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Ceramic Artist Shares Her Journey with High School Students

Ceramic artist Hollace Kutay recently visited Sanford’s Upper School to share her work with ceramics students who are taught by Claire Killefer. One of several guest artists to visit this fall, Kutay talked about her artistic journey and demonstrated her techniques to small classes throughout her visit day.
“Bringing in Hollace broke down the ‘four walls’ of school and gave my students a new sense of reality about the arts,” explains Killefer. “Students usually think about the demands of taking a test or quiz, and less about how they will use what they learn. Bringing in a working artist like Hollace made it real for them.”

Hollace Kutay is Founder and Executive Director of the Ceramic Art & Culture Institute and owner of Fine Art at Centre Park in Reading, Pennsylvania. A self-employed artist, her original paintings and prints are sold in fine art galleries across the U.S. and internationally. She met Killefer at Pennsylvania State University, where she earned a BFA in Ceramics.

The visiting artist began each class with a presentation about herself. She started as a painter but found clay in high school. “That really interested my students (in grades 9-12) and they were very engaged as soon as her work popped up on the screen,” recalls Killefer. “Her work is really intricate and interesting with incredibly vibrant colors.”

Kutay’s inspiration is the sea and marine creatures. On her website she writes, “From a young age I found solace in the ocean…(it) became my first love. I would sit behind my house, perched on an outcrop of jagged rock, and gaze at the sea that appeared to be never-ending.”

After her presentation, the class moved over to the ceramics studio where she did a potters wheel demonstration and produced a couple of forms. There are multiple ways to center the clay and pull it up, and her method was new to them. Finally she showed her techniques for creating coral and seashell molds.

“I brought Hollace in mainly to talk about her surface techniques and surface decorations because she uses a lot of layering and elements,” says Killefer. “She creates oceanic textures with the simplest of tools. I asked her to share as many of these as she could with our students.”

Kutay also talked about managing her business during COVID and selling some pieces internationally online. She opened an Etsy shop in 2020 to help sell her work and mentioned the struggle of breaking through as an artist on Etsy. 

Sanford’s Ceramics program is designed to give students experience with the three main methods for building a vessel: coil, slab, and wheel. “My main goal is to share the history of how this medium came to be and work through the stages or styles of building with clay,” explains Killefer.

“At this point in the semester, I’ve focused on the building and the structure. Now they are exploring texture and style and learning to make their pieces their own,” says Killefer. “I challenge them to morph their pieces into something unique. They are learning how to alter their wheel pieces.”

“After Hollace left, we dove into trimming: taking away clay at the bottom to create feet and bases. Each student made six cylinders and six bowls that they trimmed and decorated. I want to give them more time to work on these pieces.”

During the semester, students researched and chose specific ceramic artists and made five-minute presentations to the class. They identified elements that they liked and will see if they can replicate those ideas. By the end of semester, they are expected to have five finished pieces.

“What they're doing is really hard,” notes Killefer. “From centering the clay and pulling up the walls to defining their work, it’s a challenge. I celebrate each time they do it. And I ask them not to be afraid to ‘mess it up.’ Students take something they think is ‘perfect’ 'and we ask them to change the surface and put their own mark on it.”

“I have a lot of students who enjoy taking art classes. They also enjoy the break from academics. I hope the biggest takeaway from her visit was about gaining some courage—to allow them to try to be a little more free in their work.”
    • Claire Killefer Shares Thoughts About Hosting Guest Instructors

      During a recent presentation by ceramic artist Hollace Kutay, Sanford Visual Arts Instructor Claire Killefer shared her thoughts about the benefits of students engaging with professional artists.

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