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New art professor hosting Faculty Ceramics Night Oct. 16

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – To help celebrate Fine Arts Month at Monmouth College, new faculty member Janis Wunderlich is bringing back an old favorite.

An assistant professor of art, Wunderlich will host “Faculty Ceramics Night” from 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 16 in Room 103 of McMichael Academic Hall.

“Our department wanted to do something to highlight Fine Arts Month,” said Wunderlich, who joined Monmouth’s faculty this fall. “In the past, a member of the art faculty who’s no longer here had regular ceramics nights. It was fun – people enjoyed it. So (art chair) Brian Baugh was happy to accommodate this. We’ll see how it goes, but if it’s successful, I’d like to do them regularly.”

Wunderlich wasn’t always a ceramics artist. While majoring in art at Brigham Young University, she took a ceramics class and fell in love.

“I took ceramics in college for the first time, and I loved it so much that I changed my career path and changed my plans,” said Wunderlich, who followed up her bachelor of fine arts degree in ceramics from BYU with a master of fine arts degree in ceramics from The Ohio State University.

Wunderlich said the medium holds several attractions for her, not the least of which are its “tactile” nature and the ability to create pieces that are useful, such as a coffee mug.

“I like working with my hands, getting messy,” she said. “Also, ceramics is a very long, involved process. I enjoy seeing a work through the stages – planning it, making it, firing it and glazing it. I found that I really worked well with these layers of process.”

Ceramics also offers an interdisciplinary element with its reliance on science.

“The firing process brings in elements of chemistry, and you can sometimes get surprising results,” said Wunderlich. “There’s always that anticipation of surprise. I’ve found that I really enjoying mixing the scientific aspect of ceramics with the artistic aspect.”

Asked to pick a favorite from among her works, Wunderlich couldn’t decide, but she said a “career highlight” was being profiled in a documentary by Academy Award-winner Pamela Tanner Boll.

Titled Who Does She Think She Is?, the 2008 documentary, which occasionally airs on PBS, tells, in part, the story of the balance necessary for Wunderlich to have a career in ceramics while also raising five children.

“The film asks questions about valuing parenthood/motherhood within the art world, and it asks questions about the balance of raising a family while being a serious artist,” said Wunderlich, who said she is “tactilely involved” in the lives of her children, the youngest of whom is now 13.

Wunderlich continues that same hands-on approach in the classroom.

“My teaching philosophy is fairly similar to why I’m in ceramics,” she said. “I like to be hands-on. I think students respond to tactile learning. They learn to understand what the clay can and cannot do. I like for the students to challenge themselves as artists and push their limits. I also like to make the art they’re creating important to them, relevant to them. So I like to keep my assignments open enough so that there can be personal meaning in the art for the students.”

Wunderlich came to Monmouth from Ashland University, a school of 5,700 students in Ashland, Ohio.

“I’m very happy to be here,” said Wunderlich. “There are things you can do with 12 ceramics students that are impossible with 60 students in a class. I enjoy focusing on just 12 students and doing things like personalizing the assignments for them.”