Functional art? Two ceramic students discuss their pieces

Marcus Helton

Student Marcus Helton held up an ash-blackened bowl.

“This will probably be my cereal bowl for a while,” said Helton. “I learn more from using it. I connect with it more.”

Helton, of Algoa, works at Custom T’s in Alvin as embroiderer and has taken George Bowes’ ceramics classes since 2010.

“I like to make stuff to be used. When using it, I learn about what works and what doesn’t. You love it or get rid of it,” said Helton.

He recently sculpted clay into bowls, cups and plates and coated them a clear glaze. After they are fired in the wood kiln, ash clings to the glaze in haphazard drifts and swirls.

“With wood firing, everything is an experiment,” said Helton. “You let the kiln do what it wants.”

Art for show

In her fifth semester of ceramics, student Nancy House, of Texas City, is creating masks of human and animal faces for an art show. One mask juxtaposes male and female faces in brilliant purples and blues. Another gleams silver and the mouth forms the shape of a scream.

"This semester, I selected masks because the face is so universally liked and comes in so many shapes,” said House. 

House finds infinite possibilities with hues of red, white and brown clay, myriad glazes and different firing techniques from gas to wood burning.

“All of the glazes start out looking pretty much the same, but it’s a chemical reaction. When you take it out of the wood kiln, it’s about 2,000 degrees. You can smell the smoke on it still,” said House.

“I learn something new every semester. George Bowes makes suggestions on form or he’ll ask ‘Have you thought about this?’ I lose myself when I come here. All of a sudden it will be nine o’ clock.”

One class, many options

The first two semesters of ceramics, students follow a schedule and learn techniques. After that, students create assignments according to their interests.

“They can fire their ceramics in the electric kiln and get bright, true colors or they can fire in the gas kiln and get earthier, muted colors,” said Bowes. “They can do raku ceramics where they pull ceramics out of the kiln red hot and put it in combustible materials. They have over 200 options for colors.”

Students can take the course for credit or as a continuing education course.

For more information, contact Bowes at gbowes@com.edu or 409-933-8349. 

Nancy House

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