Innocent Bystander

That would be me… the innocent bystander. Or I might be a teaching assistant, or the photographer/videographer or even occasionally a LSH (long suffering husband.) We were at Peters Valley Craft Center in northern NJ where My wife Lisa G Westheimer was teaching a Raku firing ceramics workshop.

Lisa pulling the red-hot pots Raku firing
Lisa pulling the red-hot pots Raku firing

She has been a full time potter and developing her craft since she retired from her “day job” and earned her masters degree studying at Montclair State University with William McCreath. She graduated in 2008 and has become adept at all sorts of crazy “alternative firing” techniques and now is able to share her knowledge. So she was thrilled to give a weekend workshop at Peters Valley called the “Raku Rodeo” where students would learn Saggar Firing, Horsehair and Carbon Trailing, and some other variations of Raku. Over the past several years I’ve assisted her with these techniques so I have a good idea of the process and how to help. This rainy Raku Rodeo weekend I took pictures and was available to help whenever needed.  Little did I know that I would also learn alot – not so much about ceramics, but it was quite an education.

I watched the students and how they absorbed (or not) the knowledge and skills. It is hard for a teacher to see this stuff while teaching, but as an innocent bystander I could see how things were going.  Lisa’s skills and knowledge and enthusiasm make her a great teacher. She approaches it seriously but wants the students to have fun, and she has a way of making everything fun. Which was a good thing since it rained off and on (mostly on) the entire weekend, sprinkling showers and downright downpours didn’t dampen her enthusiasm, and she shared that excitement with the students who were able to join in with the work and the adventure and excitement.

She was ably assisted by Alexander Thierry who was serving as ceramics studio assistant and guided by Bruce Dehnert the director of the Peters Valley Ceramics Program. They have tons of experience in teaching workshops and subtly guided and helped Lisa without interfering with her program and her performance. Teaching requires a great support crew. All the prep work in the world won’t get you through the inevitable unexpected difficulties, but having Bruce and Alex on hand solved problems like students who used the wrong clay which exploded in the kiln. No matter how hard you work and how well you prepare, great support is crucial.

The 3 day weekend workshop was intense with student working on pieces into the late night, but having private time was important for the teacher. One more role I played was making sure she drank enough water, ate well and got plenty of rest every night. In the end the participants produced lots of work and tried several different processes. The goal was to learn but the bonus was getting pieces which came out great. Below is a slideshow of some of the pieces.