The upper school art department has welcomed a special guest artist-in-residence the last two weeks, Antonio Martinez. Antonio is a ceramics lecturer at the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University and instructor at the Lawrence Arts Center. Upper school visual arts chair Connie Creek said the department had been talking for a couple of years about conducting a Raku firing, but none of them had led a Raku firing before. So they wanted to tie it in with a visiting artist. Connie and fellow art teachers Chandra Ramey Schiller and Jason Lips were able to get a professional development grant and participated in a Raku process at KC Clay Guild. From there, they talked with other arts organizations to find an artist who could help. Antonio was recommended by a ceramics professor at KU. They made a request through the Parents Association Arts Council and presented at their December meeting. "I am grateful for how open and enthusiastic they were about supporting this experience for our kids," Connie said.
Antonio has been working with the students in a workshop setting of how to make a pot from a solid chunk of clay. He showed students a subtractive method of building, while also encouraging them to make whatever they wished. He has also showed them a pinch-method. "His demos are a perfect choice for the amount of time students have to work and for the level of expertise most students possess," Connie said. "Moreover, this particular approach allows for very sturdy, solid clay forms that can withstand the shifts in temperature that occur during a Raku firing."
Last Wednesday, Antonio gave an insightful talk in Centennial Hall gallery. "It was great for kids to hear how his personal interest in art evolved," Connie shared. "He went on to tell them that his family had an ornamental iron shop and how the look of his pots--many with a dull, black finish-- are reminiscent of how objects looked in his dad's shop. He mentioned that their industrial look is somewhat nostalgic for him. I liked that students got to hear him discuss the personal ideas--what he is expressing in his work." Antonio discussed his methods. He mentioned how he doesn't always know how a piece is going to come out, and that many times a form he makes gets instantly recycled or broken. "I think many students see beautifully crafted work like his and assume that it's all perfect from the beginning; it's important that they know that making stunning art has its ups and downs for him just as it does for them," Connie said. "It was good to hear him speak so candidly about his setbacks as well as how a body of artwork evolves."
Antonio is the fifth artist-in-residence in the last 20 years at Pembroke Hill. The last artist was jewelry maker Cheryl Eve Acosta in 2014. "I believe the value these artists bring is in how they validate art as a career in that they show how they, as entrepreneurs, forge out a meaningful existence through determination and innovation," Connie said. "By need, most artists are self-employed and in essence run their own business. They remind us and our students that images, objects and freedom of expression are essential to a healthy culture."
Antonio will be working with students tomorrow in the workshops, then demonstrating Raku firing on April 7.