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Dual-credit ceramics experience: Student artwork on display

Students of Last Term’s Dual-Credit Ceramics Experience Display Their Work in East Boliou Gallery

On Friday, Jan. 12 at 4:30 p.m. in Boliou East Gallery, the students of ARTH 266 (Arts of the Japanese Tea Ceremony) and ARTS 236 (Ceramics: Vessels for Tea) gathered around an exhibit of their work to talk and reflect on their Fall Term experience. Each class required concurrent registration in the other: while the credits were separate, the professors worked together to ensure the students had a comprehensive understanding of both the history and the craft.

Tea bowls, plates, sake bottles and decorative flower vases all sit in the exhibit, avast and varied range of items based on the styles of many places and times.

In the ceramics class, taught by professor of Art Kelly Cannole, the students learned to work with electric, gas and wood kilns. They used several types of wheels (electric, treadle and kick) to throw their materials before firing them. With the Minneapolis Institute of Art less than an hour’s drive away, Cannole noted that Minnesota has a “robust clay culture.” Materials are readily available to the students, easy to access even outside structured class time.

After working in the ceramics studio through the morning, the students moved to history, taught by Tanaka Memorial Professor of International Understanding and Art History Kathleen Ryor. She covered the evolution of the tea ceremony, describing how it changed over time and place, as well as issues of social class, gender, politics and other factors of the tradition. The history class studied tea ceremonies starting in  the eighth century, when China introduced the tea ceremony to Japan, and continued into the present, as the tradition continues to thrive. There was discussion about the internationalization of the practice, in large part driven by the people of Japan.

The students also explored the history of methods for creating tea vessels: while clay cone shapes are used today, potters used to use clay rings in the kiln to determine the temperature of the fire in order to better control the firing process. There were also methods used to detect changes in temperature by looking at  the color of the fire: at 1000 degrees Fahrenheit, fire is  dull red. Then, as temperature increases, it brightens into orange, then yellow and eventually a bright white at 2350 degrees. One can safely get close to the kiln for observation and operation. The professors discussed how, other than digital methods of measurement such as pyrometers, there haven’t been many changes in how kilns work since the 11th century, which was when kiln manufacturers figured out how to manipulate the intake of cold air in order to rapidly increase temperature inside the kiln. Toward the end of the term, a huge wood kiln was lit from five a.m.  until midnight. Each student saw a few of their works fired in the kiln; according to Connole, it was a “whole event,.”

The students went on field trips as a group; everything was done jointly between the classes besides the classes themselves. They engaged in tea ceremonies in other places such as  St. John’s Pottery in Collegeville, Minnesota, about which is around a two-hour drive from Northfield. Collegeville also happens to host the largest bourry box kiln in the U.S. They also traveled to the Minneapolis Institute of Art to look at the Japanese tea room. The students also got to meet two artists in residence. The visiting artists gave talks about their experience immigrating to the U.S. from Japan and how they value sustainability in their art.

The classes also covered the variations of the ceremony based on social standing, the season of the year, historical location and time period. The professors expressed their enthusiasm for how the knowledge the students had in the field of history augmented the depth and complexity of their art.

Each piece was labeled with the artist, medium, and the era the maker took inspiration from. Many materials came from local sources, such as wood and wood ash from the trees in the Arboretum, as well as clay dug from the Arb. The pieces in the exhibit are only a small sample of everything that was made during the class: the final alone required 14 pieces, with three versions each. The students made between 40 and 80 pieces throughout the 10-week term. Kaitlyn Lu ’25, a student in the classes, mentioned how she still uses pieces she made in the class, such as a mug she made, pointing to the functionality of the rendered art in addition to the aesthetic.

The professors spoke about how students’ extensive involvement paid off as their practice went deeper and became more complex and how their knowledge translated into intricate artistic expression. While the ceramics course built on the techniques learned in Beginning Ceramics, previous experience varied widely between the students, from some knowledge in history, to some in ceramics, to none at all. To this end, Connole attested, “Even a beginner can make good work,” praising the quality of the students’ finished products and how far they all have come.

The classes will be taught again in Fall 2025, with no prerequisites or requirements besides concurrent registration. The exhibit will be displayed until Midterm Monday, Feb. 5.

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