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Meet Ceramics Instructor Allison Severance

Bowls by Allison Severance.
Bowls by Allison Severance.

Among the 12 new instructors teaching classes at The Art League in the 2013/14 school year, four will be teaching ceramics: Judit Varga, Susan Greenleaf, Tony Clennell, and Allison Severance. And with the delivery of a new kiln last month, wood-firing and raku-firing workshops to come, and the Ice Cream Bowl Fundraiser coming up next month, it seemed like the perfect time to check in with the ceramics department.

We talked to one of the new instructors, Allison Severance, about what beginners can make in their first pottery class, her philosophy on clay, and what to expect from the woodfiring workshop. Read our Q&A, below:

What will your class be like — what will a beginning or more experienced student do in nine weeks?
I will be teaching two classes on Tuesdays – Throwing/Handbuilding Ceramics — and students of all skill levels are welcome! It is my goal to devote one-on-one, personalized instruction to all students, regardless of skill level. Within a nine-week session it is also my goal to expand students’ vision of their clay potential, increase their awareness of ceramic history and contemporary ceramics, and most importantly, motivate students so they become “hooked” on clay! I know I have taught a good class when my students leave the studio happier than when they arrived.

The new gas kiln installed in the Madison Annex in July.

In a typical nine-week session, I will introduce beginning students to centering and opening the clay using the potters wheel and teach them to throw, or to make, bowls, vertical forms and plates. Also within the session and for students with experience, I will focus on techniques such as pulling and attaching handles, lid-making and knob attachment, altering forms on the wheel, trimming, adding feet, surface decoration, and more. I love sharing the tips and techniques I have learned through the years through apprenticeship and owning my own pottery business, and I plan on doing wheel demonstrations during each class. I like to demo pots we use in the home, such as mugs, serving bowls, bakers and storage jars. Students will be encouraged to attempt the functional kitchenwares I demo, but I hope they use what I share to create their own interpretations and to develop their own personal voice in clay.

What will students do in the wood-firing workshop, and who can take it?
In the very near future, my partner, [ceramics chair] Blair Meerfeld, and I will be hosting wood-firing workshops here at our studio in the mountains of northern Maryland. Firing pottery in a wood-fueled kiln is a centuries-old technique and is a magical and mystical way to finish our pottery, and I am excited to share this experience with as many potters as I can. Our wood-firing workshops offer all students and potters within the community the opportunity to have their pots decorated naturally by flames, ash, and salt. Wor- shop participants can expect to be involved in the entire process of the firing – from loading the pots into the chamber, to bricking up the door and adding wood, or stoking the preheat fire box and the main fire box. Our workshops are a unique and wonderful opportunity for those potters looking for alternatives to finishing their pottery and for those potters who are looking for a complete, hands-on wood-firing salt experience.

How is the new wood-fired kiln coming along?
Our new wood kiln is progressing very nicely and I am proud of the work Blair and I have done! Kiln-building, like wood-firing, is expensive and very labor intensive, but we can not imagine finishing our pottery in any other way. So far, we have laid over two thousand bricks. The chamber walls are complete, the firebox almost complete and then we will build the chimney and hopefully begin firing our first kiln load by the end of September.

Work by new ceramics instructors (clockwise from top left): Susan Greenleaf, Tony Clennell, and Judit Varga.
Work by new ceramics instructors (clockwise from top left): Susan Greenleaf, Tony Clennell, and Judit Varga.

What’s your own pottery like? What are you working on now/next?
I spent my winter months making pots in my studio for the new kiln and now have a studio full of wares waiting to be fired. Spring and summer has found me teaching adult clay classes and childrens’ clay classes and working outside. I am excited about getting back on my kick wheel pretty quick here and making pots for upcoming invitational exhibitions in the spring of 2014.

I want to make well-crafted and quiet pots. Pots that have a job and that are used on a daily basis. I hope my pots are not displayed on a shelf. I hope they are pulled out of the kitchen cupboard every day for use in the home and in the kitchen or when serving and sharing food and beverage. I hope my pots make someone’s day a little warmer. I hope my pots give people pleasure in a quiet and relaxed way.

Allison Severance currently makes wood-fired salt glazed pottery at her studio, Highfield Pottery, in Cascade, Maryland. She teaches at the Delaplaine Visual Arts Educational Center and the Little Pottery Shop and Center for Clay Art and Design in Frederick, Maryland as well as at The Art League School. Her pots have been included in numerous national and international exhibitions, including Salt Glazed Ceramics in Germany, and the Orton Cone Box Show and the Strictly Functional Show here in the States.

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Did you know: The Art League's Art Camp is the longest running visual arts camp in the area! We've been here for more than 30 years! While sadly we can't find any photos from the '80s (please let us know if you have any lying around), let's take a look back at the last several years of burgeoning kid artists and eight years of fun at Art Camp!

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