Graduate psychology major, Melissa Martin, takes ceramics as a ritual to celebrate the end of a chapter in her life, as she puts the finishing touches on her thesis. Martin drops off her project of the semester for firing on Sept. 24. | Photo by Dakota Cox.

The HSU ceramics department fires back up

Experienced ceramics students are back in the lab this semester
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Experienced ceramics students are back in the lab this semester

Following a graceless transition to online learning in the spring, ceramics students are receiving a drastically improved experience this semester.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first went into effect, forcing students to finish the spring semester from home, ceramics students were among those who drew the shortest stick.

According to Ryan Hurst, who has been teaching ceramics at HSU for nine years, when classes were moved online, the hands-on experience that students signed up for was no longer possible. They were instead tasked with drawing up sketches, studying research and development and critiquing other artists’ works.

“It wasn’t ideal,” Hurst said.

This semester has been a continuous adjustment according to Hurst. Gaining access to the building as well as the proper equipment to record demonstrations over the summer was an uphill battle.

“I didn’t get either of those things until two weeks before it started up, so the plan kind of went out the window,” Hurst said. “I’d reformulated plans leading up to the end of the summer and some are working and some aren’t, but it’s a crazy adjustment.”

At the start of the fall semester, each student was given a kit to take home, including basic ceramics tools and the clay they would receive in a normal semester. Beginning ceramics students will be creating almost entirely from home this semester, because of the new lab capacity put in place by COVID-19 protocols. Meanwhile, intermediate and advanced level students are granted some access to the building, with portfolio development students receiving first priority.

“They have paid their dues and deserve the last moments of their academic career to do as much as time allotted them,” Hurst said.

Jenna Santangelo is a former student and now lab technician for the ceramics department. After six years of classes, this is Santangelo’s first year as a staff-member. According to her, the beginning students are able to accomplish almost all that’s required of them in a normal semester from the comfort of their homes, assuming they possess the space.

“Working at home is possible,” Santangelo said. “But it’s pretty messy and a lot of people don’t really have the space necessary for it.”

Melissa Martin is a graduate psychology major with an emphasis in academic research. She takes ceramics as a therapeutic ritual each time she’s nearing the end of a chapter in her education. This semester, she’s preparing to close the final chapter as she puts the polishing touches on her thesis. Taking the beginning ceramics course this semester and not having access to a lab has changed the way Martin approaches her projects.

“I think that you’re a little bit more restricted of how much work you can actually do,” Martin said. “I also was a very avid wheel thrower, so that’s also been a real big challenge. Now I’m doing a lot of hand building stuff so I really have to hone in on different skills.”

One thing not included in the kits the university handed out to ceramics students this semester was a proper kick wheel for throwing pottery.

“The kick wheels are, I think, like 400 pounds,” Santangelo said. “Which isn’t really feasible for most students to move.”

Despite the disappointments and also experiencing challenges with creating a comfortable workspace at home, Martin is remaining optimistic.

“We’re just learning how to be resilient in this world. We’re still trying to accommodate the best that we can,” Martin said. “But it is still a challenge and we’re still learning little bit by little bit, each time.”

Maximus Landon is brand new to the ceramics program this semester. Landon took the class in hopes it would help them enjoy school again. Unfortunately, the barriers introduced by the online format have taken away from some of the enjoyment.

“Because I’m really new to all of this, I’m not entirely sure what exactly I’m doing,” Landon said. “I’m not sure if I’m scoring things wrong and I’m not sure if I make this dent too large if it’s just going to have the entire side fall off, so it’s a lot of trial and error by myself and it’s not very fun for my anxiety.”

Likewise, Hurst has been very anxious this semester about the safety of his students and the quality of their education.

“It’s definitely not an ideal thing,” Hurst said. “But a lot of students have just been really happy to still be able to work with clay, even if it is at home.”

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