Virtual Ceramics Class Open to Students Worldwide
Over 250 participants join the seminar each week.
At the start of the spring semester, Garth Johnson never could have imagined that his object study course in ceramics would transition into a virtual seminar streamed by art enthusiasts around the world. In a matter of weeks, his class has transformed from an intimate group of nine students to over 250 active online participants worldwide.
Hosting an object study course in ceramics was a long-held dream for Johnson, part-time instructor in the Department of Art and Music Histories and the Paul Phillips and Sharon Sullivan Curator of Ceramics at the Everson Museum in downtown Syracuse. That dream was fulfilled thanks to an opportunity to teach the 600-level course, "20th Century American Ceramics: Object Study," at Syracuse University. Each week, Johnson would host his class of Syracuse students at the Everson to examine ceramic works from the museum’s extensive and renowned collection.
“We examined them as closely as we could, talking about medium and technique, but also contextualizing them by talking about what was going on in the art world, the economy, and the material culture of their time,” says Johnson.
When the coronavirus pandemic halted on-campus instruction, Johnson immediately went to work to transition the class to an online format. That process was met some roadblocks along the way. “I was still hoping to be able to host class from the museum, where I would use a webcam to show objects from the collection,” he says. “Very quickly, it became apparent that I wouldn’t continue have access to the museum due to health and safety reasons, which left me in a tight spot.”
Looking for an out-of-the-box way to continue teaching about ceramics, Johnson decided to reach out to collectors, artists, academics, and other curators about joining him for study sessions and received a resounding yes from almost all of them. He hosted the first seminar online on March 27 and opened it up to the general public. Within weeks, more than 250 people actively participated, tuning from locations as far away as the United Kingdom, Denmark and Australia, with those numbers continuing to grow. As Johnson explains, these seminars are appealing opportunities for people to get an up-close look at impressive works and interact with top-level ceramic artists and scholars.
The first seminar focused on the works of prominent ceramic artists Karen Karnes and John Glick. “We talked with potter Mary Barringer, who had a long career as the editor of the journal Studio Potter, and Jeffrey Spahn, a Bay-Area art dealer with a great inventory of their work and a deep understanding of how their work connects to our contemporary understanding of ceramics,” says Johnson.
On April 17, Johnson hosted his largest audience yet for a discussion about ceramist Akio Takamori that featured noted scholar Garth Clark, curator Peter Held, Takamori’s widow, and several of his major collectors.
The growing audience ranges from beginning students to dealers and collectors who have devoted their lives to the field. “Throughout the sessions, participants bring out pieces from their own collections to share on camera,” Johnson says. “Our Syracuse students are really benefiting from having a variety of diverse perspectives. This has also proven to be a wonderful way to connect the public with Syracuse University and the Everson Museum.”
To join one of Johnson’s live seminars, which typically begin at 1 p.m. EST each Friday, or to view one of the past sessions, visit the Everson Museum. In addition to the seminars, the museum is also offering the public free virtual tours and art activities for children.