Spotlight: Finding an Artistic Voice

Ceramics Monthly: What are some of the reasons your adult students at The Caddo Kiowa Technical Center in western Oklahoma decide to take a ceramics class?

Ronnie and Peggy Avants: Maybe it’s a childhood memory of making mud pies, or watching the mud harden, dry, and transform into something that brought a sense of ownership.

When asked why they were interested in taking pottery classes some of the students’ responses included: to meet new people, for stress release, to learn a new skill, and having always wanted to try pottery making. Out of all the adults who have attended the sessions, only one had any prior connection to working with clay.

Research shows that practicing/making art promotes self-expression and improves communication with others. Creative outlets help keep the mind active.

Using white stoneware or red earthenware, students discover the process of creating functional and decorative vessels. After making that first pinch pot, the creative process is awakened and the student is hooked! Coil building and slab construction techniques allow the clay’s possibilities to come alive for the students; watching them find their own artistic voice is very rewarding. Add in the scientific and magical process of firing the clay then choosing glazes to enhance the pieces, and students are truly captured by the whole process of creating with clay.

This is the fourth 12-week session offered for adult students, and many have returned for all four sessions. Their developed skills will enable them to move on to other firing processes such as pit firing, raku, and saggar firing. One student has started barrel firing on his own with success.

CM: Do you give assignments to the adult students, or show them techniques, then ask them to practice those in open ended projects?

RA and PA: Adult students are not under pressure to complete a project, but they do seem to want immediate success. When applied, the instructed techniques allow them to build new muscle memory as well as develop a mental awareness of the world of clay and maybe even a little self discovery.

After a new handbuilding technique is taught, students are encouraged to pair their own ideas with the techniques to create a clay form. Students are continually guided on technique, while encouraged to focus on expanding their circle of community through interactions with fellow students. It is refreshing to see adults step out of their comfort zone with a desire to create.

CM: Are there any unexpected ways your adult students have inspired you as a teacher and an artist?

RA and PA: Inspiration for me comes from seeing the excitement on a student’s face when they see their own ideas resolved into a physical object. Returning students who come back session after session confirm to me the importance, especially in rural areas, of making more of the arts available to adults. If you offer it, they will come!

Ronnie Avants (pictured above right with student Delores Poafpybitty) received a BA and MA from Southwestern Oklahoma State University, and taught art in public schools for 28 years before teaching ceramics at The Caddo Kiowa Technical Center. 

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