On a sunny day in April, rather than spending the day soaking up the sun, English and art students found themselves laboring away in the dungeon of Maloney Hall, the art building of Central Connecticut State University. At the beginning of the term, Professor Mary Collins, Program Coordinator of Writing Minors in CCSU’s English Department, suggested to her advanced creative nonfiction class to collaborate with Professor Vicente Garcia’s advanced Ceramics III class. “At first they were nervous,” Collins said. “But then the students were like ‘We’re ready, like we’re gonna do this.’”
The proposal was simple: English students would help the art students with their writing to market their art pieces and the art students would help the English students turn their writing into a physical piece of art that would capture meaning of their prose. Beside those basic guidelines, the students were allowed free rein to decide what they wanted their specific project to feature.
One student even got creative. Her pottery piece focused on advocating for mental illness. She decorated her ceramic bowl with affirmations for sufferers and includes different locations that offer services for people living with mental illness. According to Collins it was all about creative thinking. “They start with a blank slate. They have to try; they have failures. They have to gradually acquire skill sets to become more sophisticated at what they’re doing.”
In Maloney Hall’s basement, the sound of potter wheels whir, but there is little noise. The quiet room is peaceful as Clark Otis, an English major partnered with Stefanie Baechler, an art education major, both work on their projects. This was the first time either student had been exposed to each other’s subject at this depth. In total there were thirty students that pioneered this crossover assignment, with a ratio of about two art students to one English student. The project aimed to give all students an assignment that was unconventional, a team project that taught each other skills and how to work together towards something baked in fire. At the beginning of the crossover, students picked their partners with a twist—the arts students displayed their art in the room, and the English students picked the piece they felt a connection with. Through this they found their partner.
Some college students would love the chance for a break from their required courses, and without a semester-long commitment. One thing is for sure: we need more opportunities like this. In fact, such exposure allows students to discover their hidden talents. When asked about any previous experience in the arts, Otis said, “Oh no, I’m terrible at art and all types of art. I don’t think I’ve played with clay since I was in like fourth grade.” But since starting, Otis has sculpted various vessels, now working on his last bowl.
“He’s not terrible. I think that’s part of the sad mindset,” said Baechler halfheartedly. The sad mindset being how students tend to overlook a subject or skill in fear of sacrificing their grade if it doesn’t intensely spark interest or present itself as a natural calling. Students are often robbed of the chance to experience other courses of study, instead becoming siloed in their own majors. Is that limiting students? Collins and Garcia’s collaboration has created new opportunities for exploration.
Mid-April was crunch time. The collaborators had three weeks until the “Paper and Kiln” public showcase. Pressing fingers into the spinning mass of clay, Baechler instructed Otis to keep a firm grip as she pressed a thumb on what would later become a face. When asked about whether she would vouch for a project like this in the future, she replied, “Yeah! I think that going between these different studies is super important because it gives everyone insight into the other end.”
Finally, on the first Tuesday in May, the students were ready. In the atrium of the Willard-DiLoreto building, the sun came down through the glass ceiling. The students had their art displayed on white pedestals as they mingled around dressed in their best. When I asked Alexa Sullivan, Alanna Levesque, Colby Jenkins, and Allie Ross, all seniors graduating this spring, if they’d do it again under the same pressure and circumstance, they answered with an unanimous, “Yes!” Ross added, “When you’re done and you’re graduating it’s like, okay not only did you complete the last year of your undergrad, but then you actually got to have some fun and take everything out on the clay.”
As Professor Garcia sat watching the students interact with passersby, I asked about his hope for the project. “If you notice, there’s a lot of bowls and a lot of open form. The idea started with a bowl and then a write-up.” After that, the art and prose took many forms, and each student made it their own. For the many seniors of the class, their bowls represent a physical memory of the class, and a new passion for the future.
All photos courtesy of Ariella Mendoza Ozuna for Blue Muse Magazine.
Ariella Mendoza Ozuna is a staff writer for Blue Muse Magazine.