Although a sighting of one on Union’s campus is rare, you can usually spot a ceramics student from a mile away—sporting clunky work boots, funky eyewear, hipster attire and dried clay.
The elusive students can be found spending their days and nights holed up inside the Penick Academic Complex ceramics studio.
Among this tight-knit group of artists are Jessica Coats, a junior graphic design and ceramics major, and Aubrey Kurt, a sophomore pre-professional art therapy major.
“My entire life revolves around the artists in the studio,” Coats said. “We’ve built a community.”
Both Coats and Kurt are enrolled in Ceramics 01: Hand Building—the introductory studio class with focus on skills of building, decorating and firing clay.
The class requires at least six hours each week devoted to working in the studio. The students agree that they spend more time in the studio than they do in their dorm.
Kurt said that although she was intimidated at first, the ceramic studio is very inviting and filled with friendly, supportive upperclassmen.
The studio encourages an environment where the artists can communicate and analyze each other’s creations. Although their individual approaches span various artistic styles, their works are made from the same standard.
“My pieces tend to be more tight and refined,” Kurt said. “I’m a perfectionist, and I’m very slow and methodical in my work.”
Kurt said she didn’t have much interest in art until she took a ceramics class in high school.
“I learned that artistry is not just a talent, but a skill that you can create,” she said. “I love that it’s a way to communicate visually and how it can be therapeutic to people who are struggling.”
In the end, Kurt said her objective is to have the skills to make it on her own and know how to apply them in a marketable way.
Unlike Kurt, Coat admits to being “loose and crazy” with her styling and personality.
“I’m usually watching Portlandia on Netflix and talking to everyone,” Coats said. “I’m not really a shy person. I wear a lot of crazy shirts that talk about my size and my overall personality.”
Making pottery is no easy task. Mixing the clay alone is a process that can take more than an hour and requires sufficient practice to obtain the right consistency. After the clay is mixed, artists go through the process of “wedging,” which requires throwing the clay against a table to allow the air to escape and kneading it like dough.
The next step would be to “throw” the clay on a potter’s wheel. However, for this class, students are only allowed to use molds to build their pieces by hand.
“Throwing on the wheel would be easier,” Kurt said. “But doing it by hand helps us to understand the quality of the material.”
Although Coats and Kurt are considered newcomers to the art major, they quickly fit in with the other artists.
“I want people to know that we are really amazing people,” Coats said. “I’m a transfer student, and this community is the only reason I stayed at Union.”
After graduation, Coats said she wants to apply for a pottery or graphics internship. She eventually wants to make pots and to use her graphics skills to sell her pots and brand herself.
“Everyone should be an art major,” she said. “It’s the best.”