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Wednesday, September 27, 2006


By Terry de Bardelaben

As an educator, I understand the drive that propels the pursuit of knowledge. I bear witness to my students’ quest for information and I see it in my self. The learning process is an infinite cycle and it is increasingly clear to me that one cannot impart knowledge that one does not possess.

My cumulative Ceramics’ educational training helped me to expedite the learning process for my students. One of my curriculum goals was to have the students draw a connection between the hand building and pottery techniques they learn in class to those employed by peoples from around the globe. Beginning ceramic students are asked to research traditional firing techniques of indigenous people. Their investigation provides a framework for appreciating cultural traditions and visual aesthetics and thereby acts as a foundational backdrop for expressing their own individual creative ideas through clay. Inevitably, students’ discover parallel ancient firing practices, which are then compared and contrasted with their modern adaptations. Ultimately they understand the benefit of interpreting and communicating a shared and common visual language. They are required to participate in a learning model that places research, historic data, construction, and individual creative interpretation as a core pedagogical teaching tool. Fundamentally, our students appreciate the universality of art and ultimately the celebration and value of art in our community.

In September of 2005, I read an article in Ceramic Art and Perception, which featured the ceramic sculptural forms of Trisha Bishop. The writer highlighted the technical training she received in Italy studying under Giovanni Cimatti. I goggled his name and discovered that he is “ continually interested in the relationship between form and surface, resulting in a new variety of techniques in terra sigillata and raku, among others”.[1]

I immediately established contact with Giovanni with the hope of learning more about his curriculum. This information inspired me to go on my own journey to Italy.

I have always been interested in a process called Terra sigillata or sealed earth. “Terra sigillata is a very smooth, lustrous coating of clay, which resembles a glaze and is virtually waterproof. The name means sealed earth and has been used to refer to the Classical Greek Attic black-figure and red-figure painted pottery.

The silkiness and shine of terra sigillata is due to the plate like shape of the clay particles and the use of only the smallest particles. Polishing this surface with your hand or a soft cloth lines up all the clay 'plates' and gives the surface its shine. [2]

My APT summer grant allowed me to continue my own exploration of terra sigillata. In July 2006, I headed to Certaldo, Italy to study with master ceramicist Giovanni Cimatti. His Dolce Raku course was being taught at La Meridiana, the International Center of Ceramic Art in Tuscany.

Sixteen brave women traveled from all over the world and converged upon the restored 13th century farmhouse. Our twelve-hour workdays were primarily spent in the studio workshop. The course curriculum was comprised of demonstrations, lectures, and production time for individual creativity.

My journey forced me to transcend linguistic and cultural barriers, which potentially hinder and possibly impede communication. This was possible because of the enormous effort expended by all of the workshop participants. Kindness, good will, and good intention replaced frustration - a natural consequence of language differences. Collectively we translated and otherwise negotiated five languages: French, Italian, German, Spanish, and English. Multiple languages and communication styles were employed to foster communication and establish understanding. On rare occasion, we resorted to the universal language of sign and gesture. However daily, we set out on a creative journey that stretched our individual and collective talents.

Daily, Giovanni provided demonstrations of hand building and wheel throwing techniques together with the history and theory of terra sigillata. We enjoyed creating art in a facility that offered space for all types of ceramic experimentation with” kilns that range from high-fire gas, raku, soda, and wood firing to lower-fired electric, pit, and smoke.” [3]

I returned from Italy having learned about the human spirit and myself. However, I walked away from that experience with a heightened appreciation for the relationship between the teacher and learner. Multiple learning styles exist in each learning environ. It is absolutely, incumbent upon the teacher to accommodate the learning styles of the student - auditory, kinesthetic, and visual learners.

I returned home with terra sigillata shards, lecture and demonstration video and a wealth of knowledge. I’ve even begun to conduct experiments with the terra sigillata process I learned in Italy and look forward to incorporating that style of surface treatment into my curriculum. Traveling to Italy was invaluable.

Terry A. deBardelaben,

a.k.a. york

Upper School Ceramics Teacher
St. Stephen’s &
St. Agnes School

Adjunct Faculty-3D Concepts
Howard University

All content © 2006 Black Artists of DC all rights reserved.

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At 2:15 PM, Anonymous Karla With a K said...

I've learned so much by your article, Terry. Thank you for sharing your experience in Italy.

I look forward to seeing images of the work you have created using this method. Keep me posted...

Karla With a K

At 4:42 PM, Anonymous Charles Metze III said...

You never mentioned to the class that you had been to Italy!


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