Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wasatch Academy

The Studio Arts Center at Wasatch Academy

With much anticipation and excitement, I traveled to Mt. Pleasant, Utah on February 20 for a two day workshop at Wasatch Academy. I had been invited by my dear friend, Joe Loftin, who has been the headmaster at one of the most successful private college prep schools in the world for almost 30  years. 

While I admit to much excitement about putting on the workshop for the students at Wasatch Academy,  I was also very much looking forward to seeing Joe, for the last time we had seen each other was in 1982. My, how time flies!

Joe met me at the Salt Lake City airport and we immediately picked up where we left off all those years ago. Naturally, we had much to discuss. I was very curious to learn more about his educational philosophy and shared many stories about my seventeen years serving in the public schools system in Oregon. Joe told me stories about his early years in public education in Austin, Texas, and his subsequent years spent revitalizing Wasatch Academy. 

It is difficult to do justice in describing Wasatch Academy, mostly because it is so difficult to describe in words the energy that emanates from this school. (I found this article which does a  very good at describing the school and it's economic impact on the local community.) It is such a refreshing breath of fresh air to spend time on campus! There are currently 340 students from 40 countries who attend the school. Every decision that is made by teachers and the administration is based on what is best for the students - the student is front and center at Wasatch. The respect that the students hold for each other and for their teachers is evident immediately, and as I spent some time with Joe during my stay, I realized that he was on a first name basis with every single one of the students. Absolutely impressive.

Equally impressive is that a community as small as Mt. Pleasant, which is literally located in the middle of nowhere has such a global community of students and staff. The beauty of the surrounding area is breathtaking - a photographer's paradise to be sure.

Class sizes are wonderfully small. I think the largest class I worked with was ten students - a far cry from 30+ students back in my own high school teaching days in a technical program.

The ceramics program at Wasatch Academy is one of several art programs housed in a former car dealership building that dates back to the 1920’s. The building has been restored and renovated and invites creativity. 

Ceramic Arts Program instructor Laura Prenot

Laura Prenot is the ceramics instructor. She is absolutely an amazing teacher, and she has a top notch facility to teach in. She has been at Wasatch for nine years and is doing truly incredible work with the students. The studio works predominately in the cone 10 reduction range (yay!) and the work produced here is stunning. There are enough wheels for everyone in the class to have one to use. They have Giffen Grips for trimming. If you know public education, you know that very few clay teachers will spend money on a Giffen Grip as they often have the frustrating experience of students stealing parts off of them. This is a shame, for in my opinion the Giffen Grip is one of the best tool that I have in my studio. Nice to see that the kids at Wasatch have access to them - and their beautiful 18 cu ft Bailey downdraft is something to drool over. 

While I was in the class I showed a brief slide show and did demos on the wheel, as well as showing how I pull handles and put the handles on mugs. We had a session the following day where students got their aprons on and Laura and I helped them refine their technique. I very much appreciated Laura's hospitality and ability to put up with my Canadian sense of humor - thanks for everything, Laura! And to the students I met: YOU GUYS ROCK!!! Thanks for having me!
I'm probably telling a bad joke as I put a handle on a mug :)

Outside of the classroom I attended two basketball games and had numerous amazing meals at the Student Center. I was also lucky enough to attend the first event at the brand new Performing Arts Center - a stunning performance by the Utah Lyric Opera. This was an amazing treat, as three world class opera singers were accompanied by Maestro Nicolas Giusti on piano. The acoustics in this facility (a fabulously renovated church) are absolutely amazing. One of the singers, Miriam Costa-Jackson, is planning to record a CD here. All of the performers commented on the amazing acoustics in the Q & A session after the performance.
Q&A session by performers from the Utah Lyric Opera 

I also visited the studio of renowned local potter Joe Bennion. Unfortunately Joe was not there, but I was able to see his wood fired kiln and admire his wonderful work in his showroom.
Joe Bennion's 3 chamber wood firing kiln
It was a whirlwind weekend and I am most definitely sleep deprived. But, I’ve got a nice warm afterglow which I suspect will be with me for some time to come. Laura has asked me to make this workshop an annual event and I am so delighted! Thanks to Joe for making this possible, and a big thank you to all the wonderful staff I met and an especially big thank you to the amazing students I had the privilege to work with.
Joseph Loftin with his Wasatch Academy mug!