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Ceramics Program Reboots Courses through Virtual Instruction

The Harvard Ceramics Program normally operates in Allston.
The Harvard Ceramics Program normally operates in Allston. By Courtesy of James Leynse / The Galante Architecture Studio
By Meera S. Nair, Crimson Staff Writer

While Harvard’s campus remains closed this summer due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Harvard Ceramics Program has kicked off its summer programming Monday with a newly developed set of online courses.

The Ceramics Program — which is located on Harvard’s Allston campus and operates under the Office for the Arts — offers semester-long classes open to students and local residents during the fall, spring, and summer.

When the University dismissed students from campus in mid-March, the Ceramics Program indefinitely suspended all of its programming and courses which had been operating on-campus. Still, Ceramics Program Director Kathy M. King immediately began brainstorming ideas to run the program online while not having access to studio materials.

“We wanted the classes to be accessible, knowing that everyone can't afford a bunch of new tools or explore a new art medium without having to purchase a lot of material,” King said. “We wanted to think about what could people use around the house or could they get at the grocery store or local hardware store or order online.”

For Paul S. Briggs, an instructor at the Ceramics Program who is leading the course “Rethinking Pinch-Forming,” teaching online seemed like an “exciting possibility.”

“Pinch forming doesn't take much equipment at all,” Briggs said. “I use this same technique even when I make pie crust, so you can use just about any type of material, and if someone made a dough substance with water and salt and flour, they can use that.”

“Pinch-forming is really the ideal process to use during this pandemic and during this time of protests, because we need to be able to quiet our mind, to sit, and to be with ourselves, and you can't do pinch-forming without slowing down and being present to the process,” he added.

In preparation for teaching via Zoom, Briggs said he practiced using two cameras — one focused on his face as he speaks, and the other focused on his hands as he demonstrates working with the material.

“Usually I would walk around the class so that everyone can see inside the piece when I have something that I need to show in detail and here, I can just put the piece I’m demonstrating up to the camera,” Briggs said.

Alexandra C. Kim ’22, who is taking two online classes this summer, said while she appreciates the opportunity to “dedicate this summer to my art practice,” she looks forward to the day she can be back in the studio collaborating with other artists.

“I think on the one hand, the pandemic has offered a sort of strangely fortunate opportunity to pursue some more solitary creative activities if you are able,” Kim said. “However, I am eager to sort of resume normalcy, and I am really looking forward to being back in an artistic studio with other creative minds around me who I can constantly learn from and bounce ideas off of.”

Briggs acknowledged virtual learning’s drawbacks yet said he feels obligated to at least “give this a shot.”

“When you think about cancelling a program because you don't have access to the studio, then there's a misunderstanding of what art is,” Briggs said. “Art is about ideas, and what I'm teaching is not so much about the product, as the process.”

—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at meera.nair@thecrimson.com.

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