How ceramics was made possible from home

By Olivia Espinoza

When faced with the visual and performing arts (VAPA) options last summer, especially knowing we would be distance learning, ceramics seemed like an interesting choice. On campus, this class would have already been a challenge since I had never experimented with clay before. So, taking the class from home with only the supplies given to me in a box, a huge block of clay, and a teacher on my chromebook, I was left intrigued. 

I spent my year being taught by VAPA teacher and department chair Julie Neumann, who has taught ceramics for the past 13 years, the last five at Granada Hills Charter High School (GHC). Neumann is joined by Emmauel Crespo who also teaches ceramics. Many students would agree with me when I say, these teachers made the challenge of making ceramics projects from home less intimidating. 

“Mrs. Neumann did an excellent job to meet and even surpass my expectations when she taught this class. It was very well-coordinated on her behalf and she was lenient with it all and took into account the problems students inevitably faced during online learning. She definitely made the best of it,” senior Oscar Palafox said. 

Many ceramics students agree that their teachers have taken the initiative to make sure their students are successful, even from home. 

“Mr. Crespo has been doing a really good job instructing us online. He records his sessions and goes over the steps multiple times and gives us lots of time to finish our projects. He even singles us out and takes the time to check in on every single student,” senior Nabihah Khan said.

For both teacher and students, preparation for the class was difficult given the distance learning situation. 

“The biggest challenge was getting supplies to my students. Working in clay requires a lot of different tools. I moved around 4000 pounds of clay this year so each student would have what they needed to be successful. Knowing that some parents wouldn’t be excited about the mess, I sent home placemats to protect the workspace. A lot of thought and energy went into the Ceramics Supply Kits,” Neumann said.

Ceramics involves more than simply molding clay, however. Pieces need to be fired in the kiln and glazed. This added an additional task for ceramics teachers. 

“We had several projects drop/pick up events. I met students at the flagpole to exchange the work. I then would load projects into the kiln and fire them in between the events,” Neumann said.

Neumann and Crespo worked to teach students techniques on how to transform and take care of our clay. We also learned some art history to add context and inspiration to our projects. 

Both Neumann and Crespo took the time to record and upload videos for those needing assistance beyond the online meeting.

 “With this distance learning, I couldn’t ‘see’ the development of projects at all stages. I would teach, check in several times by having the student show me their work on screen or in an email, and then see the final project. I have been so impressed and proud of the quality of craftsmanship and creativity. Students have overcome issues and challenges on their own, in their own workspace. It just goes to show how the students have met this challenge and risen above to show they can do it,” Neumann said. 

Thanks to the time and effort from teachers and students alike, we have been able to create some amazing projects we are proud of. 

“My favorite project was the zentangle cup. I love to paint and draw, so this project really inspired me because it let me use that part of my artistic ability,” senior  Lisette Hernandez said. 

Another benefit from the ceramics class was a healthy distraction from all the chaos going on in the world this past year. 

“From the many problems that are occurring in the world today, when working on any project in the class, my mind would go to a totally different place that only focused on making my clay project. Essentially, working on these projects help take my mind off from all the stress I may have been experiencing throughout the day, week, and even month,” senior Alec Villarreal said. 

Even though this past year is memorable enough, having keepsakes to remember our time in quarantine has been amazing since now we can say we created them ourselves.