LEXINGTON, Ky. (3/20/13) – For the past several weeks, students in the beginning ceramics class at Tates Creek High School enjoyed bonus time with a professional artist who shared secrets of the pottery wheel, intricacies of mask-making and other magic with clay.“We’re giving them exposure to wheel throwing – the technique and process. We hope this early exposure helps them get over the intimidation factor,” said Bobby Scroggins, who teaches ceramics and sculpture at the University of Kentucky. “It allows students to think about things in a different way, instills a healthy respect for the arts and stimulates an appetite for creativity.”
Art teacher Jan Wozniak starts out with hand-built projects, showing students how to mold slabs and coils and generally put pieces of clay together. Further into the class, she introduces the pottery wheel as an optional tool. Students generally fare better with one-on-one instruction, she said, citing Scroggins’ assistance.
“We’ve had some who’ve sat down at the wheel and made beautiful little bowls and even cups. It’s challenging for them, and they’ve learned to build their level of experience,” she said.
Scroggins worked individually with teens interested in tackling the wheel, speaking softly and encouragingly as the spinning clay took shape under their hands.
“It’s one of those things that looks very easy if someone knows what they’re doing, but it can be very complicated. It involves not only this piece of material that is constantly changing, but we have rotation and movement so you’re trying to control something and give something form that is rotating anywhere from 25 to 70 rpms. That can be a challenge, but having that opportunity is really important because every now and then you’ll find someone who discovers a talent,” he said.
“They have to learn to respect the clay and practice because the potter’s wheel is like a musical instrument,” he added. “You also have to learn how to resist frustration because that’s part of it. Persistence is the greatest talent of all. If you have the patience and are driven enough to stay with it, your chances will increase that you’ll be good at it.”
Scroggins also spent time on mask-making, a medium for exploring texture, and showed students how to transform everyday objects into simple tools. Tree bark, sea shells, a mascara brush, a ham bone, even the patterns on a plastic takeout box can become a design instrument. One day, he used the tread on a boy’s tennis shoe to add texture to a thin piece of clay.
As he worked, Scroggins spoke of how different cultures have used masks – perhaps to welcome ancestors, to ensure a healthy childbirth or to ward off evil spirits. Traditionally, masks were not merely decorative but had a purpose.
“Everything he does has a story behind it,” said senior Tiffany Whisman, who appreciated Scroggins’ sharing anecdotes as he led them step-by-step through the processes.
Classmate Thomas Brown especially liked the sessions on texture.
“I’d never thought about using textures the way he does, and I’ve been experimenting here lately, and it’s a lot of fun,” said Thomas, who has tried onion bags, fish nets and cuneiform rolls in the art room.
Both thought Scroggins brought out students’ creativity and individuality with his approach.
“A lot of it is natural ability, how the clay feels in your hands,” Thomas suggested. “And if you express what you feel in your pieces, it’s a little bit of you in them,” Tiffany added.
Information provided by Tammy Lane
Photo provided by the University of Kentucky
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