t e a c h i n g
p h i l o s o p h y
growing a studio culture
of contagious curiosity
The study of ceramics is rooted in an intrinsic human need passed on from our ancestors for hands-on exploration of the material. It is personal. Techniques can be taught, critiques can help direct aesthetic choices, but a student must be encouraged in a supportive environment to practice and study deeply until they begin asking their own questions and setting their own path. That’s where inspiration lives.
With a strong background in Art History from Middlebury College and a wide range of topics + techniques that I was lucky enough to learn from exceptional professors at Hood College on my way to an MFA, I strive to cultivate an environment of constant exploration and contagious curiosity in my classroom. It is an environment where students not only develop a deep love for clay and the creative process, but they learn that the ceramics studio is a positive and peaceful place to think critically and deeply about art within its larger social, historical, and intellectual contexts. I think it is essential to build a foundation of high skill and refinement from the beginning and to expose students to as many challenging techniques and design styles as possible, so that they are pushed out of their comfort zone to discover a meaningful process of their own that they will take with them when they leave my studio.
We also adopt the mantra of the Arts and Crafts Movement, to push the limits of our creative potential, to re-learn the joy and importance of being a maker, and to reconnect with the long traditions of the unknown craftsmen of the world. As art educators, I believe it is our duty in the age of screens, social media, and the 24-hour news cycle to help our students counterbalance the modern overflow of thoughtless mass-production and find something deeper in their days. I also believe developing skill takes a balance of uninhibited play and purposeful practice. I teach my students to draw, to invent, to plan, and to scrutinize their design decisions. There needs to be encouragement for true scholarship of the medium if a student is going to develop a sense of why they are driven to make a certain style of work. My students not only take regular outings to view ceramics and sculpture in museums and contemporary galleries, but they have a standing weekly assignment to watch and reflect on online videos of artists at work in their studios and gallery openings of new exhibitions. I feel we have at our fingertips an open-source education system, with millions upon millions of masterful resources being shared, and a student of the craft can earn a Masters-level skill-set online if we are curious enough to find the good stuff.
My students have experienced raku, pit and saggar firing, developed their own clay and glaze formulas, ground regional minerals into clay body stains, and they have dug and tested natural clays from local river beds to further discover the hands-on wonder we get from deeply exploring our medium. We build kilns, we take them apart, we fire pots in backyard grills and smokers, and, armed with the scientific method (and careful note-taking) we systematically push the materials past their limits to understand their full potential.
Finally, I believe in the worldwide importance of finding the creative being within us all. It is often dormant or unpracticed, but, once encouraged, it is a beautiful thing to see released. I make work alongside my students, because of the desire to see, and be inspired by, that light. The studio, like any other artist will tell you, is a refuge. It is a place to escape the noise of the world, slow down, and put your hands to work as they were meant to be. Time stops there. Ideas don't. It's a pressure cooker for productivity, and it should be a community-builder. A culture-maker. My own temple-bell designs, my blackboard mugs, all of my work actually, began in a workspace where I was surrounded by students. Their curiosity is contagious and collaborating with them has fostered, in me, a commitment to consistently push the quality of the work on my shelves. The objects I make are special to me, because they are record of a specific time, a class, a lesson. They are used in the special daily rituals of life: having a cup of tea, serving a family meal, ringing in a wedding, or meditating in the quiet hours of the day, and my students return years later and recognize the same qualities in their own work and the same value from their own studio practice. I aim to be a mentor for each of my students, but if I can also help them develop refined technical skills by meeting failure with determined optimism and foster in them a yearning to never stop their own conceptual exploration to discover their most meaningful work then that is a career worth having.