Around this time last year, Matt Povse, my adviser and the head of the ceramics department at Marywood, brought the summer course catalog of Peter’s Valley School of Craft to my attention. He encouraged me to peruse it and consider signing up for a short summer course myself. As I flipped through the catalog, I was mindful of which courses I would get the most new information from, which ones would afford the most development of my skills and enhancement of my work, and even which would provide the most potential for networking with other ceramics students and artists. I was totally overwhelmed with the diversity among the courses offered and was feeling very torn, that is until I saw a course called Functional Forms and Beautiful Surfaces at the very end of the list taught by none other than the incredible Sara Jaeger.
In preparation for the workshop, we were asked to bring white, high fire, bisque ware pieces ready to be glazed. I knew I was going to learn some of Sara Jaeger’s methods of glazing, but it was absolutely surreal watching her carry out her demonstrations and share with us what she has been doing for years. We played with layering of different oxide washes, underglazes, and glazes from Sara Jaeger’s own recipe book… which made the wait for the unloading of the kiln even more excruciating! It was worth it in the end though, especially amongst all the laughs we had along the way.
Sara’s pieces are also so characteristic because of their amazing translucence as a result of her layering techniques when it comes to surface treatments. She chooses to trail thin lines of green and orange glaze to create leaves and flowers against the clean white canvas of her porcelain forms. She then applies a layer of wax over the top of these trailed designs in order to preserve the white negative spaces within them. She also chooses to allow the wax to spill over these lines that define the leaves and petals of her flowers, which creates a hazy white area around these decorations, keeping them loosely defined from the sea of blue glaze enveloping them. And believe me, trailing the glaze and making these relaxed geometric shapes is no easy feat, but watching Sara’s masterful hand was so inspiring.
The second part of the workshop consisted of more tutorials from Sara, but this time in regards to the steps we needed to complete before the glazing could take place! We got to throw Sara’s porcelain with the help of her closer instruction, learn to produce fluted bowls like the one pictured above with scalloped rims, pitchers, sugar bowls and creamers, and more. It was also great experimenting with other students, professionals, and hobbyists of all ages. Each person brings a unique perspective and approach to their ceramics to the table, which had a dramatic effect on how I approached my own work. Being surrounded by passion from so many people concentrated on the same end goal was thrilling.
One other interesting dynamic of the Peter’s Valley environment is there is little to no exclusion or stratification among the participants, regardless of age and status. For instance, the workshop students from our ceramics class ate lunch with other students from other workshops focused on blacksmithing, wooden sculpture, and fibers, as well as the studio assistants, the resident artists, the visiting artists and instructors, the administrators and the store managers. It is understood that inspiration can come from everywhere and anywhere, and to be among such a high concentration of artists is like being thrown into an inspiration goldmine. Everyone there is about camaraderie from beginning to end, eager to ask questions and discuss backgrounds, share information, experience, trade stories and develop ideas. It really is like condensing a semester’s worth of information into five days. I won’t soon forget the techniques I learned there, nor will I forget the people. In fact, one of the students I lived with on the premises I still keep in regular contact with.
And who wouldn’t love the fact that after a workshop, you get to take pieces home! I was really proud of what I had to show for myself and the investment I made in Peter’s Valley. Still, not only did I get to take my own work home, but I also got to bring home a Sara Jaeger original! It’s one of my favorite little mugs I own now, and I always think back to the amazing time I had last summer when I sit down to a warm cup of tea steeping in it. I cannot wait to see what this summer will bring!