By Brigid Skidd & Vivien Sorce
“You think that maybe you could literally spend the rest of your life learning all about it [ceramics]”
Over the summer of 2022, CVU rearranged its art rooms, resulting in a larger Ceramics room and changes to the layout of most other art classes. Emily Mitchell, the new ceramics teacher at CVU delves into the details of the move and her perspective on ceramics at CVU.
Who are you and how long have you been teaching?
“My name is Emily Mitchell, I am one of the art teachers at CVU, and this is my 22nd or 23rd year teaching.”
How did you come to be teaching at CVU?
Mitchell: “So I actually was hired at CVU in 2005 and I was a teacher here from 2005 until 2013. I taught Intro to Ceramics, Advanced Drawing, Painting and AP Art (not all at the same time but over the course of my time here). In 2019 I was actually teaching in Burlington Elementary School for the last three years and then Abby Bowker shifting to WCS opened a shift to the positions and I reapplied, went through the process again of interviewing and such, and then got rehired.”
How did the art rooms change this year and where is the Ceramics room now?
Mitchell: “So it was a domino effect, but basically what was the Photography/Design Tech room split into two – to be a Photography/Design room, and to have a Design Tech room where our office was previously. Our office is now where the service room used to be, the Ceramics room is in 146 now with a storage closet in the Kiln room and room 144 is our new drawing studio.”
What were some challenges of teaching in the small space of the old ceramics room?
Mitchell: “The size of the room was very limiting, not so much in what we were able to do but more just how big people could work to a certain extent, and it was just, we were very much on top of each other like no question about it. That being said, one thing I miss about that room is that we were on top of each other – and so therefore there was you know, we sat family style like a big long table and so everyone was sitting with everybody else and I do kind of miss that because I think this room with our three shorter tables kind of lends itself to people separating into different groups. I do miss that part, that’s okay I think having more work space, having the wheels have a little breath around them is a lot better.”
What are some changes that you’d make to this room that would get you back to something like the family style?
Mitchell: “The best way to set up the space – I’m someone who has to be in a space to use it, tweak it, live it, I’m going to work with it organically; so it’s probably honestly going to take me a couple years to figure out how to set up the space and we keep tweaking things that just haven’t gotten on the punch list yet, just because it’s going to keep changing I think as I settle in and figure out things that will work best in the space and also how to work with access in the space as well.
Is there anything else that has improved with the new room?
Mitchell: “The amount of light for sure, and then, I think ceramics being in this kind of closed space is better for everyone’s health, keeping all the clay together in one space, I think it’s a lot better from a safety perspective and having bigger counter space is fantastic so those are things that are working really well, and more storage.”
How does the larger room affect class size?
Mitchell: “We’re going to modulate between 16 and 20 just because the number of wheels we have there is a minimal number of spots available.”
What are some general reactions you’ve noticed from students about the new room?
Mitchell: “Most people go to the office first that haven’t been down here yet this year, they go there first looking for the door between the one that was the ceramics room because that didn’t move, right? So it’s just kind of thinking about it, thinking about where it is that’s been sort of the biggest thing and then also still like I’m still trying to decide where everything goes and so it’s again a list of work in progress so it’s kind of messier than I would like it to be”
What do you love about teaching ceramics?
Mitchell: “You think that maybe you could literally spend the rest of your life learning all about it and you would not ever learn all there is to learn or to do with clay and so that’s one. The second thing that I really really love about it in addition to being Hands-On, that part of success in clay is failing and having something break, having something crack, having ugly things go wrong, because that’s how you grow and then determine what you want to do next. So everything is laid upon itself and like I said you could literally spend the rest of your life learning how to do different forms, handle different things, combine different glazes in an infinite number of ways. There’s just so many responsibilities and I think it’s really exciting for students to try things in this room that they’ve never tried before working with this organic material. So different than any other material that we work with”
Do you think that the single semester style of teaching Ceramics is necessarily helpful with the ability to fail a bunch, the necessity of failure?
Mitchell: “I do miss the 90 minutes. That extra 15 minutes was actually probably as you know a good chunk of time but I have to plan you know leapfrogging products and then how long things take to build, dry, fire, glaze, right now it’s a whole a piece can take about a month right, so those are all things that I have to plan for regardless of if we were working a year-long or semester. So it doesn’t really matter, I’m glad we have Ceramics 2 and then you know there’s the possibility for either the independence of your studio block right, as ways for students to continue learning.”
What are some of the projects on display in the hallway right now?
Mitchell: “The large coil pots. I think right now it’s just the coil pots, and definitely first semester students have the excitement of possibly giving things that they make away for different holidays, so I think that a lot of things have headed out the door.”
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Mitchell: “I don’t think so… I will say the pottery wheel I think for many students has a part about failure. I think it’s one of the hardest things that some students try. I’ve been watching this show on HBO called the Great Pottery Throw Down, it’s sort of a pottery take on the Great British Bake Off and I definitely got a lot of creative ideas about just you know just not making things to keep but making things to just practice; practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice, and I think structuring some of those moments in class like that. That’s what I’m looking to to do with that, classes were giving me a lot of creative ideas about how to insert some of that into here, and not worrying so much about what I’m making and what my grade is but more like what can the clay do, what questions do I have, how do I want to grow, what else do I want to try, and that to me is way more important than, like making this thing and getting a good grade on it.”