While Christa Assad switched to majoring in the arts after initially enrolling in Pennsylvania State University to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering, she only discovered her passion for ceramics in one of the last classes she took to fulfill her undergraduate requirements. Since then, she has developed a novel kind of pottery that most describe as streamlined and modern, a style that also pulls from her varied interests in early life. Assad, along with other contemporary potters, is bringing into the modern world an art form that dates back nearly 20,000 years.
Assad is also integrally involved with numerous pottery groups that are promoting the reintroduction of handmade ceramics in one’s daily life through programs like Art-Stream, which has a lending library of artists’ ceramics that the public can take home and enjoy for a week. She is California-based but teaches classes all over the country to promote ceramics and pottery. This weekend on September 18 and 19, she will be demonstrating her unique style with a two-day workshop presented by the Ceramics Program to instruct students on the basics of throwing clay on the wheel as well as techniques to create modern ceramic masterpieces of their own.
The Harvard Crimson: How would you describe your style of ceramics work?
Christa Assad: I guess what distinguishes my style is the real industrial, urban aesthetic to it, which has been called postmodern and, I guess, not as pottery-like. My current work is even bordering on objects that aren’t functional. The style to me is showing itself as being more about mimicking other materials, maybe metal, concrete, things like that. My style is always called industrial or urban, but it always plays homage to concrete and metal and larger-scale structure.
THC: What was the idea behind your upcoming show at the Ferrin Gallery in Pittsfield, Massachusetts?
CA: Residual pails. The theme is about memory traces and old buildings and old objects that don’t have a use anymore. The theme is very closely centered around this one object, an old wood burner from the Pacific Northwest logging industry where they incinerated all the old logging waste. I did a whole series on those buildings which are just amazing looking buildings. They’re all kind of skeletal and coming down now on the west coast but people love looking at them.
THC: How does teaching ceramics help your artistic development?
CA: I’m always surprised at how insightful people can be in a [learning] situation like that where they don’t know much about me, but through that kind of intense contact for two days people will say stuff about my work or my way of being that’s really helpful because they’re people I don’t know that are not afraid to say things. It’s helpful to have an objective and fresh opinion on my work.
THC: What do you hope to gain from the experience of teaching a workshop at Harvard?
CA: I’m really excited to see the program, because in ceramics it’s really exciting to visit other studios, look in the facilities. I didn’t realize Harvard had a ceramics program so that’s kind of a reason in it’s own right to see what the program is all about. I know of the woman who teaches there, Kathy King, and I’ve been excited to meet her; she has a fabulous reputation. So I hope to gain the perspective into what advantages to the academic aspect there may be to that program over some schools that don’t stress academics as much as they stress art theory or art practice or whatever it might be. I’d like to get an understanding about what Harvard offers when dealing with ceramics.
THC: What is the future of ceramics?
CA: I’m really hopeful. I think that the future for potters in particular is looking brighter because of, actually, the downfall of the economy. It worked in their favor. I think that lower priced art items—unfortunately like pottery can be—are now things that people are more willing to spend their money on. I think the movement of buying more locally is definitely in favor of the potter also. Ceramics as a bigger field has the possibility to join with the art world instead of being separated out. Something I’m interested in doing is to question why we ban together as clay artists and potters and can’t just say we’re artists. We need to stop the battle of segregating our own selves into this little tiny field. I’d rather join in the bigger picture and make more of a statement with the whole art world.
THC: What do you want people to take away from your ceramics?
CA: I would like people to take an appreciation for finer details and the sort of a realism that can be expressed through something so malleable and thought of as a floppy and muddy material. I want them to really see that clay can be so fine, so well-crafted, that it can surprise you.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: September 14, 2010
An earlier version of the Sept. 14 arts article "Portrait of an Artist" referred to Christa Assad's show at Ferrin Gallery as "Residual Pails." The correct name is "Vestigial Tales."
The same article also called a program "Arts Dream" instead of its correct name of "Art-Stream."