Ceramics Monthly: When you were teaching at Juniata College, was there a time when learning and teaching interfaced so you couldn’t tell one from the other?
Jack Troy: Many beginning assignments aren’t pottery-related and call on the students to use the material to explore personal experience. One such project calls for making a clay model of a house they have lived in. Because Juniata College has few commuters, most students are living away from home for the first time.
We learn which class members have moved the most (9) and fewest (0) times and where they are currently from. “Where are you from?” is a question every college student is asked many times, and this project helps show the answer. When the assignment is complete, we have on our big work table a little village that could not exist anywhere else in the world. Each participant writes an essay about the house, the title of which is its address, and in a show-and-tell session we learn directly about the importance of remembered personal space. I usually gave this assignment in the fall, when students were new to the campus.
One participant, John, took his fired house model home with him over Thanksgiving break. Draping it with cloth and setting in the center of the family’s table for their holiday meal, he captured everyone’s attention. After grace, he uncovered the clay house, and everyone reached for the hands of the person seated next to them, and they all burst into tears. He’d modeled their home that had been destroyed by fire the year before. This was their first Thanksgiving at the second house they had lived in as a family. Not only had he completed the assignment; he had, with just a few pounds of clay, invested his model with power he had never anticipated until he, too, found himself joining hands around the table, crying, and then, just as spontaneously, laughing for joy with the rest of his family.