Artist Statement

Sandra K. Webster


Four years ago, in frustration with the apparent futility of administrative paperwork, I sought out Kathy Koop's wheel throwing ceramics course as a way produce concrete, tangible results.  As a department chair I spend much of my life writing memos and attending meetings whose outcomes may never be apparent.  With clay the outcomes are clear and immediate.  The clay is centered or not.  The pot stays on the wheel or not.  The vessel holds water or it's a flowerpot.

Since then I've been a guest student in Kathy's wheel-throwing classes whenever possible.  Each time I learn new things from every demonstration.  Kathy teaches both technical skills and the basic attitude of art.  Although I wouldn't characterize Kathy as a Zen artist, I've learned to appreciate eastern aesthetics and philosophies as I've learned from her and the many guest artists she brings to Westminster.  I've learned to "dance with the clay."  The creative process is interactive dynamic.  I always begin with a goal, but sometimes the clay surprises me with something else.  Kathy has encouraged me to appreciate each part of the process, throwing, trimming, glazing and firing.  Opening the kiln is always "like Christmas" because of the attitude of suspense at what wonderful results we will find this time.  It would be easy for an instructor to make opening the kiln a time of discouragement since there are so many opportunities for "failure."  With Kathy's calm and knowing leadership most "failures" are lessons instead.  Sometimes they turn out to be our successes.

Wheel throwing ceramics turned out to be much more than a way to vent my frustrations.  It also gives me a way to experience and communicate physical concepts.  Most of my work in psychology tends to be quantitative and indirect. I study emotion, motivation, personality, stress and conflict.  I found these psychological constructs keep slipping into my pottery.  I did not plan to become a psycho-ceramist, but the ideas come out in the clay.   They often surprise me.  Kathy Koop encourages her students to be creative.  Another artist explained to me the importance of taking risks in art.  I couldn't really understand at first because Kathy models pushing the medium to its limits so much in her own work, I didn't know there was another way.  I still don't personally understand a fear of experimentation in clay because of the early attitudes toward it that I learned from Kathy.

Using computer technology has been central to my teaching and research activities for my entire professional career (since the early 1970's).  Wheel throwing ceramics involves an ancient technology.  I often think about the contrast between the electronic images that I produce and my pots.  My psychology has found it's way into the pots.  Next the pot's found their way into my courseware.  That was the birth of Cyber-Psycho-Ceramics.  I find the tension between scanned images of stoneware subtle, but personally satisfying. In its electronic form the glaze and stoneware are ephemeral.  In my hand they are substantial.

The most important thing that I have learned from Kathy is not the final result, but it is the process.  I enjoy problem solving in making three-dimensional objects in many mediums.  But no other medium is so absorbing, relaxing and joyful as the process of throwing a pot.  It has added a physical dimension to my experience and expression.  Because of what Kathy has taught me I see the world differently, and am learning how to communicate what I see in new ways.

January 1999

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