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.