Photos and Story by Rob Andrilla
One particular set of art classes offered spring quarter and the quarters beyond at Whatcom Community College is ceramics.
The program is run by two teachers: Rob Beishline and Ene Lewis. Beishline is the Ceramics Department’s head and has been teaching at Whatcom for 11 years. Lewis is an adjunct faculty member and has been a pottery teacher at Whatcom for 15 years.
The program has grown quite a bit since Beishline and Lewis first began teaching. Ceramics classes were originally taught in a studio in Boulevard Park, near Fairhaven, where The Woods Coffee shop is currently located. “We used to teach one class, period,” Lewis said. Since those days, ceramics classes have become more popular and the department now has more equipment for student use.
All ceramics classes are now taught in Roe Studio, which is located behind Cascade Hall. The building is named after Kathryn Roe, who established the program and was Whatcom’s first ceramics teacher, and provides a place for students to throw clay on the potter’s wheel or hand-build art. “It’s totally fabulous,” said Lewis. “We never expected such a wonderful facility.”
The studio is the only building on campus to be named after a teacher. Roe, the building’s namesake, previously owned and operated a studio in Boulevard Park and began teaching at the college when the area became a city park. Approximately 5 years ago Roe retired from teaching classes at Whatcom.
When the ceramics program was first established, “there were no low-fire kilns,” Lewis said. Now there are two low-fire electric kilns, and one high-fire gas kiln. This allows more students to produce their work, which led to the department’s expansion.
Red earthenware clay is used in the beginning classes, and is fired in the electric kilns to 1945 degrees Fahrenheit. White stoneware is used in the gas kiln, and fired to 2232 degrees Fahrenheit.
To use the studio, potters must be enrolled in a ceramics class or have a learning contract with Whatcom.
This is to ensure that all 25 potter’s wheels are kept in good condition. Even with the studio used exclusively by ceramics students, Lewis says the studio gets very busy towards the end of the quarter.
Whatcom offers five ceramics classes, three of which are for-credit classes and two that are community education courses. Each class caps at 24 students. According to both teachers the ceramics courses fill up quickly.
The entry-level class, ART 130, is taught by Lewis and focuses on hand-building as the basis for projects. Students learn several techniques that are used to hand-build sculptures and functional pots, such as coil building, handle attachment and slab construction, as well as decoration using clay rather than strictly glaze. They are expected to create 12 pieces by the end of the quarter.
Classes that are strictly wheel-based are taught by Beishline. He said it takes about a quarter to really learn one’s way around a potter’s wheel. He added that projects for the wheel class are more geared towards functionality rather than decorative purpose, and vessels with a lid as well as sets of work are among the expected products.
The students typically provide positive feedback at the end of the quarter, Lewis said, and there is a core group of students that love the class and repeat it as much as possible.
“There is a demand to expand [the ceramics program], but the studio gets awfully full by the end of the quarter,” Lewis said. The process of expanding the department is “going to take a little planning,” said Beishline. “To add another class, we’d need more funding as well as more storage space [for student work].”
“I shouldn’t promote it [the ceramics program],” Lewis said. “It’s already over-promoted.” Beishline said that regrettably he had to turn away several prospective students on the first day of the quarter. To students attempting to enroll in a ceramics class at Whatcom, Beishline offers this advice: “Be persistent, and keep trying to get into the class. People really like this stuff.”