Ceramics Department

Brian Widmaier Placed Displacement, 2010, glazed ceramic, wood, mirrors, acrylic, found cart

Brian Widmaier
Placed Displacement, 2010, glazed ceramic, wood, mirrors, acrylic, found cart

2016-17 Ceramics Department Newsletter

Ceramics Departmental Philosophy

Lets suppose a gradient between absolute utility and absolute art: the pure extremes are only in our imagination; human products always incorporate both utility and art in varying mixtures, and no object is conceivable the admixture of both.
George Kubler, The Shape of Time.

Why ceramics; why now? As one of the few materially specific departments at Cranbrook we take our position seriously. We think through objects and discuss them in their manifold expressions, appreciate the subversive qualities inherent to them and strategize their position in the world. We understand that no object is an island—the crucial question is that of context: how and where do we place these objects; with what movements and why? Always why.

We believe in the heterogeneity of ceramics and intelligently use its position currently and historically to engage with the world. The fact that ceramics still holds a central position in the world of materials—natural or synthetic—is one of its great strengths and promises. We utilize and make the most of this potential; the lack of autonomy for the material coupled with its wide-ranging history is fertile ground from which we can ask the questions worth considering.

The rich history of ceramics is the departmental backbone. We work from this position, question it and build upon it. We do so without limiting the discourse to a question of ceramics exclusively; often the work and conversation directs us into areas beyond the material-specificity of clay. As a material it’s limitless: it can be dismantled, messed-up, re-hashed, and re-configured, but never without considering context. The question of placement and relation is essential to what we do; the material serves as a way in- at times we find other ways out.



The studio never stands still. The open structure of our program allows students and the Artist-in-Residence to work around the clock. The studio is the essential core around which everything evolves. It is a lively place where exchange continually happens: around the kitchen table, in the hallways, in the studio, at crits, in reading groups. We are engaged with what we do and take equal interest everything that happens around us.

As a group, we have only two formal mandatory gatherings a week. Essential to the program are weekly critiques where a few students present their work to all members of the department and interested students from other areas of the school. We take the time to discuss the work thoroughly, indentify successes and deficiencies and suggest how the work could proceed. This occurs twice a semester for each student. We also run a weekly open forum to discuss relevant subjects—mostly initiated by the Artist-in-Residence, but often conducted by students—as a response to what is happening in the studios.

In addition, students have access to the Artist-in-Residence through optional individual meetings that can occur on a weekly basis. Each year, we have about six visiting artists, critics, curators and thinkers coming in from all over the world. They broaden the texture of the program, bring in new points of view and establish an essential link to the outside world.

We take trips to other parts of the country and the world to see, learn and build on our engagement with the broad context of our practice. These trips occur at least once a year, sometimes more- often with financial support of individuals and foundations.

The Studio

In 2002 the Ceramics Department moved into the new studios. Built by the internationally renowned architect Raphael Moneo the studios are conditioned to cater to any need. As the work changes, so does the studio.

All students have their own studio and the Artist in Residence has his own studio inside the department. We can move the kiln carts into the studios if necessary to work directly onto, and we can control and monitor the gas-kilns from home on your laptop when firing.

When more space is needed we have a dedicated space for large scale and installation work. This room can be signed out for several days if more space than your studio allows is necessary.

Central to the studio is the kitchen and dining area where the social life of the department takes place; this is the core of the studio. Many students tend to cook in the department and as a consequence the kitchen is the centre of most of the social exchange.

Kiln Room

Kiln Room

Technical Facilities

We have 5 large energy efficient state-of-the-art Dutch Blaauw gas kilns- three fully computerized and two manual, but we also have several medium and small electric kilns as well as salt and soda kilns. Besides this, the studio is equipped with all the essentials and more: blunger, hydraulic extruder, tilesaws, sprayboth, grinders, sandblaster etc. Naturally the whole department has wireless internet access.

The academy offers access to 3d milling machines, a 3d printer and 3d scanner, a laser-cutter, large format printers and most other high tech equipment necessary. We offer training in this machinery as well as 3d modelling.

Central to the philosophy of the department is that anything imaginable is possible and we have the facilities to prove it. In this way we hope not only to cater for the already established ceramic tradition- we aim for the department to be at the frontline of contemporary ceramic art and design.

The Cranbook ceramics department is quite a special place and you really need to see and experience it to understand it. We are unlike any other graduate ceramics program in the world.


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