Ceramic artists are fired up by success

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Gifted professor John Lewis has inspired his students to create beautiful -- and marketable-- ceramic art

A quartet of ceramicists are as hot as the college kiln and are about to burn their way onto the national arts stage in a compelling new book that celebrates some of America’s best Raku art.

Juan Zavala, Jane Bell, Deanna Bourke and Dale Sell were selected from more than 1,000 professional artists nationwide to be published in the book “500 Raku: Bold Explorations of a Dynamic Ceramic Technique.”

Raku is a Japanese tradition where artists hand-mold clay before firing it at 1,800 degrees. Sell said he has been working with Raku for a year and enjoys the creativity the form engenders.

“I grew up in Northern California around the campfire and I love Raku because I get to work with fire,” he said. “I like making works of art that are different than anybody else.”

Southwestern College’s ceramics program is not just for supremely talented. Beginners are also getting fired up. English major Marisela Keepcom said she can express her creative side with clay.

“I’m most proud of a dinnerware set I made last semester,” she said. “I really like ceramics because I get to be creative and it’s a big stress reliever.”

Vases and bowls are faves of fine arts major Gavin Voelkel.

“My dad is into art as well so we make it a family business,” he said. “It’s a way to express yourself and you get to embrace an artistic aspect into your life.”

Learning Choice Academy senior Brittany Kemp takes ceramics and functional wheel pottery classes on campus.

“I’ve always loved art and making things people can use,” she said. “I was never one to like the canvas, but in ceramics I have a new favorite every week.”

Recent masterpieces from SWC ceramic students can be found at the college Pottery Sale twice a year. Jewelry, vases and much more were available May 2 and 3.

Community involvement is also an important aspect of the ceramics programs at SWC, according to John Lewis, the talented assistant professor of art who has taken the program in a lively new direction. Ceramics students created and donated more than 100 unique bowls to Empty Bowls, a Chula Vista charitable organization. Participants use the bowls to sample soups from different restaurants and can take the donated bowls home as souvenirs.

Lewis said his ceramic classes benefit students in many ways.

“Ceramics exposes students to the kind of critical thinking that isn’t always involved in other art classes,” he said. “There’s something about having a connection with making things from the earth that makes people love it.”

Lewis said students come from all artistic skill levels and leave with a collection of new techniques and abilities.

“Students use their brains and body to engage in hands-on experiences when they work in ceramics,” said Lewis. “Once they learn the basics they are surprised at what they can do. It’s that squish factor of clay, it just feels good.”

SWC’s art phenomens were also featured in “Another Space 3,” the spring student art exhibition at the Gateway Building on Chula Vista’s historic Third Avenue. Art that was so hot will, in the hands of talented artists, become so cool.


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