1. The arts have been an MA value since the beginning. Very few high schools have a two-year art requirement (though the vast majority of our students take more than two years). Why is art education so important during high school years?
MA appreciates and understands the impact and significance art has on a teenager’s life. We allow kids to tap into their creativity by exploring the world around them. In the visual arts department, we like to think of Art One as an “Introduction to Vision.” It’s like learning a new language complete with a new vernacular and terminology. Once students are confident and feel supported, they soar. They develop a personal vision, and they love sharing it with their classmates. That’s my favorite part of teaching: seeing the joy and pride students feel when they have created something they’re proud of.
2. In MA’s strategic plan, we talk about developing innovators and problem solvers. Art class is the very place to learn those skills. How do you see that happening in your classroom?
I think that innovating and problem solving are especially apparent in the arts. My hope is to tap into the imagination, passion, and aesthetic sensibility in each student. Beginning with the freshmen year foundation course, students are asked to be both independent and collaborative. They begin to experience what it’s like to expose their inner feelings and experiences and transfer these thoughts and ideas into concrete imagery. This process also provides them with immediate feedback and chance for reflection. It’s a process that I believe is carried over into other disciplines.
In ceramics, especially, students face decisions at every stage as they develop their piece. From the inception of the idea, to the prototype they build in paper to check spatial dimensions, to preparing the clay, construction, detail, and surface treatment, they are asked to problem solve and adjust their designs to work successfully. Decisions are continually being made, and they realize that there isn’t time to over think their design. They have to take risks.
3. You’ve been at MA 28 years. What has changed, and what has stayed the same?
Before I got here in 1983, Barbara Gardner taught art up in the Art Barn, adjacent to tennis courts but where maintenance is now. They relocated the arts into a building that was formerly a church in the lower area of campus where we are now.
We only had about 200 students—half of what we have now. Art One was in a small room downstairs. The ceramics studio was formerly a kitchen and held about four potter’s wheels and a long table for building clay sculpture. The kilns were on the back porch. Later, Performing Arts were added with a boxy addition that didn’t match the older architecture. It was a fun, funky place.
What is constant is the sense of community. There is still a very close relationship between faculty and students. We ask students to make a lot of decisions on their own. Our kids do so well because they empower themselves to make change.
4. How have your classes changed during that time?
Well, I still really enjoy working with teenagers, so that hasn’t changed. They’re so energetic and curious. I’ve had fun over the years incorporating my love of travel with art history so it’s been great to bring these experiences back to my students.
When I was 18, I backpacked with friends through Europe to see all the works of art we had studied in art history. We soaked in the European culture every summer through college. I was particularly interested in learning about the roots of ceramic history, so I later concentrated on Greece, the Middle East, and China and even experienced a few archeological digs on the way. Much of my curriculum has been based on actual experiences.
In 2006 I was fortunate to receive the E.E. Ford Fellowship to work with a master potter in Greece. I was able to live the culture and work alongside him in his studio on day-to-day basis. I also went to Taos and studied with the decedents of Maria Martinez, the internationally renowned San Ildefonso Pueblo potter. I learned the black on black burnished style, which had been passed down from generation to generation. When I came back to MA, I was able to devise a firing chamber in a trash can that would mimic their firing. It was very exciting.
I hope to keep on traveling. All of the things I learned through traveling I’ve been able to bring back and incorporate into my classes. I think it’s so important that students get a global perspective.
5. What are the three most important things our students get from an MA education?
A sense of purpose, a sense of self-value, and a sense of empowerment to affect change. I’m always so pleased to see what our alumni have accomplished years after they’ve left. Whatever they do there’s always a little piece of MA that carries into their world.