I am a professional ceramic artist and art instructor at Yakima Valley College in Yakima, Washington. I have been exhibiting my ceramic sculpture for more than a decade and teaching nearly as long. I earned my MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2006 and moved to Yakima later that year to run the ceramic studio at Yakima Valley College. You can see images my work here on my website, on my blog, or at Oak Hollow Gallery in Yakima, WA. You can also look for my upcoming exhibitions in Washington state and around the country.
I teach wheel-throwing and hand-built clay classes as well as the online Art History series at Yakima Valley College. YVC is a Hispanic Serving Institution in central Washington that provides two-year and some four-year degrees in a range of fields. In 2015, the art program moved into a brand-new building, Palmer-Martin Hall. The first floor of the building houses the art studios, including a beautiful four-room ceramics studio with wheel and hand-building spaces, a ventilated glaze room, a kiln room with three electric and one gas kiln, and a clay mixing and storage room. In 2017, our studio added a 3D Printer for clay. If you are interested in learning more about the Art Program at Yakima Valley College, click the link (you can also get my YVC contact info there). If you'd like to connect with the Art Club or Clay program directly, you can visit our YVC Clay Facebook, YVC Art Club Facebook and YVC Art Club Instagram pages.
I write regularly about my work, my studio, my classes, my teaching, and even my students on my blog at racheldorn.blogspot.com. I update the blog regularly and would be happy to hear from you about my most recent posts.
My work is primarily abstract and sculptural. I encourage an open interpretation of my forms. I like the viewer to become involved with the work, either by physically handling it or because I have forced them to interpret the work by leaving the subject ambiguous.
My work is inspired mostly by local and exotic plant forms and aquatic flora and fauna. The biological forms I look to for inspiration are at once familiar and strange. Nature repeats similar forms in different organisms and in different ecosystems. Though I may not be referencing a particular plant or seedpod, these types of shapes can often be seen in my work.
Similarly, my work is both familiar and strange. Out of context, the subtly or subconsciously familiar forms of my sculpture might be hard to categorize or identify. Direct inspiration for my sculptural forms or surfaces might come from seeds, blossoms or the surface of an orange. I combine these influences into new forms that are essentially abstract.
Working with clay requires students, very quickly, to develop an understanding of the physical and chemical processes that run the clay studio. I believe that students need to start with an introduction to the basic science and the fundamental reasons behind the directions given by the instructor.
Beginning level students need to be taught, and to understand, the drying process and the chemical change that happens during firing, turning clay into ceramic. Pottery students need to understand how the motion of the wheel can be harnessed to create a symmetrical form and how the forces they apply to the clay work with or against the natural tendencies of the clay. All students need to understand what causes the clay to crack, break or explode—and what they can do to prevent damage in their own work.
I think it is important for higher-level students, after their introduction to clay and glaze, to learn about glaze formulation and basic kiln firing. These students need to understand why glazes work they way they do in order to make informed decisions about their formal and aesthetic choices. Beginning students look to intermediate and advanced clay students for advice and support in the studio, thus it is important to me that these students understand the medium well enough to explain the basics to their classmates and to recognize how their actions can cause changes in the clay or the glaze during the firing.
A clay studio and classroom is made up of students with a mix of abilities and backgrounds. These students will influence each other, so it is imperative that the instructor set clear expectations for quality of work, behavior and responsibilities in the studio. Students in my classes understand that they will be challenged at their level. Students are urged to push themselves to explore the possibilities of an assignment once they have met the basic requirements. Once techniques have been learned, students are asked to focus on the visual relationships in the form, or the surface qualities or on their personal expression through larger groups of work.
I find that students learn best when they are actively involved in projects that challenge them and require them to plan their time. Students need to see that their choices in building their work, planning drying time, and applying glazes all lead to results that are not dictated by the instructor or a grade. The clay studio is a real life laboratory where mistakes can lead to breakage or glaze drips and good choices lead to strong work that is successful both physically and visually, and eventually, emotionally and expressively.
Ideally, the experience of making art from clay is about something broader than one class or one sculpture or vase. It is about experimenting and learning from the clay and letting the clay process teach the student about himself as learner, a thinker and a maker.