How do you create a ceramic bowl with no hands?
Local students have been puzzling over this the past few months while preparing for the first ever Clay Challenge in New Hampshire, set to happen at Studio 550 in Manchester on Saturday, May 17, from 9 a.m. to noon.
Using your elbows is one possibility, though it proves difficult when rounding out the bottom. Another is to use your feet, as the students at ConVal Regional High School attempted at the beginning of their training, by plopping the artist on two sets of shoulders, legs hanging over the wheel at the ready.
At the moment, the exact events for the championship are a mystery; Studio 550 owner Monica Leap offered the participating teams a list of possible events — one could be creating on the potter’s wheel with no hands, another, stacking cylinders as high as possible within 10 minutes, and another, blindfolded throwing — but other than this list, she’s been tight-lipped. The students, who are from Manchester Memorial, Manchester Central, Goffstown and Conval high schools, have to be prepared for anything.
Some of the events are timed events. Some are team events. Nearly all are fast-paced and require creative thinking, teamwork and passion for pottery.
“The idea is out there,” Leap said in a phone interview last week. “When I went to school in Syracuse, there was a similar event, but it was called Feats of Clay, put on by one of the local ceramics supply stores. It was a blast.”
Her Manchester studio is just over a year old, and this is the first event of its kind there. She was pleased to see that, though it’s prom season and testing season, there were quite a few schools interested in participating, including ConVal Regional High School in Peterborough, which is an hour away.
The competition is not your typical arts event. If anything, it’s like an arts and sports event in one.
“We’re joining the two [arts and sports] and getting the best of both worlds. This also gives them the chance to really hone their ceramics skills in a fun way, rather than an academic way,” Leap said.
Most of the students have only been throwing (a pottery term for sculpting or making) for a year or two, as the art often isn’t introduced until later in the high school art curriculum.
“It’s different from our other assignments,” said Brian Nguyen, a junior on the Manchester Memorial team. He left his regular class that day for the interview in the Memorial High School hallway, as did his clay teammates, Fallon Andrews, a senior; Lizzy Biu, a senior; and Christopher Lasalle, also a junior.
“Something that would be interesting is the team challenge. Pottery is usually a one-person thing. But watching people work together to build something — I think that will be exciting,” Nguyen said.
This particular team was so gung-ho about the competition that they arranged a time to practice with the Studio 550 wheels a couple of weeks ago. (Their wheels at school are a bit higher off the ground and aren’t run by a pedal, as the ones within Studio 550 are.)
They each have specialties; Lasalle favors the elbow pottery, and he demonstrated his technique shortly after the interview.
“It’s [the competition] making you do things you’d never think to do,” Lasalle said. (He thinks it might even be a bit easier using your elbows for bigger pieces.)
Some schools, like ConVal, have hosted similar in-school competitions before. ConVal’s was led by pottery teacher Ben Putnam, but never quite on this scale.
“I was excited to see that someone was taking on the challenge to organize an event with competing schools,” Putnam said in a phone interview. “Art making, by nature, tends to be somewhat individual, and it can be isolating, especially in a classroom situation. This is a chance to push them out of that a little bit.”
His students think the training has helped in their everyday art, too.
“I think it’s made me more disciplined,” said Pejas Moses, a junior from ConVal who’s competing. “It forces me to get out of my head, to not think about what I’m doing and just do it.”
As seen in the May 15, 2014 issue of the Hippo.