The clay-crazed citizens of the ceramics studio

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Hanna Hornfeld, Staff Writer

For some students, like Taimur Moolji (12), taking ceramics may start as a way to check off a credit requirement, but sometimes, it can unexpectedly become a new passion. Watching those students grow as artists has been a profound experience for Visual Arts teacher Keith Renner, he said.
This year, Renner’s Ceramics IV and IV honors classes are filled with some particularly creative and prolific students, he said. “Some students in that group came in freshman year saying that art was not for them, but now call themselves artists,” Renner said. “That’s very profound.”
Kamau Hubbard (12), who is in the IV class, took ceramics in his freshman and sophomore year to try something new and fulfill his graduation requirement. Sometime last year, he discovered that he loved its relaxing nature, he said. Now, Renner sees that Hubbard is a true artist, he said. “Kamau is making incredible work that would rival professional pots with an incredible amount of dedication.”
Jacob Bernheim ‘19 took ceramics for three years of high school. He is currently taking a gap year but is planning on pursuing ceramics through a club or an art class in college, he said. However, this was never his plan growing up. Bernheim didn’t realize that art was something he could enjoy until he took ceramics in his freshman year. Over time, Bernheim unexpectedly developed a passion for the material and its mix of art and functionality, he said.
Renner loves watching students develop an unexpected taste for ceramics because it happened to him when he signed up for a ceramics class in college to get a requirement out of the way. “I fell in love with it, went to grad school for it, and met my wife in that ceramics studio,” he said. “Some clay changed my life.”
Madison Four-Garcia (10) can feel herself in the midst of developing a passion, she said. “When school is really stressful, ceramics calms me down,” she said. “Plus, I always wanted to be able to look at something and say ‘I made that.’” This is her second year taking ceramics, and she intends to stick with it through her senior year.
Like Four-Garcia, Hubbard feels that ceramics has a therapeutic effect, so he tries to go to the studio at least once a day, especially if he is stressed or frustrated. “It requires all of my attention, so I can relax and immerse myself in it,” he said.
Because of her busy schedule, Four-Garcia doesn’t have enough time to work outside of class, she said. However, she connects with the subject outside of school by watching videos and following ceramics accounts on Instagram. “I love seeing professionals make complicated things and learning new techniques,” she said.
Moolji, who takes Ceramics IV, created a ceramics account on Instagram last year after having seen other accounts, he said. Moolji mainly posts videos of himself throwing and photos that Renner takes of his artwork.
Renner keeps the studio open to students throughout the day and they are welcome to work in the studio even when another class is in session. Renner does this in part to encourage exchanges between different skill levels.
When more experienced students come in during a Ceramics I class, it shows the more inexperienced students something they can aspire to be, Renner said.“There are students who come here every free moment,” he said. “There’s always something happening, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
It was one such experience that drew Moolji to ceramics. Ceramics was his last choice for a half-credit to take during his sophomore year. By chance, Moolji wound up in Ceramics I that year, but he didn’t originally intend to continue. One day, Kyra Kwok ‘19 came into the studio to work while Moolji’s class was in session. She introduced Moolji to the wheel and he got hooked, Moolji said.
Because classes aren’t split up by grade level, the ceramics program also encourages friendships between students of different ages. Renner has watched the formation of friendships between students who wouldn’t have had the opportunity to bond if they weren’t in the same class, he said.
This year, Samantha Tsai (11) has become extremely close with other members of the Ceramics IV class, most of whom are seniors, she said. Every other Friday, they watch a movie as they work, and they are doing a secret santa as a class. Because Ceramics IV doesn’t have a set curriculum, the students have made up activities to do together, such as working while blindfolded. These activites have brought them even closer, Tsai said.
The lack of curriculum also allows individual students to focus on unique projects; for example, Hubbard’s main focus this year is on making plates. He chose this because his ultimate goal is to make artwork that he or other people can use, and he enjoys eating off of his own creations, he said.
For Hubbard, working with large amounts of clay or smoothing the bottoms of plates can be difficult at times. “It takes a lot to figure out how your hands react to the clay,” he said. “I’m still learning how my own hands work.”
Everybody faces challenges at some point, Four-Garcia said. “I have really good days where I make a lot and it turns out great, and there are other days when everything falls apart.”
The biggest challenge for Renner this year has been the relocation of the ceramics studio from the room in which he has worked for the past 16 years. “I’ve been teaching out of a box lately, but it’s also kind of fun to start over.” The new space is much more conducive to being a ceramics studio, in terms of shape and access to the outdoors for certain projects, he said.
Tsai has found that the obstacles that have come with the studio’s relocation have actually been beneficial. “All of the glazes are put away and there aren’t cubbies so all of the carts are filling up,” she said, “but because of that you can see the amount of stuff that people are creating, and it’s encouraging to see and I think it’s motivated all of us.”