Originally from Binghamton, New York, Erica Caginalp studied ceramics at Alfred University with minors in art history and education. She then went on to earn a master’s degree in art education with a concentration in ceramics from SUNY New Paltz. Erica previously taught art in Owego, New York where she coached Odyssey of the Mind teams and mentored new teachers. Erica was also the district-wide curriculum coordinator for Fine Arts, designing curriculum, writing artist in resident grants, and overseeing fine arts teachers in four buildings. Erica evaluated other New York State public school districts for accreditation as a SACI team leader. After getting married to Suffield Academy chemistry teacher, Paul Caginalp in 2010, Erica moved to Suffield and opened Nutmeg Empire, a small ceramic studio and fine art gallery in Haddam, Connecticut. She continues to sell her work locally at art fairs and festivals.
At Suffield, Erica has worked in multiple departments including the library, academic support, and theater. Erica landed in her forever home at Suffield when she joined the visual arts department in 2015. She leads the ceramics program with a broad range from functional pottery to sculpture. Erica is passionate about professional development and continues to mentor new teachers. She helps lead Suffield’s GSA, Helping Hands Club, and Cooking and Baking Club. Erica lives on campus with her husband Paul, daughter Clara, and dog Apollo.
Where were you born?
Ithaca, New York
What do you love about where you are from?
I grew up outside of Binghamton, New York. While Binghamton does not have a ton going for it, it is the Carousel Capitol of the World. There are fewer than 170 antique carousels in the United States and Canada, and the Binghamton area has six, making it home to the biggest collection in the world. The carousels were a gift from George F. Johnson, a shoe manufacturer and benefactor, who built local parks for the community and donated the carousels between 1919 and 1934 so anyone could ride for free. They are all still free to ride, with the admission being one piece of trash from the park.
If someone was traveling to where you are from for 24 hours, what would you recommend?
Many of my old haunts have closed down, but I would recommend the Lost Dog Café for dinner, go to a Binghamton Black Bears hockey game, ride the carousel at Rec Park, take your kids to play at The Discovery Center, and if it is Tuesday night, go take a free swing dance class from the Southern Tier Swing Dance Society above Rexer’s Karate studio where I met my husband and we eventually taught swing dance lessons together.
What do you love about where you live now?
After leaving a place where I was deeply involved in the community, I love that Suffield finally feels like home. It has taken 10 years, but it final feels like I am “from Suffield.” I love our house location. Mr. C is a volunteer firefighter and he runs across the street to station 1 and drives off to save the day in Rescue 1 while Clara, our 7-year-old, watches from our front window. Plus, we live right up the street from Scoop’s Ice Cream!
What is your favorite thing about day-to-day life at Suffield Academy?
I love the balance of working with students and sharing my love of ceramics and making my own personal work in ceramics. I am a working artist and a teacher both. The balance is not often even but I love how it shifts and I can keep in practice with both skills and passions, art and teaching.
What is the first thing you do every morning when you get to work?
I am one of the first in the art building in the morning. I unlock the doors, turn on the gallery and ceramics studio lights, pop on Pandora, and check what temperature the kiln is at. I usually only have a minute or two before students show up to check the kiln or check on their work before they have to get to their first classes. I love these morning check-ins with my students.
Who is your favorite artist?
That question is just not fair… The artist that has had the most impact on my personal work and process is Henri Matisse. The most inspirational artist I have worked with was my teacher and mentor at Alfred University, Linda Sikora.
Which of your roles at Suffield Academy do you relish the most?
Being the ceramics teacher!! I have the BEST job on campus! I live for that moment when a see the lightbulb come on over a student’s head. That moment of illumination followed by joy and pride is what fills my cup the most.
What is something your Suffield Academy family might not know about you?
I have a small business called Nutmeg Empire that encompasses my ceramics work. I sell at a storefront in Stowe, Vermont, local fairs, and at Renaissance Festivals in Connecticut and Maine.
What is your favorite book?
Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman
What is the one word that you live by?
Kindness. It was my word before coming to Suffield. It will still be my word if I move on. I’m glad it is also Suffield Academy’s word.
What is something you believe one can never over-invest in?
Time with loved ones.
What is your favorite hobby?
Crocheting, sewing, crafting, and general making.
What advice would you give a new teacher at Suffield?
Take time to get to know the community outside of Suffield Academy.
What is your favorite song of all time?
The ceramics studio playlist is a strange mix of Disney, Green Day, The Beatles, The Greatest Showman Soundtrack, Zach Brown Band, Shakira, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ricky Martin, Grateful Dead, and Katy Perry. Don’t judge me…
Who is your role model? Inspiration?
My mom (Kerry in the snack bar, who just retired in May). She is amazing.
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
China is the next place on my travel bucket list. I would like to go on a ceramic tour of China. I would like to see the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xian, Dingyao Ceramics in Quyang, Junyao Ceramics in Yuzhou, and explore the porcelain center of the world Jingdezhen
What is your favorite food?
I have a sweet tooth! And anything with chocolate and peanut butter will do.
What has been the most interesting thing you have learned from a student?
My students push me to make bigger, more challenging work. They literally challenge me. One student actually challenged me to a throw-off where we each threw 25 pounds of clay on the potter’s wheel. We both succeeded, although he needed to wear a backpack full of AP textbooks to have enough weight to move his clay.