New faces in ceramics department provide a fresh view on the craft

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August Lawrence

Nursing student Sage Heidkamp sculpts the top of her most recent sculpture on Wednesday, March 2 at City College’s art department in Santa Barbara, Calif. City College’s ceramic department emphasizes encouraging students’ creativity and seeks to inspire.

Sydney Hammer, Staff Writer

New leadership has helped City College art students find new ways to get hands-on in creating their masterpieces.

The ceramics department has brought in new instructors through the pandemic who have been using a variety of different methods and techniques, encouraging students to dive deep within their creativity. 

After COVID-19 caused classes to be moved online, ceramics classes transitioned back to in-person during the fall semester. 

“Ceramics is real hands-on material, there are online programs but it’s really hard to do this online,” ceramics Instructor Armando Ramos said. “It’s a community based thing, you’re sharing space and equipment while learning from each other.” 

Ramos joined the ceramics department last year, yet he feels the department is very well run and is made up of a strong team. 

“[The studio] was well cared for and managed for years, it’s been to my benefit taking it over. It can be a struggle to find good part-time instructors, but I think we’ve found them,” Ramos said. “We’ve been really fortunate.” 

The past head of the ceramics department, Christopher Bates, was known for teaching in a more traditional style. Under Ramos, the new instructors have brought more freedom and creativity to the curriculum of the classes. 

Student artist's pieces cooldown inside a kiln after the firing process on Wednesday, March 2 at City College's art department in Santa Barbara, Calif. Over the pandemic City College hired sculpture teachers and experimented with implementing new teaching methods.
Student artist’s pieces cooldown inside a kiln after the firing process on Wednesday, March 2 at City College’s art department in Santa Barbara, Calif. Over the pandemic City College hired sculpture teachers and experimented with implementing new teaching methods. (August Lawrence)

“Students can come to class and say ‘this is what I wanna make,’” ceramics Tutor Ally James said. “The teacher will help you work towards that personal goal, and I don’t think that was always the case.” 

While ceramics classes used to be taught strictly following the basics, students can now learn to create the things they both want and need. 

“In the past there were a few homeless students taking class with [Ramos] and they wanted to do things like build a sink on their van,” James said. “He was really open to helping them achieve whatever it was they wanted to do.” 

Students have enjoyed ceramics with Ramos so thoroughly that they’ve been ecstatic to return for more classes. They often begin with the fundamentals of ceramics (Art 150), and then move on to intermediate or advanced ceramics (Art 151 and Art 152). 

“I have a teacher who encourages you while letting you do your own thing, which is a teaching style I really appreciate,” advanced ceramics student Maurice Green said.

“You need the basic teaching to know what you’re doing, but [Ramos] actually lets you go out and do it.” 

There are also students completely new to ceramics, who have been able to catch up easily in City College’s program and are enjoying the steps along the way. 

“For our first project we were making animals, and actually seeing it go from a pile of clay to an animal was so crazy,” said beginners ceramics student Sage Heidkamp. “I really like it.” 

Since the pandemic, the department has been utilizing cameras and digital portals, which has made things run a bit more smoothly compared to before COVID-19. 

“There’s a lot more communication back and forth through [digital portals] because students are now accustomed to that,” the instructor said. “They go to class but the material is also mirrored on Canvas, which I think is supporting their learning.” 

Everyone involved in the ceramics department at City College is glad to be back in-person at the studio, sharing knowledge and ideas, working off each other’s creativity and creating things they are interested in.