Monday, January 10, 2011

Profile: West Virginia University, College of Creative Arts, Ceramics Production, Studio and Gallery

West Virginia University, College of Creative Arts, 
Ceramics Production, Studio and Gallery

The Production Studio as part of the Ceramic Arts Program was conceived by Bob Anderson, who spent 30 years as the head of the WVU ceramic studios.  The Production Studio is currently housed in a 2,800 sq ft space in Ridgeview Business Park, which is near the WVU campus.  The space is broken down in the following way: 
2800 sq.ft. total space, 2000 sq.ft. Studio, 750 sq.ft. Gallery

Bob's idea was to provide students going through the undergraduate program with an education that included design and production experiences that would better equip them upon graduation.  He and many others worked on the idea for a number of years and secured funding through the University, foundations, and a Congressional earmark of several hundred thousand dollars.

Undergraduate ceramic students can take three semesters of experience/classes at the Studio.  There they learn a variety of design and production techniques for producing work that will be consumed by the public.  

The Studio is run by Chris Brown with Shoji Satake as the director/faculty of the Ceramics department and Robert "Boomer" Moore as faculty and Chris’ immediate supervisor. Bob Anderson is in the process of retiring and heads up the China Program. He also acts as a mentor on this project.

The WVU Ceramics Area has offered a comprehensive summer study program at Jingdezhen since 1995, and in 2004, it expanded the partnership to include a fall semester program that provides advanced undergraduate, graduate and professional-level studies in ceramics, including basic language, culture and Chinese ceramic art history. Also as part of the program, WVU maintains collaborative studio space in Jingdezhen of more than 16,000 square feet available to American and Chinese students and faculty.

The Production Studio consists of a gallery, small office, and large production space that includes equipment, supplies, and shelving.  Students receive an orientation experience that gives them a foundation to enable them to receive compensation for the work that they do there.  

The work is sold and the proceeds are used to help fund the Center.  I believe the Studio's goal is to be financially self- sufficient.

Soldner Pro Mixer.

The Studio uses a Cone 10 clay body that is part stoneware and part porcelain with 10% pyrophyllite to mitigate cracking and shrinkage.  
Standard Ceramics in Pittsburgh dry mixes and bags a custom cone 10 clay body that Chris has developed over a number of years. The grog is added when mixing to allow flexibility with that part of the recipe.

Venco Pugmill and jiggering templates.

Chris likes the Venco since the barrel splits apart for easy clean out.  This is important because the ram press uses stiffer clay and the jiggering machine uses a softer clay.  Since the soft clay will not push the stiff clay out of the mill, it has to be cleaned out by hand.

The jiggering templates are made from popular wood and zinc coated plates from the art department's press shop.  Often times a piece is thrown and cut in half to trace the lines for the template for the inside of the jiggered pot.

Ram Press.

The bottom unit is connected to a hydraulic cylinder powered by a pump.  Steel cased, plaster molds are bolted to the top and bottom with each also connected to a air compressor via a valve welded to each part.  

The valve is connected to a porous fiber tube which is supported by chicken wire located one inch from the exposed mold surface.  After the clay is pressed between the top and bottom molds, air is first injected into the bottom and the mold is retracted, leaving the clay molding suspended to the top.  

A ware board is inserted under the piece and the air is injected into the top mold for release.  Depending on the piece being produced, they can quickly fill up their ware carts with more production available than space to hold the work.

Ram Press mold.

Molds are quite heavy and require some level of technical expertise to correctly fashion.  They build their own molds in-house.

Student jiggering a pot.

The jiggering machine came from Homer Laughlin China.  A steel bucket holds the mold and spins.  A soft, deaired clay ball is dropped into the bottom of the plaster mold and the operator uses his hand and the jiggering template to form the clay piece.  Some skill/training is involved especially in forming the rim, which often needs trimmed when leather hard.

Production molds create a form with flexibility designed in to allow the pieces to be trimmed and altered. All jiggered forms are trimmed.   

Chris views this as a combination process. The molds eliminate the need for about 3/4 of the clay a hand thrown piece. Using extruded forms to pull handles reduces the number of variables. Many of the forms are used to create more than one product. A salad bowl, batter bowl, colander, and butter dish lid may all be made from of the same mold.

Once inserted on a ware cart, the piece can be removed the same day or next depending on the drying conditions.

Chris helping a student adjust the template for a new setup.

Student trimming a jiggered piece.  He will later add an extruded and then pulled handle.

Another student trimming a piece.  They often use rubber forms to hold the ware since there is uniformity in each design.  The Studio works to teach attention to design detail so that forms are aesthetically pleasing.  Forms are constantly tweaked to improve design quality.

Electric kiln and spray booth.

After drying, pieces are bisque firing in an Olympic electric kiln and then glazed.

Gas kiln.

Chris constructed the 104 cubic ft. Kiln and two forced air burners that produce 1.5 million BTUs on location.  He consulted with Jerry Wagner to get a bid on a 40 cubic ft. fiber kiln that Jerry builds and about I.F.B. 

The University sheet metal shop manufactured the hood, and the University’s engineers help resolve issues with ventilation. The kiln has approximately 65 cubic ft. of stacking space and can be fired to cone 10 in as few as 9 hours. He usually soaks for about an hour to finish off in about 10-11 hours.  

 He used a 10 inch high temperate blower that moves 1500 cfm to vent and cool the exhaust gases. He purchased it from Grainger, and it was made to service large heating systems that produce over a million BTUs. It can be used with up to a 14 inch exhaust pipe. He decided to use 2800 degree brick in the firebox after some of their older kilns developed issues in that area.
  Chris reports that the kiln fires easily especially with the use of an oxygen analyzer and results temperature wise are fairly close throughout the kiln,

Kiln venting system.

A squirrel cage blower pushes air down a U-shaped length of pipe to cool the exhaust gas.  The offset helps to create turbulence that promotes draw.

Bisque load.

Glaze load.

Glaze load detail.

The Gallery.

The following are pictures of work in the gallery in the front of the building.  Most of the work has been produced at the Studio and is for sale.
The majority of the work is sold at two major sales in the lobby of the College of Creative Arts. These sales coincide with the last day of class in the fall and spring semester. Also, they have work in a number of retail galleries and shops in West Virginia. They are looking to expand their retail market as they grow.

 Detail of some production pieces.

Porcelain piece from their China program.

Chris Brown can be contacted by:
Phone:  304 293-2964

West Virginia University
College of Creative Arts
Ceramics Production
Studio and Gallery
200 Frederick Lane, Suite 3
Morgantown, WV 26508


  1. After reading this blog i came to know about west Virginia university creative art.

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