A campus in clay

Riley Tanner

When most people think of ceramics, they picture vases and urns.

They imagine people molding clay on a potter’s wheel into the various shapes and sizes desired. Indeed, what has become the modern art of ceramics originally began far back in ancient Greece as (by modern standards) primitive pottery. Even the word “ceramics” comes from the Greek word keramikos meaning for or of pottery.

But far from outdated, ceramics makes its presence known. From toilet bowls, lamps, and coffee mugs to statues and life-sized recreations of office cubicles, this practice has far more depth than what a cursory observer might believe.

Richard “Richie” White, an accomplished ceramicist for over forty years and instructor at Saddleback for ten. He has recently begun working with the designers of Toyota, trying to expand their horizons through working with different creative forms of expression. Despite this formidable resume, White adopts a relaxed attitude. “That’s my specialty, being loose… that and being spontaneous”.

He tried to make me understand that there were mental and emotional aspects to ceramics that go beyond the physical molding involved. While yes, a student pursuing this profession will attempt to assert their will over the physical nature of the piece they are working on, White argues that this process will simultaneously sharpen the practitioner’s mind in finding alternative or unconventional solutions.

“That’s what ceramics does” said White, “It builds creativity through problem solving.”

By giving a student the ceramics equivalent of a blank page to create, that individual is forced to wade through quite literally thousands of possible options and solutions when creating a particular piece.

White urges his students to “get your brain to quiet down” in order for them for them to create. The irony of trying to fashion a box while thinking outside the box isn’t lost on the ceramics department. This practice is more than just molding clay, a student will also paint and modify their creations in whatever way they choose.

White’s philosophy is that in a world that is becoming more and more “virtual” every year, its important for students to get back into the “real world” with some hands on crafting. Working with three dimensional objects forces people to think about their work in a different way. “If you’re not having fun, then you’re doing something wrong.”

Stressing the point that creative, unconventional thinkers are needed in today’s increasingly “modernized and digitized” world. White proceeded to give a detailed description of the aesthetic and imaginative thinking that goes into ordinary household objects. From the handles on outdoor umbrellas to the edging on a mosaic, someone specifically thought of and applied each detail to their work based on their goals for the piece.

Jon Ginnaty, a gifted ceramics practitioner and instructor at Saddleback for six years, told me about how many things he’s learned though ceramics have translated into other aspects of his life. Throughout his life, Ginnaty has had the opportunity to feature his art in galleries in multiple states.

The ceramics program on campus is booming. “They come to us” said White, while explaining the ceramic’s appeal to students.

While the program does have an outreach program to various lower education schools around the state, their bodies usually arrive due to a genuine interest in the subject.

Saddleback has offered ceramics as a class to students since it’s founding and has enjoyed steady popularity. 

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