Clay Club students fire up their creativity on alumni-sponsored alternative spring break

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Jake Mahr ’17, a math and chemistry double major from Manhattan Beach, Calif., and Avalon Bunge ’15, a geology major from Ithaca, N.Y., spun their way through spring break.

The Clay Club members visited the home and pottery studio of Jim ’64 and Sarah Young in Rogers, Ark., at their generous invitation. The Youngs are founders of Van Hollow Pottery, offering classes and selling pottery on the shores of Beaver Lake in the Ozark Mountains. Here’s a report from Mahr and Bunge:

Avalon Bunge ’15 and Jake Mahr ’17

Avalon Bunge ’15 (Ithaca, N.Y.) and Jake Mahr ’17 (Manhattan Beach, Calif.,) work during spring break at Van Hollow Pottery in Rogers, Ark.

For a week we ate, slept, and breathed pottery. We learned new techniques for wheel throwing and slab building, and we used Jim’s hundreds of tools — most of them handmade and unique — to explore stamping and altering wet clay.

But wet clay was only the beginning. Jim mixes all his own glazes, and we got a lesson in glaze chemistry and then had the chance to play with glaze combinations, sometimes applying as many as five glazes to a single piece. When combined with the new and improved clay forms we’d created, the results were spectacular.

The crowning glory of the week was raku, an alternative firing technique where pieces are glazed, brought up to ~1900 degrees F, and then plucked from the kiln while the glaze is still molten and plunged into buckets of combustible materials. Then the lid is slammed onto the bucket, creating a reduction chamber that does amazing things to the elements and minerals in the glaze.

A raku firing is fast, dynamic, and incredibly exciting. And Jim is planning to gift a raku kiln to Colgate’s clay studio! We are absolutely over the moon about the opportunity to do raku at Colgate. But even more, we’re grateful for the amazing warmth and generosity of Jim and Sarah in opening their home to us for a week and sharing with us their wealth of pottery knowledge, delicious cooking, energetic dog Skipper, and their brilliant joie de vivre.