High School Exhibition Jurors Launch Young Artists into a Future of Possibility

Visitors at Standard Clay in Pittsburgh can stop into the Clay Place at Standard gallery this July to view an unprecedented exhibit of works by sixteen prominent potters.  The Juror Collective honors the past jurors of Standard Clay’s Annual High School Student Exhibition.  While this group of pieces is a feast for the eyes and minds of the viewers, it is what these works represent that is the real message of the show.  Standing as a bridge between the past and future, these artists spark and nourish the creative seed within young people, validating the power of the tactile arts to nourish and foster a concrete exploration and understanding of the world.


The Juror Collective show includes works by local artist, educator, and curator, the late Elvira Peake.  Well known by the Pittsburgh arts community, Peake owned the The Clay Place, which was in the Shadyside neighborhood from 1973 to 2006.  The gallery featured the works of most of the region’s important potters.  Peake moved the gallery to Carnegie, a Pittsburgh suburb, in 2006, in a space adjacent to Standard Clay.  As Peake moved toward retirement, Standard Clay acquired the gallery, renaming it Clay Place at Standard, and began its own program of exhibitions.  In keeping with Peake’s lifetime devotion to developing and supporting potters, Standard launched the annual High School Student Exhibitions in 2010.


From the start, the exhibition encouraged high school students with the opportunity to show their work to a wider audience and to have their works evaluated by prominent members of the arts community.  Each year, the designated judge reviews the works and designates the top three entries.  The winners are announced at the show’s opening night, which is always much anticipated and well-attended by the young artists and their families.  The top three artists are awarded prizes, as are the schools which they represent.


Over the years, the exhibition judges have represented multiple colleges and universities.  Shoji Satake, head of the ceramics program at West Virginia University in Morgantown and Director-at Large for the National Council on Education in the Ceramic Arts (NCECA), has served as judge for the exhibition and credits regional juried art shows for expanding the minds of young people interested in the arts.  “With the continuing predominance of the digital world and the emergence of Artificial Intelligence,” he says, “the hands-on experience of the tactile arts is vitally important for the development of young minds.”  He points out that there has been a resurgence of community art centers, “blossoming all over the country,” in recent years, indicating the need for personal connection around a common interest.  The 2024 exhibition judge, Diane Portoriero, of Pittsburgh’s North Hill Art Center, says, “Something happened during the pandemic that got everyone interested in ceramics.  It might have been that cable show (Pottery Throw-Down), but whatever it was, our numbers have exploded.”  

Susan T. Phillips juried the 2023 exhibition and commented on the impact of screen time on her students: “The biggest change I’ve seen with the digital world is that students have become reliant on other people’s images,” she explains.  “With the ease of importing any image, young people are less willing to generate their own images.”  She concedes that many very creative things have been done through the new technology but laments the effect the ready availability of images has had on the human imagination.  “Cell phones, too,” she says, “have made things more difficult because they take up so much time and head space.  For creative thought to make a way in, there must be a space.”  She says being bored or having one’s mind in neutral can allow creative thoughts to enter the mind.  “It’s good to be bored!” she exclaims. 


Ceramics is perhaps the most tactile of the arts, with its medium the very substance of the physical universe.  The technique requires gross and fine manipulation of the material in a process that is both solitary and communal.  Scott Cornish, a professor of art at Pittsburgh’s Community College of Allegheny County and 2022 Juror, talks about the diversity of his students and the enthusiasm they have for the material: “When I first received the offer for a position at a community college, I was a bit reluctant.  But I’ve come to really appreciate the community college model.  It’s accessible education for anyone who wants it.  I have a wide variety of students in terms of age, socio-economic background, and how they caught the ‘clay bug.’  More and more, I realize I really like it.  The way I teach fits in well here.   I love working with students outside the classroom [at his rural farm where he built a wood fire kiln],” he says.  He regularly takes groups on field trips to museums, galleries, and conference, including the annual NCECA Conference.  


This benefit of the communal experience centered around a process that stimulates the human senses, especially the sense of touch, is an area of research for Florida State University artist Holly Hanessian.  Hanessian works on projects that link art to social engagement.  She says,

I look at interrelated systems that connect to our humanity that range from processing our senses, the land / environment and our relationships to each other. These projects vary from our need for touch, how food insecurity is propagated by inequity in farming systems, our need for fresh water after hurricanes and how the pharmaceutical industry systemically has whetted our appetite for using prescription pills for any physical discomfort.

 My material vehicle of choice continues to be centered around using ceramics and also explores the sensual qualities beyond sight, including smell, touch and the sensations of the skin. (https://www.hollyhanessian.com/about)


Satake says that the science of touch and intuitive experiences is a growing topic of research at institutions of higher education.  Ironically, this interest has, in part, grown out of research in artificially recreating these senses, for instance, in the field of haptics as related to video games and simulation devices.  The need to engage all the human senses, especially touch, is crucial to experiential learning.  Even 125 years ago, the Italian physician and educator, Maria Montesorri, developed an educational method that relied heavily on the tactile sense.  Her model included movement of the body in dance and gymnastics, practical care for self, others, and the learning space, and manual work with clay and blocks.  These processes incorporate the whole human in the learning process – mind and body alike.  Satake says that encouraging pursuit of the arts is crucial to counteract the digital immersion so prevalent among today’s youth.  He says, “Whether they go on to pursue an education in ceramics or not, these students who have been encouraged by programs like Standard’s High School Exhibition will be better learners, better problem solvers, and better members of whatever community they belong to as adults.


The Clay Place at Standard’s Juror Collective: Honoring Past Jurors of the Annual Standard Clay Company High School Student Exhibition is worth a trip over to Carnegie this July simply for the beauty of the vessels and sculptures of these impressive artists.  But as you peruse their work, remember the many lives they have changed, touched with the essential sense of touch that will propel those young artists into the future.


The exhibit includes these artists’ works:

Aaron Anslow, Bethany College

Tricia Bishop, Slippery Rock University

Scott Cornish, Community College of Allegheny College

Ed Eberle, Ed Eberle Studios

Greeny (Gary Greenberg), Penn West Clarion University

Jeff Greenham, Fairmont State University

Dale Huffman, Carlow University

Katie Johnson, Birds Eye Pottery, Touchstone Center for Crafts

Missy McCormich, Youngstown State University

Duke Miecznikowski, California University of Pennsylvania

Elvira Peake, The Clay Place

Susan T. Phillips, Waynesburg University, ret.

Diane Portoriero, North Hills Art Center

Shoji Satake, West Virginia University

Jerry Wagner, Wagner Pottery