With the lure of free ice cream and music from a live band, students, community members and administrators gathered in the Straight Art Gallery to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly renovated Cornell Ceramics Studio.
First established by Willard Straight’s (1901) wife, Dorothy Whitney, the Cornell Ceramics Studio opened its doors in 1957 and welcomed all members of the Cornell and Ithaca communities. By the fall of 2003, however, the studio, located in the basement of the Straight, was in need of a major overhaul. According to Andy Palmer, coordinator of the ceramics studio and Straight Darkroom, the studio’s “lighting was horrendous, there was no ventilation system and ceiling tiles were falling down.” The space, which once housed a radio station and a make-up room, was never designed to be a ceramics studio. The new renovations consist of better ventilation, exhaust systems, new lighting and demolition of part of the interior to provide attractive and functional studio space. The new studio now also houses 32 pottery wheels, an increase from 16.
It was a renovation that almost never happened. Initially, the administration was considering shutting down the studio, in favor of implementing a student bar and party facility. In April of 2003, over 500 individuals signed a petition to protest the destruction of what is affectionately known as the “Pot Shop.” Palmer said that by “calling a lot of people” and circulating petitions, the demolition was prevented. The renovations in place now cost about $250,000, but through a reserve account consisting partly of money from membership fees, the studio generated the money itself.
Mary Roberts, a ceramics instructor teaching classes in the studio this fall, said that she was happy that they did the renovations, noting that it will make it “better for people working there,” but added that the space “needs to be funky’d up a little bit.”
As she sat in the Straight’s lobby demonstrating the use of the pottery wheel, Roberts, an Ithaca resident who has been making pottery for over five years, said that she found ceramics to be a stress-reliever. One of the best aspects of the studio, she said, was the connection between students and other members of the Ithaca community.
What makes the Cornell Ceramics Studio unique and “one of the best in the Southern Tier,” Palmer said, is that it is open to the public. He mentioned that both Syracuse and Alfred Universities do have studios, but they are just for students. The ceramics studio is an important part of the University, especially because of its ties to founder, Ezra Cornell. Ezra came from a family of potters; his father Elijah was trained as a potter, and at the age of 12, the young Ezra sold pottery door-to-door in his family’s wagon.
At the symbolic ribbon cutting ceremony, Dean of Students Kent L. Hubbell ’67 remarked that he was “delighted that we could pull our pennies together” for the renovation, acknowledging the importance of the studio in the history of Cornell. Viewing the beautiful pieces of artwork created by members of the studio, Olivia Nnadi ’08 and Aeri Lee ’08 both eagerly expressed that they would “really like to take a class” at the studio. With classes in ceramics and pottery beginning this week, the studio might just inspire a new generation of potters.
Archived article by Samira Chandwani