By Tara Thompson
Ms. Chu is the current ceramics and sculpture teacher here at Benicia High School. She took her first ceramics class at Diablo Valley College, a night course on pottery making from 7-10pm. She instantly fell in love with Ceramics and repeated this class the next year as well as the second class in the series. “I loved working with clay on a wheel and the ceramics process itself.” She decided to purchase her own potter’s wheel along with a few tools and would eventually go on to buy a used electric Kiln.
There Chu met an individual who would later become a huge influence on her life. He worked as an art teacher at Liberty High School here in Benicia and Chu got to visit and take a look at his classroom. He had a Kiln and frequently taught units in ceramics, he’s a painter as well as a ceramicist and has been friends with Chu for 20 years.
After two years at DVC, Chu transferred to Davis and began her Bachelor of Art program, working towards obtaining a Studio Art Degree. As a Senior at Davis, Chu took her first hand building ceramics course. She said her professor was “tough but she cared. She taught us how to build big. My body of work was starting to develop. I was exploring the idea of how anxiety, stress, and pain affect us as humans physiologically.” Chu was creating large interpretations of internal and external body parts that were at least 3 feet in either width or height.
Chu took her second ceramics course the next quarter under the same professor, but this class involved chemistry to create their own slips, which is basically liquid clay, and glazes to put on their work after they’d been fired in the kiln. In that class, Chu also learned how to make her own molds with plaster to later use with the slips they previously created to make a piece for the class. Towards the end of the year Ceramics had become her main concentration. “I was fascinated with the scientific aspect and experimental factor of ceramics.”
After completing her B.A in studio art, Chu entered a 5th year teaching credential program for single subject art at Sonoma State. During the first semester she observed classrooms in both Napa High School and San Marin High School where she also focused on creating lesson plans. The second semester, she took a break from the year-long credential program and instead got experience as a long term substitute at San Marin.
After going back and completing her credential and finishing off the year with a temporary full time art teaching position, Chu was offered two job positions. One a full time permanent art position at San Marin for the next school year which would require a commute to Novato. The other was a part time art position at Liberty High School here in Benicia, taking over for her friend she met at DVC who previously worked there. Chu decided to pursue the Liberty position and ended up getting hired that summer.
Unexpectedly, Chu ended up covering for a colleague after having a health crisis and covered her three art classes in addition to the three art classes she was already teaching. The following year, Chu had to work at Benicia High School for the first two periods of the day and then go back to Liberty to finish off the day. She went on to do this for the next two years, after that she put her foot down and asked to only teach at one school, which ended up being Benicia High.
Chu has since then been teaching here for seven years with the same budget of $800 for all her classes and is currently thinking about ways to get additional funding for the arts.
Chu not only teaches ceramics but also sculpture and ceramics II which is an advanced class for students that have taken the first ceramics class. In her Ceramics class, Chu spends time focusing on the basic hand building techniques that are used in any piece you can make with clay. After this, she starts to introduce different themes and concepts for projects done in that class.
Ceramics II used pottery wheels for their projects, also known as wheel throwing. It can take up to a semester for students to learn how to center the clay on the wheel to move through the rest of the process. These students make a variety of pottery, including bowls, cups, and plates. In addition to wheel throwing and a bit of hand building they learned from the previous class, they also get to learn about slip casting, which allows them to create multiple of the same form in a timely manner.
Chu’s favorite projects from these classes are the miniature scenes, food, shoes, and face masks. Though, for Ceramics II, she mostly looks forward to the three stacked vessel project that’s created on the wheel and the slip casting unit she does.
Ceramics is a wonderful hands on experience where you get to experiment with different techniques and textures to make what your creativity craves. With different paints and glazes, there’s no limit to what you can make in ceramics.