Before Shoji Satake found a career in ceramics, he was an Alaskan fisherman and received an undergraduate degree in government from The College of William and Mary.
Here at WVU, he incorporates 3-D modeling/printing into the ceramics program and runs the Ceramics in China program. He left Wednesday to take several students to Jingdezhen, China, where porcelain originated, and they will spend the semester with some of China’s most prominent teachers and ceramic artists.
Before leaving, he sat down with The Daily Athenaeum’s Managing Editor, Jennifer Gardner, to talk about his own experience in ceramics, and why he enjoys being a professor in the field.
Q. How did you find your start in ceramics?
A. I was always artsy growing up. In high school, the pottery studio was right next to the hockey rink, where I was playing sports, so before I would go to practice, I would just mess around in the pottery studio. When I was an undergrad in college, I was able to go and spend sometime in Italy, studying art abroad. One of the things I studied there was ceramics restoration. Later, I went to an apprenticeship in Japan in a tiny little pottery village. I was there off and on for about two and a half years, and then my master basically told me I was unteachable. He thought I would be much better off pursuing an MFA, and coming back to the states, and he was right.
Q. Why do you find ceramics special?
A. If you’ve ever seen anybody tackle a potter’s wheel, even for the first time, it can be a transformative experience because of the tactile nature of the material. It can be a very forgivable material, but it can be the cruelest material. When I see that experience over and over again as I teach, it kind of reminds me of when a child walks into a candy store; there’s excitement when that happens. It’s also a very tight knit community of artists, educators and students. It’s really allowed me to connect with the community around the world and it has given me the opportunity to travel, give lectures and show in museums and workshops around the world.
Q. What is it like to work as a professor in ceramics?
A. I love teaching just as much as making my work. Ceramics is one of those fields where I recognize that to be able to make a living to support my family, I have to have my hands on a lot of different things. Also, being in a university as a ceramic artist or faculty, I can do a lot of research and have the opportunity to advance research and techniques and technology that I would never have as just a studio artist, because I have access to be able to collaborate with many different departments.
Q. How do you use 3D-printing in ceramics?
A. It allows us to make work in ways we were never able to make because of the nature of the material. The way I see it is that it is like another tool, like a potter’s wheel, it allows us to advance our techniques. For me, it’s how can we take these machines and find ways to make them more human. I’m still handbuilding my sculptures, and what I am doing is printing out parts that I can embed into them.
Q. Why is the study abroad program in China important for your students’ cultural experience in ceramics?
A. You realize how small this world is. I don’t expect them to become a master in blue and white Chinese ceramics, but the idea is to expose students to a part of the world they’ve never been exposed to and see how things are done so differently than in our program. I think the classes are super important, but the actual day-to-day experience of being there and immersing themselves, is such a great learning experience. Hopefully, they will actually become a better person from it.