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box elder high school pottery experience

updated sun 30 apr 06


Stephani Stephenson on fri 28 apr 06

Hi all!
I just returned from a quick but fabulous road trip to visit Leee
Burningham's pottery classes at Box Elder Hight School in Utah.
I sent a post to CLAYART on Tuesday night ,
the subject was "Live from Box Elder High School..."
tried to send this again yesterday...will try again now ....OK here

Sunday I hit the road, headed for Box Elder High School, Brigham City,
Utah, and Lee Burningham's
high school pottery department.
The occasion was Parent Teacher Conference Day at Box Elder HS.
Also I wanted to scope out the site for a door surround which we'll
make during the June Clay Crewe workshop.
but Parent Teacher conference day?
Ah! You wonder , what's the big deal?
well, it WAS a big deal!
first, I must admit, I took a detour on the way up
Drove Sunday afternoon to Zion National Park
The park is gorgeous right now. The park service has propane powered
shuttle buses, (quiet, no diesel fumes),
which take you from town to many of the trail heads and park sites.. it
really works and keeps traffic out of the main park canyon corridor.
so , hiked some river trails, etc. during a moody, cloudburst peppered
got back on the bus at dark, just as the skies let loose with spirited
springtime tempestuousness
got up the next morning and hiked up Angel's Landing ,
a precipitous, fabulous climb on a gorgeous sunny morning
I am in heaven in sandstone formations, and the Virgin river was
running strong, spring flowers and waterfalls
in the folds of the canyon , cottonwoods verdant along the river.

but ,ah! Then drove north along the snowy Wasatch front, and pulled
into Brigham City about 9 PM Monday evening.
Parked at the High School. Lee picked me up , whisked me to the lovely
home he shares with
Zan, who is an amazing painter, artist and also a dedicated high
school Art teacher.
Really enjoyed meeting her and was completely blown away by the
quality of her work and the work
she gets from her students. Lucky kids to have art teachers like Zan
and Lee!
OK, early next morning, rolled back to Box Elder at 7 AM and soon
students start showing up for first period.
The pottery department is one large room , 'The mudpit' .
The mudpit was about to come to life, and was about to rock, I mean
really rock for the next 16 hours!
Students came in and immediately got busy.
As they unwrapped pots, sat down at wheels, , the bell rang. Lee made
some announcements
I noticed everyone paid attention to everything he said, then the music
came on,
soon the place was a bustling beehive of activity, everyone engaged in
their project, lots of back and forth , lots getting done.
Lee and Jani ,the student teacher, were everywhere, Lee pugging clay,
checking in with students.
this was Jani's last day. She is going to be a great teacher,
perceptive, great involvement with students, she cares.
Very good technical knowledge and an ability to open avenues of
questioning or feedback which leads student to
solve the problem...
I also noticed the high degree of skill and interest level these
kids have (oh ,I know , they aren't kids!)
Oh! did I mention the grouping of 4-7 foot tall pots drying at one end
of the room?
there are some very skilled students in this program . They are given
room to grow and learn as much as they can, and they also , in turn
,teach the beginners.
Lee's style and guidance have really shaped this program. He is proud
of it and has every reason to be.
The natural banter, the comeraderie of the room was lively and
I started in making some large slab pots, inspired by my recent Zion
canyon outing.
I work loose and fast, coiling with torn slabs, putting color and
texture additives onto the fresh slab in an almost random fashion,
tossing and rolling the slab to stretch it before attaching, bringing
out natural organic qualities.
It is the kind of work I return to time and time again, another
approach for students to see.
Students hung back for awhile or passed by casually. throughout the
class period and the day , they would come over, watch a bit,
ask questions, come up with ideas, respond to what I was doing, show
me their own work, and so on.
And I enjoyed going about the room, seeing what they were doing.
The place was amazingly low key and yet high energy at the same time.
Lee let's them loose but also keeps them on track. Lots of room to
move, but no slack...
I can't really describe how well it works.
So classes came and went. . During the open hour, people came in to
work on pieces .
during lunch people came in. After school people came in. It is a place
where they want to be.
Of course there was the high spirited banter of high school students
and also the space for someone who just wanted to
get involved with their current project. Students were unloading
bisque kilns and loading the high fire gas kiln outside.
That day a lot of them were glazing in preparation for the
afternoon/evening raku firing.
A couple of them asked me about my website and checked it out on the
computer in the studio.
Mid afternoon , the Raku firing started. Students were completely
responsible for loading , firing, etc.
They also brought treats and snacks for the evening festivities.
Parents started showing up mid afternoon as well.
By evening the room was full, 60-80 people at a time.
The main event was that each student was to teach their parent(s) how
to make a pot.
there are a lot of wheels in the mudpit and most of the time all of
them were in use.
It was amazing to watch even the beginning students patiently instruct
parents in the process.
I could see them gesturing...showing how to center and pull up . "Just
so, then you do this, place your hands like so"....
what a great idea! Not only do the students learn by teaching, but the
parents appreciate just how
difficult this 'easy art class' really is!
I could tell how much students and parents love this program and love
Mr. B.
Lee makes it look fun, and it IS fun, and he is definitely enjoying
it and in his element, but ..
a lot of heart, and vision; tireless work and effort have gone into
making this program so great.
The mudpit was overflowing with people, not a wheel or table was empty,
Parents , siblings, students
going full bore...! the place was hopping.
Some students added pieces to the large sculpture pots I was finishing.
they had great questions about what the clay additives would do in
different firings, how would I finish the piece, visually, etc. etc.
Rae Lynne added a flower, Tyler a mask....
I walked by a few other classrooms, all pretty lonesome compared to the
pottery department!
by 10-11 PM, Students were still firing and throwing, parents who were
getting off work, still stopping in to learn how to make a pot,
final highlight of the evening? ( aside from some gorgeous pots coming
from the raku buckets ...)
Lee (and I hope I am not spilling the beans here) threw a pot with his
he really did.
Zan, noticing I was starting to droop, hauled me home at about 11:30. I
think Lee was there another 2 hours.
then back at it the next day.
Next day, I hit the road and made it back to San Diego in a scant 12
hours, in my brand new 20 year old car .
a sturdy little Saab hatchback which, I am happy to report, has cruise
control , was steady on the hills and in the wind, and even got 35
miles to gallon .....
I want to thank Lee and Zan Burningham, Jani, and the students of
Box Elder High School Ceramics classes
for a thoroughly enjoyable, inspiring time
you rock!

Stephani Stephenson

Stephani Stephenson