USM Art Galleries Gorham and Portland

USM Visiting Artist Shawn O’Connor, Ceramicist, to Build One-Time-Use Outdoor Kiln with Art Students

Shawn O'Connor

February 20, 2014 



GORHAM, Maine – Ceramicist Shawn O’Connor will be hosted next month by the University of Southern Maine (USM) Art Department as a visiting artist and will work with students to construct a paper kiln, a slightly modernized version of ancient ceramic firing processes, which is built for one-time use.

Known for his specialty in wood firing, O’Connor, USM alumnus, class of 2005, is currently a resident artist and adjunct faculty member at the University of North Dakota Ceramics Department. O’Connor grew up in Minot, Maine. His work has been exhibited both throughout the U.S. and internationally.

O’Connor will spend an intensive week on the USM Gorham campus, March 3-March 11, and will be integrated into several art courses through workshops, demonstrations, critiques and lectures, including: a ceramic kiln workshop; wheel throwing demonstrations for Introduction to Ceramics 231 students; providing critiques for students enrolled in the Sculpture: Altered and Constructed Processes 292 course, as well as the 3-D Design 142 course; and a career talk with senior seminar students.

“Visiting artists offer a vital infusion of professional experience and prospective for USM’s art program because they provide students with career models,” said Carolyn Eyler, USM director of Exhibitions and Programming. “They demonstrate methods of making art and earning a living in very different ways from the students' professors.” 

O’Connor and USM art students will use fire bricks, chicken wire and slip (scrap clay) to construct the paper kiln. The shape and size of the kiln will be determined by the work that will be fired. Students enrolled in intermediate and advanced ceramics courses will create ceramic pieces to be fired in the kiln. Newspaper -- hence the name “paper kiln” -- and other combustibles such as wood scraps, twigs, sawdust and pinecones will be used to fuel the fire in the kiln. Kilns are used to heat up ceramic pieces to infuse pigment into the clay and to harden the objects. 

The ceramic work of the students will be fired to approximately 900 degrees Fahrenheit, coming into contact with the flames and combustibles in the kiln, which results in a marbled or smoked appearance on the surface of the piece. 

“No two pieces are exactly the same because the flame’s path records distinct marks on each piece,” O’Connor said in his artist statement. “The path of the flame can be controlled when stacking the kiln. Great time and care is spent on each piece as it is loaded, as this will dictate the way the flames move over and mark the surface of each piece.”

O’Connor will present a lecture about his past and current work, which includes a focus on wheel throwing, 12 p.m., Wednesday, March 5 in Burnham Lounge, Robie Andrews Hall on the USM Gorham campus. Following his lecture, which is free and open to the public, O’Connor will invite attendees to view the paper kiln.

About the USM Visiting Artist Program 

Each year, four visiting artists and scholars are invited to enhance USM’s artistic environment by engaging in student art critiques, demonstrations, art exhibitions and lectures. Past visiting artists and scholars include Carolee Schneemann, SIMPARCH, Astrid Bowlby, Mel Chin, Nina Katchadourian, James Luna, John Beardsley and Ken Johnson. 

An artist-in-residence (AIR) stays for an in-depth engagement of at least seven weeks during which the AIR maintains open studio hours, engages students in the creation of an artwork, and greatly contributes to the fabric of the USM community. 

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