Cathryn Schroeder Hammond
Potter, Pasture’s Edge Studio
Potter Cathryn Schroeder Hammond lives and works in Lyman, but is a West Coast native. Born in California, her family moved to Tacoma, Wash., when she was 10 years old, where she finished her school years and began her college career.
“I went a little more than a year to Western Washington University, and then took an ‘externship’ through Evergreen State College, with Carlton Ball at Old Town Pottery in Tacoma,” said Hammond. “I knew by then I wanted to pursue pottery and investigated schools, settling on New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. I graduated from there with a double major in ceramics and photography, and a minor in art education.”
Hammond has been teaching ceramics for more than 25 years, beginning with adult education classes. While she has done summer camps and weekend camps with kids in the past, she now focuses on adults. She teaches at her own Pasture’s Edge Studio, through River Tree Arts in Kennebunk, and at Maine College of Art in Portland in the Continuing Studies program and for an undergraduate class this fall.
“I started out my Lyman studio in our home garage in winter of 2001 and began offering classes there a few years later,” said Hammond.
When Hammond’s husband couldn’t continue his home construction business full time, her operation moved to his warehouse building. The couple had a son in 2003, which slowed pottery work and teaching for Hammond.
“Now that Nick is 12 and comfortable being on his own for longer periods of time, I do get more pottery done even in the summer,” said Hammond. “When school starts again I have that block of time five days a week to get things done.”
Hammond said her schedule doesn’t allow for much spare time, but when she has a chance she enjoys reading, cycling, and knitting or crocheting.
“I have kayaks and my dad left me his old fishing boat when he passed, so I like getting out on the water, too,” said Hammond. “In colder weather I like to snowshoe or ski, but don’t get much chance, these days. Mostly, Nick and I go out sliding around the Hammond family farm.”
My Generation had a chance to ask Hammond a few questions about her work, what it takes to be a potter and what she sees as the impact boomers have had on the art world.
Q How did you get into teaching?
A I took art education courses in college mostly to satisfy my parents, who were concerned that I wouldn’t be able to make a living as an artist. I took the National Teachers Exam, but have never applied to be certified to teach in any state. When I first moved to Maine, I was working for a pottery supply company. In that business we often heard of openings to teach in different programs. That’s how I got the chance to do my first teaching. I remember lots of uncomfortable times where I made a bad decision as teacher, and kept striving to learn from them, and be better. I started getting better feedback from students, and started to feel I was good at it, both pottery and teaching. I like the fact that I continue to learn as I continue to teach.
Q What inspired you to share your skill with others through teaching?
A I guess I liked sharing this skill that I enjoyed so much with others that had a similar interest. Pottery is an interesting art form. We get to be creative with a material that’s so basic, it’s just dirt, after all, which can become almost anything. And in terms of functional work, we get to use and keep experiencing these creations over and over. They become part of our lives.
Q What skills are needed to be a potter? To be a teacher?
A The skills of the potter are developed over time. Very rarely is one able to pick it up quickly. We have to learn the limits of the material, what stages of the continuum – wet clay to dry clay to fired clay – are appropriate for making the clay do what we want. There is also a certain amount of chemistry and physics involved, although not every potter digs into those areas. Personally, I enjoy the science. I was a bright kid who was being encouraged to pursue medicine, law, science, etc., but I knew I didn’t have the emotional makeup to succeed in those fields. Clay and glaze chemistry satisfied that more academic side of me.
For wheel-throwing, one has to have a clear mind, the ability to focus, and a tactile sensitivity. I call it an ability to “listen to the clay through your fingers.” Learning is best done, I think, by working repetitively on the skill set until the actions become intuitive. Then one can “loosen up” and become more playful and creative.
To be a teacher, I think one has to like people and have a desire to share one’s self, share one’s knowledge and skills, as well as one’s time and attention. I’ve learned that being a good teacher involves being a good listener, a good watcher, and being empathetic. I try to get to know my students – everybody’s unique – so I can help each one in the best way for him/her. I use humor, which seems to put people at ease, and also makes the whole process more fun. I have to think back to the most basic levels in my experience so I can explain things that I do that are now intuitive for me. I try to say things in different ways, and demonstrate variations, so that each person can take the information in easily. I’ve been told I am very easy to understand.
Q What impact do you think the boomer generation had and continues to have on the art world in general? In your field?
A I’ve thought about this question, and discussed it with my open studio group – all baby boomers themselves – and what I end up with are three “categories” where the baby-boom generation has had great impact on the arts: innovation, information and competition. I think innovations have happened where people have desired to break new ground, set themselves apart and experiment. People are breaking some of the “old rules” and finding new ways to do things. Even new materials have been made available. In ceramics, some of these include rare earth colorants (refer to that old periodic table) and encapsulated stains, which allow better and brighter colors in multiple firing atmospheres. The other big area of innovation is, of course, technology. I’m thinking that the creators of both Apple and Microsoft come under the baby boom generation, too. My high school had a keypunch machine, an early computer, of sorts. I knew nothing about it. Now, our schools are giving each student a computer, and much homework and most research relies on computers. In ceramics, kilns are now computerized, which gives us great flexibility in firing with electricity. CAD is helping artists innovate, and truly change their fields (think about graphic design). But I think one of the greatest advantages of this technology – computers, Internet, social media – is the fast and extremely broad sharing of information. People can easily learn about things with just a few clicks, getting answers and information from multiple sources. As far as art education goes, YouTube, and other video opportunities can give people the option to learn and teach outside of the traditional educational model.
Competition for jobs has been very apparent to me. In a tight economy it’s almost daily in the news in general terms, but in the arts as well, there are only so many teaching positions available. For me, with a bachelor’s of fine arts but not a master’s degree, nor state certification, my teaching opportunities have been limited. It seems that requiring ever more specialized degrees has been one way to narrow the field of applicants, but unfortunately it also eliminates possibilities for people who, with their lower level degrees, have gained tremendous on-the-job training, life experience, and information and experience in their specialty. In addition, a degree is a measure of academic/artistic achievement, not a measure of teaching ability. I also see the impact of shifting age demographics. As our public schools are downsizing due to fewer children (as the boomers age), not only are there fewer teaching positions, but also school systems are having a harder time keeping the arts well-funded, which, of course, affects the number of teaching positions. Many public school art teachers have to wear an increasing number of different hats, and some have to travel from school to school within their district.
There is also competition for that almighty purchasing dollar. As art makers multiply, we are naturally in competition with each other for sales of our work. In down economies, the pinch is felt even deeper, as customers have less to spend. In a way, though, I think this kind of competition can work in our favor, by urging the makers to be increasingly good at what they do, to set their work above and beyond that of the next guy, and to be savvy in how the work is marketed. And that last point, these days, brings us back to technology.
Potter Cathryn Hammond has been teaching pottery and ceramic techniques for more than 25 years. Hammond offers classes at her own studio, as well as at the Maine College of Art.Photo courtesy of Cathryn HammondCathryn Hammond specializes in functional works of pottery, such as the 1.5 quart covered casserole dish seen here.Photo by Cathryn Hammond