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Mixing Major Curiosities


Associate Professor Larry Bush shows his students how to use a jigger to make ceramic plates.

Painter. Sculptor. Ceramicist. These titles suggest differences – sometimes even philosophical divides – but they all speak a common language where innovation is the universal dialect. Students enrolled in Advanced Pottery & Ceramics Production are digging their hands into this idea as the fall studio is hosting a series of visiting artists engaged in marvelous – sometimes unorthodox – projects.

“It’s a useful, natural thing to do,” explains Associate Professor Larry Bush, who teaches the Ceramics studio for upper-level students. “When we talk with other artists, we realize ideas.”

Professor Holly Hughes, head of RISD’s Painting department, is one of those artists. Finding a newfound love for ceramics, she regaled Bush’s students with tales of her trip to Deruta, a world-famous hill town that produces exquisite ceramics and china in the Umbria region of Italy. During her stay, she painted on plates under the watchful eye of the Deruta craftsmen – absolute masters of their trade – who are advancing centuries-old techniques that first emerged in the Middle Ages. “Once you first touch clay,” she tells the students huddled around the table, “you want to touch it some more.”

This co-mingling between disciplines inspired Hughes to fire her own plates – a completely nouveau undertaking for an artist who’s been using paintbrushes since she was a small child. Encouraging students to also pursue their own cross-disciplinary curiosities, she explains that she’s now experimenting with ceramic form.

“Look at these plates – I go completely insane for them,” she says, pointing to an image of a Deruta plate adorned with colorful, geometric patterns. “See how fine the lines are? This is phenomenal. These designs have somehow subconsciously made their way into my work.”

Professor of Printmaking Andrew Raftery, known for his incredibly detailed copper-plate engravings, has also made an in-studio cameo. Right now, the printmaker is working on a series of ceramic editions. “Artists don’t usually do only one thing,” Bush explains, wearing a clay-splattered apron. “We’re always tinkering with something.”

Visiting artist Aunrico Gatson is also brainstorming with students to fashion a piece of Americana: a ceramic model of a 1949 Buick tire. Inspired by The Warmth of Other Suns, an account of the Great Migration, the sculptor plans to create a plastic wheel cover to be used when casting the model. “The sheer size of it will be a learning experience for the students,” Bush explains, adding that this cross-pollination between majors is practically inevitable. “We’re not inventing a reason to cross over into other departments,” he says. “We already have these obsessions.” –Abigail Crocker

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tags: Ceramics, collaborations, faculty, interdisciplinary, research, Painting, Printmaking, students

At RISD there's nothing unusual about suddenly finding a doorknob on a tree trunk, shown here across from Carr House,
the charming home of Student Life offices and the student-run Carr Haus Café.