Clayton Reflects on China Trip

Clayton working at Qing Hua workshop

We’re reflecting on all the adventures our Art Students have been on this summer!
Shawna Clayton went to China to study ceramics with the support of a Bruhns Scholarship. We asked her a couple questions about this study abroad experience:

1. What made you want to go to China?
I’ve always been interested in travel, and last year, I made the commitment to myself that I would never turn down an opportunity to do so. Part of the attraction was the convenience of the trip being offered by a nearby university. However, what ultimately captured my interest in going to China was its deep rooted connection with ceramics history – which would plant me in Jingdezhen, the heart of the porcelain trade for centuries.

2. What did you learn on your trip?
I learned an incredible amount about art, ceramics, cultural history, language, and myself. We had several workshops on techniques such as Qing Hua (Blue & White underglaze painting), carving, Xin Cai & Fen Cai (Oil & Water based on glaze painting), throwing, and mold making taught by masters within the Sculpture Factory. In addition, we were also able to observe other techniques such as pit firing, kiln firing, big ware throwing, and using decals by visiting other workshops, kilns, and factories. All of that is simply scratching the surface!

3. Can you describe your favorite memory from this adventure?
My favorite memory is incredibly hard to pinpoint. Jingdezhen and the way that its artists produce their work is so different from the way I’ve always been taught and observed. Interestingly enough, the master that taught our mold making workshop (“Mr. Zhou”) left a strong imprint in my mind. He did not become a mold maker by choice, but was forced to do it in his young adulthood. After 40 years, he still seemed radiantly happy to be working in that trade. We joked about his totally unorthodox approach – using broken pieces of hardwood flooring and wallpaper sheets to contain the gray plaster that would be our molds, but they worked! He liked to do a good job, so naturally, he manhandled our attempts a bit, but I learned so much more from watching him work, and wearing that smile while he did it. Words can barely describe my epiphany in that moment, and the truth is, I still have a lot to learn about what constitutes as “art” – but it was an instant that to me, reaffirmed the power of art in the lives of people, regardless of what that art form is.