POTTERY PRODUCTION PRACTICES: Discovering a Passion for Ceramic Art

September 1, 2007
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At Trinity Episcopal School, students are given both the opportunity and the freedom to explore their passion for ceramics-and they're producing stunning results.

Above: Rhiannon Woody decorates an earthenware platter with Speedball earthenware glazes.

The motto and guiding principle of Trinity Episcopal School in Richmond, Va., is Discover Your Path. The school seeks out students in grades 8-12 who are creative and often a bit non-conformist, and encourages them to pursue both their interests and their passions. Under the guidance of Headmaster Dr. Thomas Aycock, Trinity Episcopal actively fosters an environment of individualized learning. Always seeking to expand both the choices available to students as well as the educational boundaries of the school, Dr. Aycock decided eight years ago that the school needed to expand its existing art program to include a 3-D component.

Lee Hazelgrove, a respected and well known local potter, was hired to create a sculpture and ceramics program at the school. Dr. Aycock provided the program with all the equipment Lee requested, including 15 Shimpo pottery wheels, two L & L and one Cress electric kiln, a raku kiln, a Bailey slab roller and extruder system, and a Radcliff pug mill. Dr. Aycock gave Lee complete autonomy over the program, with the simple expectation of great results and inspired students. 

The program initially sought to provide students with a beginner level experience with clay, including working on the wheel, hand building, decorating and glazing. Within the first few years, it had grown to a sequential curriculum incorporating intro level and advanced ceramics, advanced sculpture, 3-D design principals, and a junior-senior year intensive study in ceramics. Today, the ceramic and sculpture department has two faculty members, serves up to 100 students a year and is recognized as a regional leader in college preparatory arts programs.

Aycock and Hazelgrove have had great success giving the art program and its students the same star status accorded to more traditionally popular activities like football and basketball. "It's cool to be an art student at Trinity," says Lee.

Headmaster Aycock works hard to make art an integral and expected part of the curriculum, open to and popular with all students. Trinity's Fine Arts Festival draws crowds as large as any Trinity sporting event and is, appropriately enough, held in the school gymnasium. This focus on the arts allows the sculpture and ceramics program at Trinity to attract students who might normally avoid a 3-D art class. In fact, the school has plans to expand the program with a new 5000-square-foot facility for the 3-D arts.

Carolyn Royce trims a stoneware bowl.

Diverse Student Interests

Three seniors in the ceramic program typify its diversity. Carolyn Royce works exclusively with mid-range stoneware clays using Speedball's line of cone 6 stoneware glazes as decoration. The judges at Trinity's Fine Arts Festival noted that Carolyn could probably make a career as a professional potter based on the quality and appearance of her work. Rhiannon Woody works exclusively with white earthenware clays, using assorted colors of Speedball earthenware glazes over a white glaze base. Her large platters often measure well over 2 ft across, and she believes the thicker consistency of the Speedball glazes has demonstrably improved her results.

Brianna Winter also works with earthenware clays, but she chooses to decorate with Speedball underglazes and Speedball's clear 05-06 glaze. Bri was a Gold Key Portfolio winner at the regional level of the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and competed at the national level this spring in New York. Her work draws on the intensity and vividness of the underglaze colors. Students in the Trinity ceramics program also experiment with raku, ceramic wall installations, mixed media involving clay, and decorating clay with both acrylic and oil paints.

Bowl by Carolyn Royce decorated with Speedball stoneware glazes.

International Accreditation

Trinity Episcopal was the first school in Richmond to be accredited as an International Baccalaureate (IB) school. The International Baccalaureate program provides a global standard for the evaluation of the success of academic programs. The IB philosophy also meshes well with the philosophy of Trinity Episcopal, which encourages and recognizes self-motivated and individualized work. Students are expected not only to seek out a particular and personal style but to understand the history and technical knowledge behind their chosen approach.

Finished teapot by Bri Winter.

As part of the IB testing process for Lee's ceramic program, students are required to keep a detailed research journal of both progress and setbacks in their areas of focus. Rhiannon's journal, for example, documents the occasional failure of certain large platters to survive the firing process, the results of using different brands of clays and glazes, and how different earthenware glazes melt together in combination.

At the end of their senior year, a professor from Virginia Commonwealth University's art department, acting as an examiner for the IB program, evaluates each student. In addition, students provide a detailed examination booklet that contains images of their final body of work and excerpts from their research notebooks. The booklet is sent to Cardiff, Wales, to be judged on an international level.

Bri Winter decorates an earthenware teapot with Speedball underglazes.

Exceptional Rewards

With over 75 students taking ceramics each day, Lee Hazelgrove emphasizes to his students the importance of art as a counterbalance to other academic disciplines. He believes the creation of art requires a contemplative and perhaps even meditative mindset. Art-like math, science and literature-is but one way to make sense of our world.

The tools and methods of creating art are very different from other disciplines, however. Dealing with a variety of raw materials, Lee is constantly concerned with the many safety issues involved with creating pottery art. For example, he chooses to use glazes and related products that are lead-free and AP Certified nontoxic.

Math, science and English teachers at Trinity are fortunate that they never need to worry about glaze chemicals, spilled jars of paint or dust contamination, but the rewards of teaching 3-D art are many. Three of Lee's former students now attend the New York State School of Ceramics at Alfred University, and two more are currently enrolled in Virginia Commonwealth University's nationally recognized arts department. It is certainly ample proof that Headmaster Aycock's vision of giving students both the opportunity and the freedom to explore a passion can produce stunning results.

For additional information regarding glazes for the classroom, contact Speedball Art Co., 2301 Speedball Rd., Statesville, NC 28677; (800) 898-7224; fax (704) 838-1472; e-mail ritamadsen@speedballart.com; or visit www.speedballart.com.

Trinity Episcopal School's website is located at trinityes.org.


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