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Ceramics Meets Marine Biology at WHOI

Ceramics Meets Marine Biology at WHOI

Art students visit scientists for information and inspiration


If muses for Pottery and Science roam the Earth, they don’t often cross paths, especially in the halls of high school. But Falmouth High School art teacher Corine Adams wants her ceramics students to relate to the ocean that surrounds Cape Cod. So she gave them an unusual task: to research and make clay pieces inspired by marine animals.

In November 2012, Adams brought her students to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) to hear about marine creatures from experts.

“The assignment was to do three pieces,” Adams said, “one realistic, whether a fish or shell or animal; one completely or partially made on the potters’ wheel; and one that was more abstract or unique—I didn’t want to see another fish! It was wide open. Some liked the abstract one, some struggled with it. But it makes them think. It’s not just skills, but thought, creativity behind it.

WHOI researchers presented slideshows and short descriptions of creatures they study: Scientist Heidi Sosik talked about microscopic plankton; graduate student Liz Drenkard discussed corals and reefs; postdoctoral scientist Amy Maas presented swimming snails called pteropods; and scientist Scott Gallager and researcher Amber York showed 3-D images of seafloor fish and other animals. Then WHOI Exhibit Center manager Kathy Patterson took the class to the center to explore.

“So many people don’t appreciate how much of science has a connection to art,” said Sosik. “Using art to reach young people with science seems like a great way to avoid preconceptions about science being complicated or boring. The students saw how such diverse forms of life thrive in the ocean—maybe without even knowing they were learning some science.”

The students used their impressions from the day and their own research on marine life as inspiration for creative ceramics projects.

In December and January in a light-filled studio at Falmouth High School, students worked the clay. They molded and shaped, attached handles or animal legs, and decorated, painted, and fired their pieces—all while talking, listening to music, checking animals’ images on their phones, and talking technique with their teacher.

With themes from plankton to killer whales, octopuses, and osprey—plus a few fish—students created sculptures, dinnerware, and abstract expressions.

“I liked hearing the talks at WHOI,” said student Nicholas Dinello. “And I really like color. So when I saw the slides of corals, with all the bright color, I knew that was what I was going to do.” His sculpture of a brain coral reveals his appreciation of vivid color.

“I did this with last year’s class,” Adams said. “Once the students started making these things, I contacted Kathy and said, ‘I think you should see this.’ This year I wrote a grant, funded by the Falmouth Education Foundation, which helped with the WHOI field trip and also with clay, glazes, and certain tools we didn’t have, to give the students the opportunity to make things larger and use more colors.”

The finished pieces are on display from March 9 to the end of April, 2013, in the lobby of the Clark Laboratory on the WHOI Quissett Campus. A reception for the students took place March 22, 2013, attended by WHOI President and Director Susan Avery.

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