I’ll be the first to admit, I’m artistically challenged. My ceramics career peaked in the third grade when I made a mug with a holey bottom and half a handle. Needless to say, I wasn’t drinking tea out of that thing anytime soon.
But thankfully, people who can take clay and work magic do exist. The ceramics club is one such group of people. To see what the club was all about, I went to the ceramics studio in Mark Hopkins one Thursday night during their open hours. Soon thereafter, I found myself chatting with Max Harmon ’18.5 and Annalee Tai ’21, who along with Nick Gardner ’19 and Johnny Ahsing ’21 helped restart and now help run the studio.
Why “restart“? Because prior to this school year, ceramics had been put on the back burner due to a non-functional kiln. Six years ago, the studio in Mark Hopkins had been a storage room before students happened upon it and decided to convert the space. It was a discovery that surprised the students – how had the space not already been integrated into something functional? It had just been sitting there, gathering dust. The club picked up some steam by the time Harmon was a first-year, but it was a “small group of people and an undeveloped studio.” Fast forward to this fall, where Harmon and Thai obtained the materials to repair the broken equipment. Once the kiln was fully operational again, there was no better opportunity than the present to resurrect the club.
Visiting the studio was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Picture a convivial group of people, deftly making pieces of art while laughing amongst themselves. It’s a brightly lit space with just the right amount of messiness, enveloped in sweet strains of acoustic music playing gently in the background. The open atmosphere, the creativity and the social bonding were all conducive to creating a space where students could step away from the stress of everyday life and simply unwind. “It feels good to do something with your hands,” Tai said. “It’s really grounding.” Especially in an environment like the College, where it feels as though one is running from practice to performance, seminar to study session, all hours of the day, it becomes even more vital to have a place to be creative and just play with clay.
Harmon echoed her sentiment. “There’s something immensely rewarding about tangible production – it’s nice to create tangible things,” he said. Being able to see your results from the onset is another reason that spurs students like Tai and Harmon to keep coming back to the artform. After all, “you can’t center the clay until you center yourself,” Harmon said with a laugh.
This art is open for everyone to partake in, even for people like me who are complete novices at ceramics. “You can absolutely walk in with no experience. We’ll teach you,” Harmon said. Open hours for ceramics are on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The more experienced students are more than willing to help beginners learn foundational skills, like throwing a pot or working a wheel. Students, eager to lend a hand where they can, greatly facilitate the multi-step process of ceramic-making, from molding to firing and every step in between.
And after students learn the basics? “It’s pretty freeform,” Tai said, “You can make anything.”
The College currently does not offer a ceramics class during the fall or spring semesters, although it does offer “Making Pottery on the Potter’s Wheel“ during Winter Study. This links into a larger conversation about the utility and importance of art in a curricular setting. The traditional view that “ceramics is a craft, not an artform” is in part responsible for why the ceramics studio was not used for all those years. It’s an ongoing dialogue, and it’s one that needs to be had. The ceramics club has been homegrown and student-run since the very beginning. Now, it’s become a space for students to kick back, relax and enjoy the fact that clay is, at the end of the day, a whole lot of fun.