Pot 1

During my last semester of college at Phillips University in Enid, Oklahoma, I took a studio course in pottery.  I fell in love working with clay.  The class was over too quickly and I graduated.  Several years later, after earning a Master’s degree at Wichita State University, I went back to Oklahoma to work as a Speech-Language Pathologist at a community clinic that was next to Phillips University.  I did this so I could study pottery with my previous professor, Dr. Paul Denny.  Over time, I became a night assistant in the studio and helped others learn how to throw and construct with clay.  As payment, I had access to all the clay I could use, glazes and multiple firing techniques.   My art was only limited by my imagination.  I sold items at art shows and many believed I would be a professional potter.

When teaching students to throw clay on a wheel, they must first learn to center the clay as the wheel spins; this is harder than it looks, particularly with larger amounts of clay.  Once centered, there is a process called “coning” where the potter raises and lowers the centered clay.  This process aligns the platelets in the clay.  The clay body is only about 50% clay; the rest is made up of other materials like flint, grog, sand, and feldspar.  These particles are large relative to the size of clay particles. Coning the clay by raising and lowering it three or four times aligns the particles in a spiral pattern.  When the potter creates a vessel, alignment of the particles allows for increased stability as the clay is raised and allows the potter to create a taller vessel that can be shaped well.

Throwing Clay 1

Coning the clay

I have often thought back to the days of throwing clay and the importance of aligning the particles within it before throwing a large vessel when contemplating shared values and their importance in an organization.  Just as alignment of the particles allows the potter to throw a more substantial vessel, alignment of shared values allows an organization to achieve bigger goals.  While creativity will define the legacy of a potter’s work, innovation will define the legacy of an organization.

The School of Education, Health, and Human services at SUNY Plattsburgh has had its shared values in place for five years.  Please take a few moments to read through the shared values again and find ways to honor them as we progress through the semester.  As we have matured with these values, one thing we have been able to do is develop many new academic programs.  Our vessel is larger than it used to be with the addition and revision of numerous undergraduate and graduate programs.  A mindful alignment of shared values and a pursuit of innovation will provide amazing opportunities for all of us and our students as we engage in our mission of helping students to be successful.  Let me know if you need any help with centering and coning.


Below is one of my favorite pieces.  It is an abstract representation of a mountain range.  The base was thrown on the wheel and represent layers of the earth.  The rough area above the layers represents uplifting forces that create mountains.  The clay above the rough area was hand-constructed with veins and holes that represent veins of minerals and caves.  The clay was rolled with burlap and strings to add texture.  You can see the mountain range on top of the vessel.  This piece was covered in iron oxide rather than glaze and fired at cone 8 (2,305 F) .  It is 26 inches high with a base that is 35 inches in circumference.  The first one of these I tried to make exploded in the kiln, but that is another story.

Mountain Pot