POTTERY PRODUCTION PRACTICES: Ceramic Art at Alfred

March 1, 2008
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The School of Art and Design at Alfred University shares a unique partnership with the university’s Inamori School of Engineering while simultaneously enjoying the diversity of a comprehensive liberal arts program.

Student work by Zachary Velkoff, sophomore wheel: sode fired stoneware, 8 x 8 x 8 in.


Recent work by second-year graduate student Mark Hochstedler: 3 in. high x 53/4 in. wide x  4 in. deep; stoneware, slips, terra sigillata, and glaze; fired to cone 6, oxidation; 2007.

Initially established as part of the New York State College of Ceramics, the School of Art and Design is a dynamic art school that shares a unique partnership with the Inamori School of Engineering (previously the School of Ceramic Engineering and Material Science) while simultaneously enjoying the diversity of the comprehensive liberal arts program offered by Alfred University. Ceramic art at Alfred has a national and international reputation with a long-standing history and legacy that continues to attract committed artists and educators.

Today, the Division of Ceramic Art has a core of six faculty that represents and embraces the range of genres practiced in contemporary ceramic art: Anne Currier, Andrea Gill, John Gill, Wayne Higby, Walter McConnell and Linda Sikora. As contemporary artists, the faculty recognizes the traditions of ceramic art while sharing a commitment to innovation that pushes boundaries.

New for the division is the Turner Teaching Fellow, a teaching and research position that aims to attract young emerging talent to the faculty. The addition of a technical specialist trained in computer-aided design and machining further advances the division’s capacity to educate students working in ceramics. To expand the communication and engagement with the global community, the division has also invited an illustrious group of international artists and educators as sabbatical replacements, resident artists and endowed chair recipients.

Faculty members Andrea Gill and Walter  McConnell review the work of second-year graduate student Paul Donnelly.

The Campus Experience

Acceptance into the undergraduate and graduate studio programs is determined by portfolio review and selection. International students are a welcome addition in broadening communal conversations and perspectives. At the undergraduate level, students work toward the bachelor’s of fine arts (BFA) degree in a non-major program that offers studio classes in a range of visual art practices.

The master’s of fine arts (MFA) degree supports graduate students in the areas of Ceramic Art, Sculpture/Dimensional Studies and Integrated Electronic Arts. All students have access to numerous academic offerings in the liberal and the performing arts programs, and the Samuel R. Scholes Library archives one of the country’s most comprehensive collections of research material for ceramic art and engineering.

The school’s visiting artist and lecture series, exhibitions of nationally and internationally recognized artists in the Fosdick-Nelson Gallery, in combination with the exhibitions and lectures sponsored by the Schein-Joseph International Museum of Ceramic Art, add to the scope of visual art at Alfred. Public performances in dance, theater and music, which are sponsored by Alfred University’s Division of Performing Arts programs, promote and further enhance the creative and artistic environment on campus. In addition, an exchange program and partnership with the Central Academy of Fine Arts-City Design School in Beijing, China, provides undergraduate students with the opportunity to gain international travel-abroad experience.

Current graduate students. Back row (from left to right): Alec Schramek, Ben DeMott, Rebecca Chappell, Paul Donnelly, Joe Page and Mark Hochstedler. Middle: Elizabeth Sparks, Shawn Murrey, Elizabeth Emery, Andrea Marquis, Eliza Au and Kala Stein. Front: Seth Payne, Thomas Schmidt and Mathew Karas.

Coursework

The focus of the Division of Ceramic Art at Alfred is the education of undergraduate and graduate students to the limits of their imagination. A student’s familiarity with materials and processes, coupled with a knowledge of historical and contemporary issues, enhances the development of concept and an individual point of view. For the undergraduate student, entry into ceramic art begins at the sophomore level. Courses in hand-building and wheel-throwing introduce students to the use of basic tools and techniques for shaping, glazing and firing objects made of clay. Conceptual and applied problem-solving projects enable students to realize creative ideas within the context of material experimentation and exploration.

At the junior level, the Division of Ceramic Art offers a range of courses, such as wheel, pottery, sculpture, systems, color and surface, tile, and special topics in ceramic art, that advances skills and inquiry. In the senior year, students pursue self-directed projects with faculty advisors of their choice.

The division offers several elective courses: Raw Materials, which concentrates on clays and clay bodies formulated for traditional and experimental applications; Glaze Calculation, which introduces the basic science of glaze formulation; and Kiln Design, which presents principles of gas kiln design and construction. Every year, students in this class build a kiln for studio use.

An additional elective course available to ceramic art undergraduate and graduate students is Science of Whitewares. Designed and offered by a ceramic engineer, this course provides a fundamental basis for analyzing problems encountered in the fabrication of objects using ceramic materials. Through the Division of Art History, undergraduate and graduate students take courses in the History of World Ceramics and Contemporary Ceramic Art that examine cultural contexts and traditions, thematic approaches and influences, scholarship, and developments in studio ceramic art.

The mission of the MFA program in ceramic art is to provide a challenging and supportive environment for artistically gifted individuals. The studio resides at the center of a curriculum that includes courses in art history and theory, lectures on clay and glaze materials, and seminars that address issues of studio practice and the written thesis. The pursuit of skill regarding material process and technology is critical, along with a conceptual rigor and perspective that recognizes a broad spectrum of visual art.

The two-year MFA program in ceramic art continues to compete for and recruit some of the best students in the country, and it remains at the forefront of the field in ceramic art. Full tuition remission is available to each graduate student accepted into the MFA program. Teaching assistantships are offered to every graduate student for both years of the program and provide opportunities to develop teaching skills and to study the pedagogical approach of faculty members in the Division of Ceramic Art and the Foundation program. Graduate students may also independently teach drawing or ceramic courses offered to non-art majors enrolled in Alfred University’s Liberal Arts program.

Summer School at Alfred offers another chance for graduate students to gain teaching experience. Alfred Summer Ceramics is an intensive four-week session that offers a comprehensive ceramic experience to students at all levels of expertise. And because ceramic art and engineering together shape the college’s tradition, the division continues to explore opportunities that interface the two schools and extend educational crossover experiences for students. With the support of funding from New York State, one project currently underway is the investigation of various methods and technologies that will reduce energy consumption in firing processes.

The indoor kiln room at Alfred with two gas-fired kilns that were recently constructed by technician David Fredrickson with student interns.

Beyond Graduation

Faculty support of students’ professional endeavors continues after graduation. Referrals to and recommendations for workshops, residencies, graduate programs and teaching positions are part of the faculty’s ongoing commitment to fostering the career advancement of the division’s alumni. In addition, partnerships with programs such as the City Design School in Beijing include alumni teaching and artist residency opportunities.

For additional information, contact the School of Art & Design, Alfred University, 2 Pine St., Alfred, NY 14802; (607) 871-2935/2442; fax (607) 881-2490; e-mail whitelz@alfred.edu; or visit www.alfred.edu.

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