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Chasing ancient vessels

While new kilns were being built for the OFA Ceramics Program last spring, ten students embarked upon a semester long journey to research, design and construct large-scale amphorae through the class “Amphora and the Figure.” The first step on this journey as a class was a visit to the Inner Space Center at the University of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay Campus. Our instructor and guide, Allison Newsome, found her original inspiration for the project there. Allison arranged for the students to meet with oceanographic archeologists who had traveled to Turkey and had explored ancient shipwrecks at the bottom of the Black Sea. From their vessel The Nautilus, the scientists documented and retrieved amphorae that had been sitting on the ocean floor for over 2,000 years. Students were able to view a selection of the vessels at the center and immediately engage in sketching their forms.

The students' amphora are readied for firing in the kiln (photo by Anne Farma).

Back in the Ceramics Program’s Allston studio, inspired students began hand building their own amphorae, the largest reaching almost five feet tall. Using simple coil construction, the students incorporated skills such as wax, casting techniques, mixed-media as well as sculpting from a model.

After completion, the amphorae were left to dry for several weeks.  The vessels were then wrapped and gently loaded into a van that would deliver them to Newsome’s studio in Warren, RI and then to their final destination before firing: Prudence Island. Once on Prudence Island, the vessels were stacked and roped together with high-temperature wire and then a kiln was constructed around the ware on-site using insulating blankets and two large, propane tanks. While the kiln fired for three days and nights, Allison and her family offered their hospitality as students pitched tents on her property and enjoyed the beautiful location. Once fired, the work was loaded into the ferry for their journey back to the mainland.

Some of the work resulting from this amazing class may live in suburban back yards or be the focal point of someone’s living room. Perhaps, in a few thousand years, an archeologist may discover them and wonder about the lives of those who built and enjoyed these items. We are looking forward to working with Allison on another “Amphorae and the Figure” class this spring.

Click here for more photos of the “Amphora and the Figure” class. The 12-week class will be offered again  starting January 29; for more information, see the list of Ceramics Program courses for spring 2013.

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