Special Event for CSC's Second Saturday

Join a Conversation with Noted Ceramicist and Teacher Shoji Satake at CSC on February 8


West Virginia University’s Shoji Satake, with his legendary program with the Jingdezcen Ceramic Institute has made West Virginia University a leader in ceramic education.  Chicago potters will have a rare opportunity to meet Satake and hear about his experience working in China and developing an industrial ceramics program at WVU on Saturday, February 8 at Ceramic Supply Chicago.


As a young artist, Satake observed that the great artists that he admired tended to collect great pottery.  “So many of them were drawn to Korean and Chinese pots,” he recalls.  His interests grew and while studying for his MFA at Indiana University, he received a research grant that allowed him to spend a summer in China, at Jingdezden.  The program was administered by West Virginia University under the headship of Bob Anderson, in conjunction with the Jingdezden Ceramic Institute.  Anderson set up the first program in which Western students could travel to China to study ceramics.  Satake worked with Anderson, helping to coordinate a program, and eventually joined the faculty at WVU. Ultimately, he succeeded Anderson as head, after his retirement.


Satake’s work with students in China began as a summer program in the industrial city of Jingdezden in the People’s Republic of China.  This city of 1.5 million people is known as the Imperial Porcelain City, an affirmation of its centuries-long tradition of expertise in the art of ceramic technique.  For five weeks, Satake’s students worked side by side with international artists and faculty members and toured the industrial facilities and studios where over 400,000 local citizens make their livelihood as artisans. Satake describes the experience: “The students were forced to engage in a foreign culture, to experience things that may not be in line with what they believe.  When they came home, the pond that they’re in suddenly got a little bit bigger.”


After almost a decade of summer programs, WVU expanded the cultural exchange to include a full semester of study at Jingzehden.  Since his hiring, Satake has worked to expand the full academic offering, engaging visiting artists and faculty.  Each autumn, students from universities throughout the United States take up residency in Jingzehden, now at The Pottery Workshop(http://www.potteryworkshop.com.cn/index.asp). They engage in full-time studio ceramic instruction, language and culture classes, and art history instruction.  This immersive experience allows the students to interact on a daily basis with a full range of artists and artisans.  Satake says, “They have to take everything they have learned and throw it all out the window!  Everything is different – the clay itself, the techniques, the division of labor.”  The students become familiar with the industrial techniques perfected by the commercial operations in the city.  The labor of each step of the creation process is divided among specialists – a concept contrary to the western idea of creativity.  Satake points out that this gives the students options to think about alternative techniques for their own work. Before the students return home from their semester abroad, they travel 4,300 miles throughout China, visiting important sites and absorbing the culture.


The China Residency Program is only one part of WVU’s extensive ceramics department.  The university offers BFA and MFA degrees in a fully equipped 6,000 square-foot facility.  Students develop technical expertise and expand their design and conceptual imaginations as they develop as artists.  Unique to WVU’s program is the Production Methods Studio. This separate, 2,800 square-foot facility is a training ground in industrial methods and equipment.  With support from nearby Homer Laughlin China Company, the program educates students in the business of ceramics on the industrial level.  In a working production facility, students learn methods and equipment, business principles, and marketing for a line of dinnerware unique to WVU.  The product is sold at two annual sales and at West Virginia’s Tamarack, an artisan marketplace near Beckley. 


Satake’s approach to education is one of expansion.  He says, “I always encourage my students to study abroad.  It is a life changing experience.”  A living example, he travels to China three or four times a year.  He wants his students to expand their “ponds,” to experience the world that inspires their art.  Whether observing the glazing process of a Chinese artisan, calculating costs for dinnerware production, or studying art history, Satake’s students are encouraged to use all their experiences to become better artists.


Don’t miss this chance to talk with Shoji Satake on February 8.