SCARBOROUGH — For some of Lisa Ruhman’s students, taking a ceramics class at Scarborough High School was just a way to fit in a fine arts credit.
At least before they began the semester.
Now, regardless of their level of artistic talent, most agree the course has a lot more to offer than simply fulfilling a graduation requirement.
“We found out it’s really interesting,” junior Jordannah Saunders said.
“You’ll be having a really bad day and every individual in this class makes you feel happier,” freshman Tasean Lewis said. “I don’t feel it’s like school; it’s a gathering of friends.”
This week, the “gathering” welcomed visiting artist Kari Radasch, a professional, full-time potter whose presence was made possible by a grant from the Maine Community Foundation. Ruhman said she specifically wanted Radasch when she applied for the grant because of the techniques the Westbrook artist uses in her work and her success in imparting information to others. In addition, Ruhman said she wanted her students to know that it is possible for professional artists to make a living from their creations.
“I wanted to bring in someone from the community to the school community,” Ruhman said. “We’re all the same; it moves full circle.”
Though Radasch earns a living from her work, she supplements her income by teaching and flies all over the country teaching courses for art centers, she said.
Radasch crafts 65 to 70 percent of her pots using bisque molds, as opposed to a potter’s wheel, and she brought in many of her molds for the high school students to use. After each student flattened their block of clay with a rolling pin, they shaped the slabs over a mold, added bases and let it all dry.
By mid-week, one table in the large, airy art room was strewn with pots of all shapes, the bare clay waiting to be clothed with decorations and colors.
Radasch spent much of Wednesday’s class demonstrating different methods for adding designs and textures with tools and colored clay, called slip, to embellish the pots. Working with simple things like newspaper, and makeshift scraping tools, she turned the clay tiles she used for teaching into spotted, polkadotted or striped pre-masterpieces, ready for their first, “bisque firing” in the kiln.
Once the first firing is completed, the pieces are brushed with glaze before a final firing, called a “glaze firing,” at upwards of 2,000 degrees.
Radasch’s own work, viewable on her Web site, KariRadasch.com, reflects some of the techniques she taught the students this week. The playful, whimsical dishes, cake stands and flower vases, with their vibrant colors and quirky designs, evoke fun and happiness. And in sharing her skills, she has encouraged Ruhman’s students to find their own style as they seek to stamp their personality on their work.
In her 10 years of teaching at the high school, Ruhman said about one student a year goes on to major in art. But even though many of these students may never again feel the cold, giving clay in their hands, or work it into shape, or squeeze it until it oozes out from between their fingers, their concentration and effort on Wednesday proved ceramics class was far more than just another credit.
Visiting artist Kari Radasch teaches one of Lisa Ruhman’s classes at Scarborough High School how to decorate a clay pot. A full-time professional potter, Radasch spent the week at the school through a grant from the Maine Community Foundation. Behind Radasch are students Matt Couillard, left, Marco Risbara, Wout Moulin, Dylan Price, Nick Neugebauer and Cassey Elliot. (Roberts photo)