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Since she first joined Harford Community College as a studio aide in 1988, ceramics artist Gretchen Walsh has been a vital part of the Art + Design program. She began teaching noncredit classes at the College about 15 years ago, and started teaching classes in the sculpture and ceramics department as an adjunct instructor three years ago. She currently teaches Ceramics Workshop (credit and noncredit sections) and Raku Workshop.
An active working artist, Gretchen centers her attention on the classical Japanese form of pottery called Raku. She discovered her passion after taking a ceramics and sculpture course at HCC back in 1986. "I loved Raku right from the get-go. After that first firing, that was all I wanted to do," she said.
Gretchen is a dedicated instructor who has created a supportive learning environment. She and her students share what they've learned over their combined years of making art. “Sometimes if my way of doing something isn't making sense to someone, I’ll ask a student who may excel at a certain process to demonstrate their way. We also watch videos of artists working, and sometimes we have a visiting artist show us a specific process.” What she's hoping her students will realize after taking her classes is that "Ceramics is art, not just craft."
Since the College is now operating online only during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gretchen has had to change the way she teaches her classes. "It took a few hundred texts to explain the process to the people who have never tried this, but I started a private Instagram account for our class use and everyone managed to get on. That's where we post our works for progress reports, critiques, and plans for next work." She's hoping her students will be able to come to campus one at a time to drop off work to be fired but is unsure if that will happen due to current circumstances. If not, she will critique the unfired work for now and reconvene in the fall.
Gretchen works collaboratively with other Art + Design faculty and staff in developing curricular design and implementation, helping to establish the best way to accomplish educational goals in the studio environment. She also supports the program across disciplines. "We all help each other with whatever comes up. We operate as one unit, not separate entities.” In addition, Gretchen assists with the management and installation of artwork on campus, especially sculpture and ceramics.
A talented artist, she has created a variety of pieces including Raku platters, sconces, plates and bowls. She exhibits her pottery in the Annual Faculty and Staff Exhibition in the Chesapeake Gallery; her most recent work was displayed in January/February 2020. A few of her Raku plates, which are covered in imagery based on her favorite place on Earth, Sunset Beach at Cape May Point, NJ, are part of HCC’s permanent art collection on display in the Executive Suite on the third floor of the Library. In addition, some of her pottery and watercolor paintings are on display in local businesses around Harford County.
During normal times, what she enjoys most about her career is that she gets to hang out in a pottery studio with other artists! "We all learn from each other. Also, part of my job allows me to be outside, whether I’m loading and firing kilns or helping students make aesthetic decisions about their sculptures."
She shares her talents in the community and has helped numerous programs. “A few years ago, Mike Gaudreau, a John Carroll High School art teacher and a friend of mine, asked me if I would like to jury the ceramics portion of the annual art show. It was a difficult task because of the great work he gets out of the kids. I had so much fun that it has become a tradition; Mike just lets me know the opening date and I come in a few days before to do the jurying.” She also worked with the Aberdeen Boys and Girls Club, teaching students how to set up and fire their kilns. “Natasha Jackson, Director of the Aberdeen Branch, came to the studio to learn the various types of kiln furniture, how to load a kiln, set a cone in the kiln sitter, and follow a firing schedule.” In addition, she has reached a wide range of community members through her noncredit courses,
Asked about the challenges she faces, Gretchen said, "Kilns need to be fired even in winter and our kiln shed isn't heated. Also, kiln shelves seem to get heavier the older I get!"
A proud alumna, she earned an AA degree from Harford Community College and a bachelor's degree from Millersville University of Pennsylvania. She is a member of The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts.
Gretchen says that besides throwing pots and rakuing, her hobbies include jogging or hiking with her dogs, checking out new craft ales, hosting or attending crab feasts, grilling, gardening, and possibly watching too many hours of Turner Classic Movies.
Students and faculty know they can rely on Gretchen for her expertise and professionalism. Harford is proud to have such a dedicated instructor as part of our talented Art + Design team. Congratulations, Gretchen!
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