Standard Clay has a long history of encouraging and showcasing local high school artists in the gallery at Clay Place @ Standard. The current show features works in clay from thirteen schools and runs through April 28. A reception was held on March 29 for the students, their teachers, and their families and friends. Under the discerning eye of judge Susan T. Philips, the works were assessed and rated, with awards granted to the three best student works, along with one to the best over-all school. Standard Clay is grateful for Phillips’ expertise and willingness to serve in the role of judge.
Eleven years into retirement, Phillips lives in Amity, in Southwestern Pennsylvania, in a 200-year-old stone house and works out of her studio – Stone House Pottery – in the property’s barn. She retired from Waynesburg University after 38 years, where she taught art in a range of media to majors and non-majors alike, while making functional glazed stoneware pottery in her home studio. Over the course of her career, she served as department chair, managed the Benedum Fine Arts Gallery at the University, and earned an award for excellence in teaching. She is a member of both NCECA and the Craftsmen’s Guild of Pittsburgh. Her experience with young people has fed her reflection on the state of art education in this digital age.
“The biggest change I’ve seen with the digital world is that students have become reliant on other people’s images,” she explains. “With the ease of importing any image, young people are less willing to generate their own images.” She concedes that many very creative things have been done through the new technology but laments the effect the ready availability of images has had on the human imagination. “Cell phones, too,” she says, “have made things more difficult because they take up so much time and head space. For creative thought to make a way in, there has to be a space.” She says being bored or having one’s mind in neutral can allow creative thoughts to enter the mind. “It’s good to be bored!” she exclaims.
Despite these momentous changes in education, Phillips still saw the spark of the inner eye in her students. “Students loved coming to art classes,” she says, “because they were so different from their other classes. There was freedom in the studio – freedom of movement, freedom of ideas.” She says that many struggled with the concept of there being no “right answer” in art, but when they adjusted to it, they found a new, freer way of thinking.
During her time at Waynesburg, Phillips worked on the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, a national competition in art and writing for students in grades 7 through 12. She learned that the quality of arts education in the schools is very reliant on the teachers’ willingness to go beyond basic expectations. “The teachers would deliver the entries and help hang the exhibitions and you could see that reflected in the students’ work,” she explains. “I saw the same dynamic at the Standard Clay exhibition, with very vested teachers attending the opening and supporting their students.”
In judging the Standard Clay event, Phillips said all the works “reached out to you as soon as you entered the room. I saw a lot of wonderful things that reflect the joy of handling clay.” In assessing the works, she considered form, the overall “look” of the piece, the use of technique, and the underlying idea. She was impressed by the use of negative space in the first prize winner’s “Cut-up Vase,” the decorative drawings on the surface of the second prize “Twin Fruit and Daffodil Set” of cups, and the whimsical feel of the third prize sculpture “Empty Hippo.” For the Best Overall School award, granted to Peters Township High School, Phillips weighed the number of students represented in the show, the variety of approaches in the pieces – thrown, slab, etc. – and the strength of the individual pieces. She concludes, “With all schools, it comes down to the teacher – how hard they work and care.”
In her retirement, Phillips continues to cultivate her own images. With more time to experiment, she is transforming her materials and pieces. “I’m working with Standard’s 108 red clay with heavy grog now. I love the color. It’s very forgiving. I never have problems with cracking or warping.” Her works utilize a slab technique. “I use a slab roller and take time to consider the slab, rolling it out and seeking the form. I handle the stiffened slab like a sheet of paper and try to incorporate the ‘live edge’ into the piece.” In constructing wall hangings and sculptural vessels, she uses copious amounts of slip and allows it to become part of the piece. Unglazed, her pieces have a luminous surface, which she creates by washing red iron oxide on the bisque clay.
For the dozens of students who exhibited at Clay Place @ Standard, the opportunity to display their work, see the work of their peers, face critique and interact with working artists is a valuable step in self-discovery. Congratulations to all who participated and special thanks to Susan T. Phillips for her continued dedication to art education.
The following schools participated:
Individual Award Recipients
Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12
Twin Fruit and Daffodil Set
West Allegheny High School
Best Overall School:
Peters Township High School
Kristin DeGiovanni & Lauren McCutcheon
Read more about Susan T. Phillips at www.susantphillips.com
If you are a teacher and are interested in participating in next year’s exhibition, contact Standard Clay at 412.276.6333