MN NICE: Year Three

Last November we celebrated our second graduating class! We are proud to continue the Minnesota New Institute for Ceramic Education into its third year, with the most diverse student body to date. Jill Foote-Hutton, NCC’s new Director of Learning and Engagement, sat down with MN NICE students Kathryn Schroeder and Matt Cawley to discuss some of their experiences at the end of their first block of classes, September to November, 2016.

Matt Cawley, Canister, 2015,
wood-fired porcelain, 6” x 6” x 7”.

Kathryn Schroeder, Jar, 2016, porcelain, 9" x 7.5" x 7.5".

Kathryn: I applied to MN NICE to advance my career as a studio potter, and lately have been thinking really hard about where I fit in the field of ceramics, professionally, and what skills I can contribute long term. I'm positive now that I'm working towards graduate school. I knew that my objective has always been to reach high, and at NCC with this deeper appreciation of the sophisticated work around me, it makes me want to reach even higher with my work.

Matt: I applied to MN NICE to further my ceramics education. I knew I wanted to learn more than what I had gleaned from my undergrad experience and that I wasn’t ready for graduate school quite yet. One of the most attractive aspects of the program to me was being a part of a group of people all interested in learning more about ceramics— functional or otherwise. We all have different levels of experience, which really brings a diversity of perspective to the conversations and the work.

What has been the most impactful feedback from your Mentor Artist meetings?

Kathryn: Heather Nameth Bren was my first [mentor] artist and had so many wise words, references, and questions of my direction and symbolism. It's hard to choose what was most impactful, but I'm eager to jump into the reading list she sent me away with! She also referenced work that I love, but hadn't thought this work had any connection. It's refreshing to see those unexpected relationships and it helps distill maybe what subconscious thinking was coming out in the work.

Matt: The most impactful feedback I have had from my [mentor] artist critique with Joel Froehle is to make sure surface influences form. Often it’s the other way around, but there is most certainly a two-way relationship happening there. Also, my [mentor] artist meeting with Kate Maury led me to really consider how my personal experience drives my pots, and to really let go of styles/practices that other people expect, and to latch on to what I really want.

How does the MN NICE class dynamic differ from your experience with traditional education models?

Kathryn: In all the best ways, it has been very wide-open. I love that Ursula and her team meets us where we are in our careers, and accommodates the instruction/ critique/ presentation to the individuals in the room. With such variety in students' background and education, a lot gets tailored and it really lifts up the skills and identities in the class. The point is to help us along in our careers, but because it's per student, it seems like we get to write our own goals. We may be on different pages with what we are investigating, but the group as a whole has momentum and we're finding our own paths.

Matt: When I was in college, there was very little discussion about pots. There was a much sharper focus on concept, and less attention to technique and materials. The class talks about pots, glazes, clay bodies, form, surface, and all the delicious topics that ceramists love, with more zeal than when I was in college, and I adore it. I’m really excited about pots.

What is the biggest challenge you are hoping to tackle in the second block of class meetings?

Kathryn: My material investigations are underway, and the forms are really close to where they need to be. I will still have a lot of questions working on the surface (and they just seem to keep opening more). I think the biggest challenge for next semester is about context and how groupings of these pots all together start to tell a narrative about culture.

Matt: Social media and public presence are a couple of things that I definitely need work on. I wish I could completely remove the money aspect of pursuing my craft, but that is impractical for me. I need to work on getting my work out there, having a good web presence, taking professional photographs, etc. Technology...not my strong point.

Which field trip was most inspiring?

Kathryn: Of all our wonderful visits with artists, galleries, and the MIA, my absolute favorite was visiting Linda Christianson. I think with zero effort, she answers questions I didn't know I was asking, both about the life of a potter and the values we should uphold in our work, day in and day out. She is so incredibly bright and articulate, but nonchalant and accomplished in a very low key and seemingly effortless way. She just is, and her work has that same glowing presence of a life well-lived.

Matt: I still find myself thinking about our visit with Eileen Cohen at the Augsburg Gallery. I have a thing for logistics, and what she had to consider to get her installation into that space was no small feat. It was good to hear about the number of people involved in setting up a show, and that it is okay to ask for help! Alternatively, Linda Christianson’s lifestyle really is the dream. I hope to someday have my own wood kiln, and her rural lifestyle is so appealing! My only reservation is that, as a cripplingly extroverted guy, I would miss human interaction to live so far away from a bustling metropolis.