By Katlynn Rossignol
Once a semester, the lower SSC is filled with beautiful handmade ceramics. This Ceramics Sale is put on by Cedarville University’s Studio Art program to celebrate the student’s hard work. But how are the cozy mugs and stylish vases created in Alford Auditorium? I took the hike across campus to learn how this fantastic art form is made.
The art studio is a large workshop behind Alford’s auditorium with two rows of pottery wheels, shelves full of clay creations, and tables where students work on projects. I visited on Friday, September 29, while the Ceramics Foundations class was preparing for their historical vase critiques, and a few intermediate and advanced students worked at the pottery wheels. Before arriving, I learned ceramics are “objects produced by shaping pieces of clay that are then hardened by baking” (Cambridge Dictionary). But what types of ceramics are made at Alford?
I spoke to Darcy Ruffner, a student in the Ceramic Foundations class, as she set out her recently finished vase. She said beginner students start with pinching and coiling techniques, while intermediate and advanced students focus on wheel throwing.
When you think of pottery, wheel throwing is probably what comes to mind. An artist will sit at a pottery wheel and sculpt the clay as the wheel spins. Coiling and pinching are separate methods that don’t require students to use a pottery wheel. These projects are formed by pinching the clay into shape or creating stacked clay coils that are smoothed into a single piece. Students can use these techniques to create all kinds of designs.
“I do a lot of functional ceramics,” stated Kaitlyn Davis, a student in the Advanced Ceramics class. “Mugs, dishes, pasta bowls, teapots, plates…”
With such a variety of options, how do students begin planning their projects?
“I’m usually given a prompt,” Kaitlyn said in reference to her class assignments. “I go to Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration. Then, I do a lot of sketching to find the forms I want to see.” An Intermediate Ceramics student, Grace Gregory, uses a similar planning approach.
“I look at historical bowls,” she said. “Then I’ll look at Pinterest and stores to see what is being done today.”
With a plan in place, artists must dedicate vast amounts of time to their work. Most Ceramic Foundations students took an average of 20 hours to complete their recent coiled vase assignment.
“It can take a long time. Eight hours a week, depending on the project,” stated Grace. “There can be a lot of failed attempts. We’re all at different stages of learning, so you have to learn and grow.”
But timing depends on more than the artist’s ability to sculpt quickly; there is also baking to consider. Kaitlyn Davis showed me her recently finished pitchers that took her two hours to sculpt on the pottery wheel and had been through one bisque firing.
She informed me that a bisque firing hardens a clay project into its final ceramic form, typically earthenware, stoneware or porcelain. Before a project can be baked, it has to be bone dry. Then, it’s ready for a low firing, which hardens the clay. But the piece isn’t food-safe until it goes through a second fire, called a glaze firing. An artist will coat the piece in a glaze and put it through a high-temperature firing that hardens the glaze into a shiny layer.
Once a piece is finally baked and glazed, what determines if it’s a high-quality product? Kaitlyn and Grace believed it came down to technical skill.
“It depends on the project,” Kaitlyn stated. “A good piece should have even walls, a rounded shape and a clean rim with consistent thickness.”
“Smoothness throughout.” Grace agreed. “You don’t want a heavy base.”
A glance around the studio revealed dozens of high-quality projects. I asked Kaitlyn if these were like the pieces sold at Cedarville University’s Ceramics Sale.
“Yes, anything done by students can be sold,” she said. “Most students usually sell their smaller projects, like mugs.”
“They make a great gift for family and friends,” Grace added.
Although Alford Auditorium is hidden on the far side of campus, the ceramics studio brings a bright learning environment for Cedarville students to practice their craft. You can pick up a lovely piece of art and support students by attending this semester’s Ceramics sale. The sale will be held in the lower SSC from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. on December 6-7. Thank you to the many talented ceramics students for their time and Professor Mailloux for permitting this inside look at the Ceramics class.
Katlynn Rossignol is a sophomore Strategic Communications Major and A&E writer for Cedars. She loves arts and crafts, spending time with friends and watching superhero movies.
Images courtesy of Katlynn Rossignol