in their curriculum; we should encourage our students to pursue these subjects as vital choices in their education. Every artist has a story; these stories are fundamental to our lives as we harvest the fragrant bouquet of knowledge and hold it close to our hearts. We must support and understand the arts so that in the stories of those that lived before us, we rise to a sense of brilliance and the pursuit of an intellectual society.
There is exciting support for developing ceramic programs in all levels of education. These programs can be found in one-room public school classrooms in remote rural communities, vigorous public and college programs in major metropolitan areas, and bourgeoning art centers flooding the vistas of adult returning students. Ceramic programs are emerging in various sizes and involvedness. All over the country ceramic cooperatives and guilds are enabling people that choose not to have personal studios, to have a place in which to work, that is vital and shared with others. With this spirit, an atmosphere of validity and recognition of these artists’ is being appreciated. I have had a wonderful experience teaching ceramics to people of all ages and in all circumstances; I have also been in awe of their capabilities and artistic output.
I began teaching ceramics in 1972 while working in a pottery commune in New York. I completed my undergraduate degree, spent one year as a public school art teacher and then decided to leave the job and become a full time potter. I moved into a pottery commune with three friends from my undergraduate college ceramic program.
We were young, eager and willing to work hard-everything essential for establishing a pottery business. We sold our work at craft fairs, wholesale outlets, and a home showroom. We developed a group of “regulars”, customers who bought our work and who also wanted to learn how to make pottery. We were the Kilnhaus Potters, and soon developed an extensive teaching schedule. So began my ceramic teaching career. I left the commune four years later to go out on my own. For the next thirteen years, I cultivated a full time pottery business, selling work and teaching in community art centers, museums and continuing education programs. I traveled throughout the Northeast, presenting workshops in ceramic techniques and marketing strategies. Always involved with the educational process, in 1983 I opened the Albany Ceramic Institute, a ceramic school with classes, evening lectures and a gallery. Four years later I helped establish a potters cooperative in Troy, NY. In 1984, due to severe back problems, I reluctantly curtailed my pottery business and began teaching fulltime in a public school, reducing my pottery activities. During the day I taught public school and in the evenings I directed a college and adult education ceramic program through the joint efforts of the Art Center in Troy, NY, and the Hudson Valley Community College Program in Contemporary Crafts.
The years I spent developing the ceramic program at the Art Center were exhilarating. My classes combined both college students and adult learners. The classes met for two evenings a week for three hours each night. The college students were young, explorative and eager to learn. The adult students were mostly “returning artists”. They were people who finally had the time to return to their love of clay after several decades of career and family building. Some were professional artists in other disciplines who were developing themselves in this new medium. The sophisticated work of the adults fascinated the college students and the adults were generous in sharing their techniques and sense of aesthetics with the younger generation. It was a symbiotic relationship that created an exciting atmosphere in which to work as well as teach. This venture lasted for twelve years. It was then that my daytime teaching position became more rigorous as I started to develop an extensive three-dimensional program in ceramics and sculpture in my high school. This also began an exciting period in my career; the budget increased in the art department and I had the delight of ordering professional equipment to outfit a ceramic studio. When I began teaching there my ceramic load was small; alongside my computer graphic and studio courses, I had one ceramic and one sculpture class each day for a semester. This was again repeated second semester. By the time I retired, we had full year classes in both ceramics and sculpture. The three dimensional course of study included three beginning and two advanced ceramic classes as well as three sculpture classes. More teachers began taking over some of the courses. When I started teaching there, I was the only teacher on staff that had a Masters degree in pottery and sculpture. During my tenure there I went on to receive my PhD in Prehistoric Ceramics. After several years of establishing this very successful program, we gained three teachers with Masters’ degrees in ceramics, each teacher contributing to the program, such as unique classes in Raku.
It was a very exciting time working with these hyperactive, hormonally charged high school students. And, oh, the energy of youth! They were demanding, talented and eager to take on many of the laborious studio responsibilities, such as kiln loading and unloading, laying out slop and mixing glazes. I had high school students working in all areas of ceramic production.
My teaching position afforded me the luxury of time, freeing me to work in my studio during the summer. It also provided financial security, health benefits and stability, all of which I appreciated as I was maturing. As the years progressed, I had to cut back on my evening college program and by 1994 I retired form the Troy program and exclusively taught high school ceramics and sculpture. I entered into a seasonal lifestyle. As the school year ended, I was entrenched in my studio, producing as much work as possible. Labor day weekend was the end of my clay making cycle and the studio was cleaned and prepared for glazing. After the school season commenced, I spent my weekends glazing until mid December. I then prepared for my annual weekend Holiday Sale. I did quite well during those weekends, usually selling out. The studio became dormant for the winter months until June, when I cleaned out the cobwebs and set in motion my studio life once again. Because I taught ceramics and sculpture at school, I remained current in my artistic and technical development. Sometimes I worked with my students, creating sculptural pieces. They loved watching me work, jumping on tables in dresses and heels, throwing down slabs of clay, whirling about making art! (Yes I was a bit of a fanatic, dressing “professionally” each day made the kids think a bit more highly of the teaching profession).
I thoroughly enjoyed teaching ceramics to children of all ages. They proved to be a vital and challenging population, and I learned a great deal working with them. My students endowed upon me a tremendous energy for the pursuit of excellence. Artists emerged like flowers budding in the spring- first slowly, then with a riot of potential. My students’ work was outstanding, exhibiting a creative flow of energy and refinement in detail. Over the years I proudly watched them become potters, sculptors, and teachers. In my adult program, one of my students was an art restorer. She changed her profession after studying with me, going back to school to receive her education degree and become a public school art teacher. Years later, she ended up teaching on my high school staff and continues to be a dear friend.
I expected a great deal from my students. The more I demanded, the more sophisticated became their work. This understanding became the philosophic foundation of my teaching. I hope the information in these following articles will help future ceramic teachers create a vital program that encompasses both depth and attention to artistic achievement in one of humankinds oldest art forms-ceramics.
There are many types of classroom situations. The important thing to realize is that you can incorporate ceramics into any art program as long as you are organized.
The most challenging classroom setting I had was the “one room art room” I taught for three years in a school district where I was the only art teacher for grades K-12. The student body was comprised of children of farmers. Their artistic education was limited and far from sophisticated. It was up to me to open their world to the great artworks of the past and the present. Through my efforts, these eager children soon made beautiful artwork that became refined and extremely creative. Ceramics began to take over their lives and with some enthusiastic support; my students entered the ceramic world.
There were many times later on that I thought about that teaching situation. All the instruction took place in one room. The classes came at different times, but all storage, supplies, and curriculum were held in that one small space. When I taught ceramics, my third graders made coiled and pinched engobe decorated pots; my high school students produced glazed stoneware vessels and wall murals. The key to this madness was organization. The room was compartmentalized; all the materials were in separate areas on shelves lining the room. In the middle of the room I put all the tables together to create one long worktable. It took some effort to deal with discipline, but eventually the kids learned how to work in a group setting. I created “stations”-a place where the supplies for a particular media were housed. I organized my curriculum so that when I taught painting, I taught it to the elementary as well as the secondary students. When I changed media, I put supplies away, bringing out the new project materials. I created a darkroom in a closet lined with black plastic. In that small space I taught pinhole photography to the younger students, and with one enlarger, taught black and white photography to the high school students. Every situation was manageable. Prepare the site, limit your supplies, and organize your curriculum for all grade levels, each one pursuing a deeper level of concentration.
While I was developing my public school program, I was also developing a ceramic adult learner program at a local art center. Several years prior, I had established a ceramic school in Albany, NY with a partner. Within one short summer, we had built shelves and work tables, purchased an entire studio of used wheels and kilns, put in a beautiful ceramic gallery, fund raised, advertised and by autumn, opened our doors to a fully attended ceramic school. Classes and specialized workshops began and I was very happy. However, foolish, young and trusting, I neglected to begin this venture with the advise of a lawyer; before long my partner usurped total ownership and I was out of a school! What was at first a major loss soon became a wonderful beginning to the next phase of my career. I no longer had that school, but my reputation was established in the area, and I was sought after by the Rensselaer County Council on the Arts, now known as The Art Center in Troy, NY. I was hired to develop a new ceramic program. The art center was joining forces with a two-year junior college to create an associate’s degree in the Program in Contemporary Crafts. This exciting joint venture was happening throughout the country; art centers and museums were coordinating their programs with local community colleges, sharing facilities and expanding their offerings. I began teaching this program in the art center which was housed in the basement of a gorgeous old historic mansion. This program was being developed for a thriving capital region, thirsty for access to art classes. My course load was initially small; I had six students, a few old wheels, two very old and weary kilns, some rolling pins and shelving. This was truly a challenge; it wasn’t much, but it was enough to begin! The timing was perfect- along with the Art Center’s adult population; the college would use these studios for their fledgling undergraduate craft’s degree program. Money was very quickly procured and I started ordering equipment and supplies. I gutted the old kilns and put them in the backyard and created a Raku program. By that time I had developed a strong cone 6-oxidation glaze palette, and with new L & L electric kilns and Brent wheels, we began producing beautiful glazed work in porcelain, terracotta, stoneware and Raku. We increased enrollment and quickly outgrew the studio. We had to go somewhere. Fortunately our clay distributor, Northeast Ceramics, had a vacant second floor in his warehouse and with his gracious and dedicated community spirit, the Art Center moved their ceramic studio into this very large warehouse space. We collected more equipment and grew into a full ceramic program. After twelve years of running this program, I decided to retire from nighttime teaching. By the time I left, we had several studio assistants and teachers, a studio filled with wheels, extruders, slab rolling machines, large worktables and endless shelving. Before I left, our staff developed the district’s first potter’s cooperative. The Co-op shared the main studio space when classes were not in session, maintaining many privately rented spaces. The potters brought in their personal equipment and soon evolved the Co-op into a thriving guild. A few years after I left, the Art Center accomplished some major fundraising and opened their doors to a stunning, upscale art center. This beautiful new facility offered extensive programs in crafts and the fine arts, a black box theater, dance studios, galleries and outreach programs. The warehouse ceramic program moved into this new state of the art studio with an array of ceramic courses, teachers and opportunities. So you see, because I was willing to work with a small program of six students, fifteen years later and a magnificent vision, a superb program in ceramics was firmly entrenched into a regional art scene.
One thing I learned from all these changes was that while equipment, studios and enrollment were always moving forward, the quality of the programs was always constant. Art is art, and it can be created anywhere. I remember reading in a biography of Shoji Hamada, that during a period in his life he had no studio and basically worked in a closet. Quality, studio size and equipment do not produce art; the devotion and discipline in creating quality art is the essential component for creating beauty.
HOW TO INCREASE YOUR PROGRAM’S POTENTIAL
The concept of the apprentice goes far back into the annals of history. The most notable apprenticeship system was created during the Middle Ages. Some of those systems used the term journeyman, but the concept was the same; a young person would work alongside an experienced craftsman/artist as an assistant. Many times there was no financial exchange for the apprentice, only the ability to gain knowledge and expertise working in the Master’s shop. The goals for the apprentice were to one day begin a shop of their own. There were many kinds of agreements; each one was based upon the notoriety of the Master, his wealth and patron base. As the apprentice system evolved, the ability for a young person to work for a renowned Master became an honor for the family. This child’s livelihood would basically be guaranteed. These apprenticeships occurred all over the world, in China, Japan, Europe, the Middle East and the Native Americans in the New World. In Renaissance Italy, the Masters’ workshops were filled with apprentices, oftentimes taking care of all the tools, canvasses, mixing paints for painters, beginning the preliminary cuts for the sculptors, maintaining the sharpness of chisels and mixing clay and glazes for the potters. The experienced apprentices created much of the work in these shops. Oftentimes a sculpture was produced in Rodin’s studio where his most famous assistant, Camille Claudel, would oftentimes sculpt the hands and feet and then Rodin completed the remaining piece. Sometimes paintings were attributed to a famous Master’s workshop, and not the Master himself.
Many versions of the apprentice system have evolved in the modern art world. In ceramic studios, the apprentice has become the backbone of the studio. In all my adult ceramic programs, I had several apprentices, or assistants. They would have total access to the studio, clay, glazes and kilns. For this, they would maintain the studio, lay out and bag slop, mix glazes, load, fire and unload kilns, keep the studio clean and maintain the inventory. Because of the vitality of my programs, I always had plenty of apprentices. They became an important part of the program and offered a great deal to the students. I had the assistant work alongside me in class, so if I was busy with a student, another student had access to my assistant. I kept my assistants on a tight leash; I critiqued their work weekly. The formal critique was the most important part of their education. I took this part of the job seriously, gave them a great deal of respect and treated them professionally. I had them report to me continually on the status of supplies, kiln firings, student needs, etc. It was a Win Win relationship. If my standards were not met, I would discontinue the relationship. They always had the option to stay on as a paying student. There actually were a couple of people that were unable to maintain this rigorous apprenticeship and dropped out. One of them became a student and another one came back later on when his life was in a more conducive situation for working with me.
Due to such a positive experience with my Adult Education apprentices, when the opportunity arose in my public school ceramic and sculpture programs, I utilized the apprenticeship philosophy in the guise of the school’s Independent Student program.
In my high school, I taught Ceramics I, Ceramics II and Sculpture. Each course was a yearlong class in the Studio Arts curriculum. After a student completed Ceramic II, there were no other ceramic courses available. Sometimes these students were with me as sophomores and juniors. They still had open time in their senior year schedule and were most anxious to continue working in ceramics. During their freshman year they had to take a foundation level art course before they began their concentration. We had a three dimensional Course of Study, which included Foundations, Ceramics I, Ceramics II and Sculpture. Fortunately in my school we had an Independent Study course that was sanctioned by each of the disciplines. It had to be accepted by a teacher on a volunteer basis, as that teacher would have to meet their student during his/her free periods. The student, approved by the teacher, department chair and the principal, would develop a course of study. Because I had so many Independent students, between five and six annually, I instituted the apprenticeship concept into my angle of the program. I maintained that a student could only take an Independent course with me if they had their free period coincide with one of my classes. Being seniors, they oftentimes had the flexibility to accomplish this. For each of my ceramic and sculpture classes, I usually had between one and two Independent students working with me. It became an incredible bonus to my entire program!
First of all, I had help. I had the Independent students, which I now called the assistants, load and unload some of the kilns, lay out slop and mix glazes. Since all my ceramic students laid out slop and mixed glazes, it gave me the opportunity to have my Independent students, the assistants, mix and fire glaze tests. They maintained glaze notebooks, made test tiles, and documented their results. What an incredible contribution they gave to my program, and what amazing work they gained in their ceramic studies.
Personally, as a ceramist, how wonderful it was to be working full time at a job and still have the ability to develop glazes! When we were really overloaded with work, they helped mix more glazes (they became very fast and reliable in this endeavor), and helped with the constant loading and unloading of kilns. They would also work with the students. They had special considerations; they were permitted to produce larger and more individual projects and work in the studio as much as they were able to. They became the envy of all my students, thus promoting the Independent Study Program. I met with them during quiet times, my free periods or even sat with them in my office while I ate lunch and listened to their concerns, critiqued their work and guided them in developing projects. They worked very hard; they kept me working even harder.
I wrote many recommendations to the colleges with the best ceramic programs in the country for my students, and have the joy in finding out how many of them have gone on to be art teachers, college professors, and studio ceramists. After many years of retirement, I still get emails and even visits from former students. Two of my former students are presently art teachers in the school district in which I worked.
Apprentices, assistants and independent learners are all avenues for concentrating your teaching techniques, artistic philosophies and professional dynamism. Working with these students, on all age levels enhances any art program and enables the teacher to be more explorative. It allows the students to not only be more creative, but to establish an actual sense of the ceramic field in all its components and realistically see if this type of work is suitable to the person.
My apprentices, assistants and independent learners made me a better teacher. Not only did I work very hard at my profession, I enjoyed a most incredible period of my career.
PROPER STUDIO EQUIPMENT AND EXERCISE
Ergonomics-A branch of science used to study the relationship between workers and their environments. Ergonomic studies have assisted people in developing methods of dealing with their health and physical well being by producing safe equipment and ways of implementing this equipment into the home and work place.
OSHA-The Occupational Safety and Health Act. A law that was passed by the US Congress to prevent employees from being injured or contract diseases in the course of their employment- OSHA assists people in developing safety standards and materials for use in the work place and supports them in their implementation.
I was in my senior year in college when I first began working in clay. The ceramic studio was humming with excitement; we all walked around with clothes hardened by a semester of dried clay caked in patches all over our T-shirts and dungarees. We marched around the art building proud of our attire- we were the Ceramic kids! The studio had a film of dried clay powder everywhere; the floors by the wheels had solid chips of dried matter, and inch deep reminisces of the clay were strewn from the whirring wheel heads. Even the splash pans were laden with the dirt, until someone finally emptied them, never thinking of putting a sponge to their surfaces. The kiln room was cluttered with shards of broken clay and bisque ware, piled into some kind of organized mess. Shiny vermiculite particles caught your eye as they appeared in crevices around the kiln, supporting cones that had come out of the kiln or were ready to go into the kiln. Grog was scattered along the kiln floor, permeating the area as we stepped onto it, our feet heavy with the crunch, crunch sound as we loaded and unloaded kilns. Hundred pound bags of clays and chemicals were piled high into mountains surrounding the pug mill in the clay mixing room. We opened these bags, lifting them high in the air. Only the brave and bold could handle these heavy monsters, so the girls made sure they did their fare share, not to be seen as weak, or less than the boys. We poured the contents of these bags into the mixer, dust particles flying everywhere. As the powders became chunks of golden clay, we snuck a few cigarettes, waiting for the magic event of clay making to materialize. If the teacher came in, we hid the cigarettes, easy to do amidst the cloud of dust permeating the air. We bagged our precious earth into bags that were used and reused many times, the dust circling our noses as we opened these bags, eager to fill them with fresh clay. We then made new mountains of clay bags, ready for impatient hands to mold them into their creations.
The glaze mixing room was not much different. Dangerous chemical powders were everywhere-counters, floors, scales and buckets- all were layered with unknown spilled powders. So we swept the floors a little with a broom, cleaned up the tables and began pouring chemicals into buckets, weighing our expensive dust into bright shiny glazes that would bring promise to pots, waiting to be glazed. The chemicals were in smaller bags, but they too had to be poured into bins, labeled with wondrous names such as Nephaline Syanite, chrome oxide or lead. The names of these powders were exotic and analytical, and they made us feel like mad scientists as we weighed them out on gram scales. Again, a stolen cigarette or two made the job more invigorating. I lived in this studio, consumed by the energy, enthusiasm and creativity of my fellow classmates. There was more than dust in the air; there was electricity that could not be harnessed. We were seventeen and eighteen years old and ruling the universe with the power of our dreams. We were potters! Our art was centuries old, and we were part of an artistic continuum. We were young, healthy and strong. Nothing could stop us- except Time.
Working at the wheels in the studio was magical. I’d wedge for a half hour, make a pile of conical mounds of clay and then carry this heap over to my wheel. Without getting up, I’d sit there for an hour or more at a time, as the clay moved through my fingers, emerging upright into cylinders, bowls and plates. After several hours of this I would begin the process again, remaining in the studio into the night. It was blissful; we brought food into the studio and ate sandwiches with clay-wet hands, and we were nourished.
Two days a week were open studio times and I could work there for many hours. There was a group of us, three boys and me that worked together as we marveled at this opportunity. We would later form the Kilnhaus Potters, a potter’s commune of four people who farmed and tended livestock, selling retail and wholesale pottery as we made our way into the exhilarating 1970’s. All that we learned in school we brought into our barn studio; every bad habit, every dusty, dangerous part of it.
THIS WAS INSANE!
We were contaminating our lungs, damaging our backs, possibly shortening our lives.
THIS HAD TO CHANGE.
Soon new words emerged onto the scene. OSHA, ERGONOMICS, HAZARDOUS MATERIAL DATA SHEETS, RESPIRATORS, LEAD FREE GLAZES, EXHAUST SYSTEMS, EXERCISES!
Our country was changing quickly, cleaning up studios, classrooms and our lives. Everything was about health and safely. Some people balked about the cost of implementing exhaust systems, special vacuums, mopping regimens and training. But we learned. We changed. We saved lives.
Maintaining a clean studio is the most important part of your ceramic lifestyle. From large expensive equipment to a simple mop and sponge, anyone can create a clean and healthy environment in which to work in clay. I will discuss some very moderate low cost methods that you can employ into your private studio and classroom that will enable you to breathe easily, live comfortably and stay healthy.
My high school and adult art center studios were fastidiously clean. OSHA once made an inspection of my high school art department, and my room was the cleanest of all, and that was compared to the painting, photography and drawing studios. They were totally impressed! Most importantly, I had to convince my principal and head of maintenance that a broom was never to be used in the ceramic classroom. I told then that sweeping clay dust is dangerous, that microscopic particles containing silica would be brushed into the air and could encourage silicosis, a lung disease.
As they looked at me wide eyed, I informed them that a simple inexpensive method of cleaning is to mop the floors each night. They were thrilled to find out that such an easy cleaning routine could be so beneficial. I then said that an exhaust system had to be placed into the kiln room and that there were many systems in the market that were under $500.00 per kiln. Again, they were happy. However, since my high school had four kilns in the kiln room, they did install an expensive complete room exhaust system, and for the middle schools and elementary schools that had one kiln each, they purchased the individual kiln exhaust systems.
I always bought prepared mixed clay. My clay distributor had my personal recipes brought over to all the middle school and high school ceramic classrooms. I helped my department choose good quality clay bodies for all the different levels in the district. Using ready mixed clay is more expensive than mixing your own, but I had my students on a weekly slop detail, and we used and reused every ounce of clay that moved through our studio.
I had several wedging boards, for white and brown clay bodies, that were just for laying out slop. As soon as a bucket was filled, it had to be laid out. For the classroom I used six gallon buckets; the laying of slop occurred frequently, keeping the clay making constant. I always put a tablespoon of bleach into the slop buckets. This is an easy way to keep the communal slop bucket free of many germs. In my own studio at home I have a large trashcan size garbage pail, and wait till it is filled up. I then lay out my slop for a period of a couple of weeks. I don’t re use clay bags; the dry clay dust goes into your face when opening a used bag. I always stock all my studios with good quality plastic bags.
After every class my students had to wash all their tools, sponge down the studio tables, and if they were using wheels, they had to be totally cleaned. This was a demanding matter between my students and me. I was relentless, always letting them know why we were cleaning up so carefully. I was protecting them, and me! I had to be in that classroom all day long. I had “clay captains”, students that were responsible for putting any left over clay into bags and tying up the bags at the end of each period. This was incredibly important. If a bag was left open then twenty-five pounds of clay could dry up and have to be made into slop. This could be exhausting, but as I yelled out my cleanup demands, my busy bee workers rushed diligently through the process and got the job done. Each day I left a very clean studio, and each morning I came back to a freshly washed studio floor, ready for the day to begin. Every two months, a school quarter, I had all my classes stop work, and spend the entire class period cleaning. They sponged down shelves, cabinets, banding wheels and all surfaces. Just four days out of a year’s program kept my room clean, healthy and a wonderful place in which to work. I realized my students had “arrived’ when I heard them complain if they picked up a wooden rib and there was crusty clay on it, not providing them a clean edge. I would smile at their grievance; they’d smile back and wash the tool. They wanted their equipment in good condition; they were potters and sculptors.
We mixed all our glazes, and when we did, they wore disposable respirators, poured very slowly so to not create a cloud of powders and washed down the area as they worked. We didn’t have ceiling exhaust systems in the classroom, which would have been preferable, but the school couldn’t purchase that, so I had the students work as slowly and carefully as possible. There was rarely a dusty atmosphere in my room.
I had the students move fifty-pound boxes of clay around to the various stations in the studio. They were taught to bend at the knees and carry one box at a time. (The larger boys wanted to impress everyone and carry two boxes, but I wouldn’t allow them.) I told them that two trips with clay were healthier than one and they should carry one box at a time. Loading kilns and lifting kiln shelves, was another backbreaking job. I constantly reminded them to bend at the knees when lifting anything. When the kids worked at their tables, I made them take a small lump of clay and keep it under plastic so it would not dry out, and go back to the clay station more frequently. I told them that walking around the room was healthier than sitting or standing still for a class period. They fell into a cohesive rhythm, moving, working, storing work and cleaning. After a couple of weeks of this routine, I brought out the radio and the studio became a miraculous space of creativity, lively conversation, respect and even love.
I had my adult education ceramic studios operate in the same manner. Ironically, any concern that a high school student had, I saw repeated by the adult student. Slowly, they too became accustomed to the necessary job of sustaining a clean studio.
Maintaining a clean and healthy studio brought respect into my classes. They understood why they had to work in my classroom this way. One student affectionately called me “the General”, while others called me either Doc, or just Shatz. Funny, only the new- comers called me Mrs. Shatz. But after a few weeks in the studio, that would change. I rarely had disciplinary problems. When I did, the cruelest punishment I gave would be that the student was not allowed in my studio for a day. You would think a kid would love that! Go to the cafeteria or library and “hang”. But no- to be forced out of my room was frustrating- they loved being there. So after some easy conversation, we’d work out the problems and the disciplinary action would be gone. It was too much fun to work in Shatz’s class even if they had to abide by her tons of rules. It was the class that everyone wanted to be in.
I told my students that I regularly exercise to keep my arms, shoulders, back and legs strong and healthy. At first they laughed at me, and said, “that’s because you are old”. But many times an advanced student that worked a great deal in my room would have a sore back, or if they were on the wheel their neck and shoulder would ache. I explained the advantages of just stopping work for a few minutes, stretch your arms and twist your back and neck and walk around the room. They found that incorporating that routine into their class kept their bodies more conformable. For myself, I maintain a rigorous exercise program. I power walk about five times a week for about forty five minutes, and every day I do Yoga for between fifteen to twenty minutes, depending upon my routine. Yes, exercise takes time, but it is time that is essential. I truly believe the more I exercise, the more years I can work in clay comfortably.
As for my own studio at home, I maintain it in much the same way I did my classroom studio. I only wedge up a small quantity of clay at a time. After twenty minutes or so at the wheel I get up, stretch, and walk around the studio to get more clay and sit down again. I keep the wedging board on the opposite end of the studio from my wheel, so that I have to walk a distance to get to my clay. Three bricks, so as to make the wheel more ergonomically balanced to my body, lift my wheel up. I use my arms more than putting pressure on my back by this height. Many wheels come equipped with leg extensions to calibrate the height of the wheel to an individual’s needs. Because my right foot is on the foot pedal, I keep a small bat under my left foot so that both legs are at the same height in relation to my hips. I only use my tools once and then they go into a bucket; after a few days I wash them all. Once or sometimes twice a week I mop down my studio floors. Every day I sponge down my tables, and clean my wheel head and wheel table. I do this regular routine at the end of my workday. It only takes about twenty minutes, and I use this time as a kind of “wind down time”. I look over my space with pride and joy as I can see a beautiful studio, free from a cloud of dusty clay.
I love that my space is ready to come back to on the next day, and I am eager to work again. My new studio in my new home is the prettiest studio I have had, with painted plasterboard walls instead of the cement and stonewalls of my previous studio. In place of pipes and beams, I now have stucco ceilings and beautiful lighting fixtures. I have an evenly painted cement floor that is easily washable, and I enjoy my heat and air conditioning. I have wonderful equipment. I now own two wheels, one for brown clay and one for white porcelain. I work on a great slab-rolling machine and am having fun exploring my new extruder. My kiln room is a separate room from my working studio and I love the exhaust system that I have installed, keeping my house odor free and safe for my family. This is my last studio, and while it is much prettier than the one I had for twenty years, they both exhibit clean spaces.
A clean and orderly studio is a beautiful space in which to create art.