Clay is intimate and impressionable. It responds immediately to the touch of the artist, a touch it will carry the rest of its life. Ceramics is a diverse medium that includes a range of possibilities from the functional vessel to large-scale sculpture. It is a medium that fosters participation and a sense of community. MECA’s Ceramics program also is intimate, diverse, and communal. Its team of working, professional faculty deeply engage students in the continuum of the full creative process, from making clay to firing kilns.
Where were you before coming to MECA?
Prior to MECA I was living in Portland, Oregon at the Oregon College of Art & Craft (OCAC), studying ceramics.
What got you into wanting to make art in the first place?
My dad is a furniture designer and maker. So, you know, making things with your hands was not foreign to me. Though, originally, after high school, I had gone to school to be a teacher. I don’t really know how I got into it. It was like this weird evolution. The best way I can describe it is this: I think art embodies the true sense of independence, and having watched both of my parents run very successful independent businesses was inspiring, and led me to travel the world in a very independent way. Thus creating a lifestyle of independence, which is void of working within someone else’s agenda and fulfilling their needs and motives. It’s something that I hope to continue to do again after school, doing what I think is right for myself and the rest of the world.
What brought you to MECA?
Maine brought me to MECA, for one. I love Maine. I grew up in Kennebunk, Maine. I like the location of the school. I like that it’s in an urban environment, that it’s part of the city. Its affordability was also a draw. The school offered me a great scholarship opportunity.
What surprises have you encountered with your education here?
The freedom in the curriculum to explore what you want to do and how you want to do it. At OCAC, their curriculum was based on very specific assignments whereas MECA encourages you to find a direction you’re interested in and explore it in a very in-depth and broad manner.
What is the best thing you’ve learned in terms of real world experience while being here?
I’ve really learned that forging a community is invaluable, within your educational experience and social experience, and seeing that there shouldn’t be any barriers in between. Networking implies such a logistical terminology. A lot of people say art is about who you know. I believe it doesn’t have to be that formalized. It’s about how genuine you are with your peers and your teachers and the rest will follow.
How would you describe your art making style?
It is designed craft, meaning there’s a lot of premeditated design and consciousness that goes into preparing and bringing my idea to fruition, through discipline and understanding my material. But I also kind of give myself the freedom to improvise if I need to. I think I’m less concerned with being a ceramicist and more concerned with making something that’s applicable to a larger environment than just what affects me, as an individual. In other words, I seek to make something that applies in a holistic sense to how we live and how we perceive art, or an object, or product, and try to find a happy-medium for all three of those things.
What made you choose ceramics?
Ceramics was just the best material for me to express my ideas at the time that I began artmaking. It’s evolved very quickly away from clay to be able to express my ideas to whatever material I find necessary; framing ceramics and wood, for example. I’ve also been exploring gypsums -- all different kinds of gypsums; hides and skins, plastics -- really anything that is conducive to how I want my final product to look.
What are some other hobbies/interests you have?
I’m a big fly fisherman. My dad’s a falconer. I like to go falcon hunting with him. I am a lover of bluegrass guitar and jazz guitar. I try to play both.
How has MECA helped you network outside of the school?
I took an entrepreneurial class, which I thought was fascinating because it had an outside approach to marketing and selling your work in a way that was different than how the school would normally approach it. The class wasn’t designed around the idea of making art. It was designed around taking an idea and creating a successful model that other people could either consume, or invest in, or be a part of. I think that’s important because it’s easy to forget that there’s a world outside of art once you are in it. We need the world outside of art to have art exist in other people’s worlds.
What are your future goals and dreams?
I want to be a unicorn. [laughs.] Well other than that, I really want to start a product design house.
How has MECA helped you form these goals?
I don’t quite know yet. MECA brings in a lot of successful artists to speak and it’s interesting to see how they have been able to do what we’re all aspiring to do. Which, for me, has become the idea of being a self-sustainable independent creator and think in that same fashion. At the end of the day that’s every artist’s goal: is to independently think and create. I think that’s what everyone at MECA does; they provide inspiration and show you what’s possible, but I don’t think there’s one magic path. I think it’s a lot of hard work and perseverance and I plan on using that as my template.
What expectations do you have from MECA in helping you achieve these goals?
I expect to be part of a community that is larger than Maine. That extends far beyond Portland and New England, and I think I will. I think those of us that have had the MECA experience can relate to each other and I think that’s beneficial in and of itself.
His ceramic artwork explores the counterpoint of control and chance. The constructed clay forms: vases, jars, teapots, platters and pouring vessels, are glazed with the intention that the glazes will interact with each other and the kiln atmosphere to create a synthesis of material, form, and process. His artwork has been exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the United States. Mark has received individual artist fellowships from the Maine Arts Commission and the New England Foundation for the Arts/NEA.
BFA and MFA, Kent State University
Ceramics Faculty - Mark Johnson
Ben Gaboury '09
HometownNorth Attleboro, Massachusetts
I got into it in high school. I came here pretty much knowing I would major in Ceramics. It just came naturally to me.
HOW HAS IT EVOLVED?
My style has changed a lot – I’ve taken a lot from art history classes, and I think it really shows in my work. A lot of my work is inspired by different artists. I started adding imagery to my work - from stencils at first, and then drawing by hand.
YOU DRAW ON YOUR CERAMICS?
I do. I discovered an underglaze pen online and tried it out. It lets me combine ceramics and drawing. I wouldn’t want to do one without the other.
DID FOUNDATION HELP?
Yes—even years after the foundation, you find you still use everything you learned.
BESIDES CERAMICS, WHAT’S IN STORE?
I’d like to be a college professor someday.
Ben Gaboury '09, Ceramics
What are some of the career paths for someone who majors in Ceramics?
Our ceramics graduates have gone on to a range of careers. Some have become successful studio artists making and selling there work in galleries and on-line. Other graduates have gone to work in larger production studios. A number of our graduates have gone into K-12 education. Graduates have opened there own galleries. Others have gone on to earn MFA degrees in graduate school. Our graduates have been hired as technical assistants at colleges and art centers.
How do you prepare your students for the real world?
The ceramics curriculum provides the students with a rigorous course of study that prepares them for the real world. Ceramics majors take courses take teach them how to formulate and make their own clay and glazes. They also learn how to fire a range of kilns. Majors learn about the history of the medium as well as issues of contemporary practice and theory. Students also take a course in professional practices that prepares them for a career as a practicing artist.
What are the prerequisites to major in Ceramics?
Students take two semesters of ceramics electives as the prerequisite to major.
What unique skills do your students get?
The ceramics students get a deep experience with a range of ceramic processes. There is a strong commitment to gaining confidence with the medium. Ceramics majors take courses take teach them how to formulate and make their own clay and glazes. They also learn how to fire a range of kilns. Students are provided with access to a state of the art facility with excellent ventilation.
Will I be able to incorporate other media or interests with my work as a Ceramics major?
Ceramics majors are encouraged to develop and explore their personal interests in their major work. Students have often chosen to incorporate a range of materials into their art work. There is a ceramics elective course called Mystery, Material, and Metaphor that requires the use of multiple materials.
What are some of the classes that are offered in your department?
Introduction to Handbuilding, Introduction to Throwing, Advanced Throwing, Tableware, Atmospheric Firing: Raku and Soda, Mystery, Materials, and Metaphor Clay, Culture, and Context, Slip Casting, Clay and Glaze Chemistry, Junior Studio, Senior Studio
What are the faculty like?
All of the Faculty in the ceramics department are master teacher committed to providing students with thorough education. the ceramics faculty are active studio artists the are showing and publishing work nationally.
What are your facilities like?
The ceramics facilities are excellent, there are 30 electric wheels, 6 electric kilns of various sizes, 2 test kins, two updraft gas car kiln an indoor Raku kiln and a soda kiln, rooms for clay mixing, glaze mixing, and moldmaking
There are separate studios for the ceramics majors.
What are some examples of internships your students have done in the past?
Students have interned at the Cathedral School and gained valuable teaching experience. Students have interned with practicing studio artists and at community art studios.
How many students (juniors and seniors) do you typically have in your major?
There are typically 12 to 18 ceramics majors.
Can you give me some examples of Artist at Work in your department?
Ceramics students have taught in the Cathedral School program, held annual an Senior Ceramics exhibition, participated in Holiday Sale events and gallery shows outside of MECA. Many students have attended summer workshops at national craft centers including Haystack, Penland, and Watershed Center for Ceramic Art.