Go Ahead, Bake My Clay

Last Friday night, hundreds of undergraduates swarmed Mt. Auburn Street to kick off their weekends. They weren’t headed for the

Last Friday night, hundreds of undergraduates swarmed Mt. Auburn Street to kick off their weekends. They weren’t headed for the Phoenix or the Spee, but rather to catch a shuttle to Clay All Night, a free studio party held in the Office for the Arts Ceramics Studio, a vast facility on Western Avenue.

While the Office for the Arts offers classes taught by professional artists, many Harvard students are left out by the limited class sizes and their own busy schedules. So last year, Nancy Selvage, Director of the Ceramics Program of the Office for the Arts, launched Clay All Night to meet student demand for more opportunities to experiment with pottery. Selvage promised—and delivered—a truly fun evening filled with food, music and a lot of clay. This year, Clay All Night was the place to be for those seeking an alternative to, or an escape from, the party-bar-club scene on a rainy night. The van that carried would-be pot-throwers to and from the Ceramics Studio every half-hour was as crowded as any weekend shuttle.

Student producer Ruth Craig ’04 publicized the event with posters and emails, drawing partygoers from all walks of student life. There were boisterous groups of friends for whom the clay party was clearly a prelude to the rest of the evening, laughing and marveling at the spinning lumps of muck before them. More serious sculptors huddled over their creations as they took shape. Many donned makeshift garbage-bag smocks as they dove into giant buckets of white and brown stoneware clay, and then kneaded, pounded and slammed it to free it of air bubbles.

A handful of student clay-workers and professional volunteers guided novices through the steps of throwing a pot on the wheel and then molding it little by little into a bowl, a modest vase or perhaps an all-purpose change dish. Hand-builders relied on their play-dough instincts to roll and coil the clay, crafting an incredible array of figures and vessels. Everything made at Clay All Night is left behind with an identifying email address attached so that once the piece is fired, its crafter can be notified and come back to glaze the piece.

The first Clay All Night party was held in September last year and, in official violation of campus party rules, really did last all night. Over 300 undergraduates came over the course of the evening, with the last intrepid, clay-encrusted partiers staying until 5 am. Selvage blames a racy flier (a relic of which still hangs in a case above past Clay All Night masterpieces) and extended hours for the overwhelming turnout. At a second Clay All Night event held during reading period last winter, the hours were reduced per Dean’s Office rules and a photo of a rather phallic pot removed from the fliers, but the crowd remained strong and enthusiastic. Clay All Night seems to have found its groove—this year’s numbers swelled to 150—and plans are in the works to provide increased unstructured studio time for undergraduates, not to mention more Clay All Night parties.

The next Clay All Night party is slated for January 10, from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m., and will surely be a welcome relief from reading period stress for many. There will be two more Clay All Night parties this spring, and plans for pay-as-you-go open studio sessions, likely on Friday nights as well, are in development.