Reclaiming the Kiln: Ceramics at Suffield

Suffield Academy boasts a professional-grade ceramics studio complete with seven potter’s wheels, two electric kilns, a professional slab roller, extruder, and pug mill. During the first year of study, structured projects provide students with foundational skills in hand building, wheel throwing, and glazing techniques. These projects are specifically designed to give the broadest space possible for individuality and creativity. Upper-level art students work closely with their teachers to design personal projects and goals that continue growing their independent skills, interests, and ideas. 

James Muslu is a senior from Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and in his second year studying ceramics. Initially drawn to the course to fulfill his art requirement, he chose ceramics hoping to discover a physical connection with his work. “Art offers me a different headspace where I can relieve myself from daily stresses,” he says about his experience. “I love working with ceramics due to the broad scope of different things I can create. Some people prefer throwing practical and elegant pieces on the wheel. Others like myself sculpt in ways that stimulate individual, artistic expression. I enjoy adapting to the dynamic changes in clay and thinking critically to tackle design elements during the process of creating a new piece.”

Now again working on campus in Suffield’s ceramics studio, James spent a short period from November to December participating in the school’s remote learning program. His teacher Erica Leigh Caginalp supported him by delivering the necessary sculpting supplies fit for a home studio. “I created a small ceramics space in our basement and was able to continue working on my art outside of school,” James explained. “There I began sculpting the cyclops-caveman-chicken figure I named “Frank.” Mrs. Caginalp was always available to provide me the materials I needed, and I am very thankful for her help throughout the process.”

James is not the only student Erica helped support during the remote learning process. She also delivered a potter’s wheel, tools, and supplies to junior and third-year clay thrower Kaitlyn Suller to her home in nearby Granby, Connecticut. Kaitlyn has been working with ceramics since the 8th grade. “I always enjoyed ceramics in middle school and at summer camp, but it was nothing truly special until I signed up for Ceramics I with Mrs. Caginalp my freshman year,” she says in recounting her artistic voyage. “This is where I fell in love with it. With clay it is okay to make mistakes and try new things because you can always start over, smooth things out, and recycle the material. I like rolling up my sleeves and getting a little dirty. Art lets me step outside my comfort zone and do things I cannot do anywhere else but in the studio. Working with clay clears my head and provides an almost therapeutic outlet where I can let out all my emotions and create something beautiful in the process. I do work a lot outside of class, especially since I now have a home studio. Whenever I need a break from doing homework, being on my computer or phone, I go to the wheel and decompress.”

There are many muses to inspire the creation of art with each being particular to the artist themself. Kaitlyn says that it is the people close to her—classmates, family, and friends—who significantly inspire her art making. She has most recently completed coffee mugs for her parents and a knitting bowl for her aunt but credits her teacher Mrs. Caginalp as being her most influenced inspiration. “Mrs. C has always been there to help me along my ceramics journey,” she says. “She helps me turn my visions into reality, showing me step by step how to make everything I’ve imagined. Not only does she inspire me as a mentor but her work does as well. Her ceramic pieces are amazing and constantly encourage me to make new things I never before thought of trying.”

Artistic expression is believed to be the impetus of self-expression, which is the cornerstone of a liberal arts education. At Suffield, we believe educational processes that deny humanity's artistic nature limit what and how we learn. When you walk into the Tremaine Visual Arts Center, you will find artists pursuing a variety of interests—from painting and drawing to drafting, photography, ceramics, and sculpture. The foundation of the teaching philosophy in the art department is the belief that everyone has potential.