Nestled in the basement of Stony Brook’s Staller Center, the students taking Advanced Ceramics warp and shape clay into fantastical creations.
Dragons, mermaids, cyborgs and cigarette-smoking bunny rabbits, everything is up for the creating.
“The most important thing is that students make inspiring work that makes someone laugh, sad or in other words, invokes a reaction,” said Professor Toby Buonagurio, a 38-year veteran of Stony Brook who joined the faculty in 1976.
Her rosy cheeks and wide smile breath life into the dull grey sculptures lining the cluttered ceramics room. Walking space is a scarce commodity and a misplaced step can annihilate a sculpture that took weeks to craft.
“They are pouring a kind of life energy into these pieces,” said Buonagurio.
Advanced Ceramics meets twice a week in two and a half hour chunks, but it takes a lot more time to bring a sculptor’s idea into the 3-D space. Students frequently use the classroom at all hours during the week, even on weekends.
“You always have something to do,” said Alanna Horam, a senior fine arts major with a concentration in sculpture and ceramics.
Horam, a wiry, blonde, 21-year-old with clay-stained hands was quick to the praise the textile nature of working with clay.
“I don’t like being dirty,” said Horam with a chuckle. “But I like knowing that I’ve actually doing something today, and being able to look at my hands and being like yeah, I got something done.”
A Studio Art Major, Horam realized this was her chosen path during her studies at Suffolk County Community College. After spending more time working on projects for her art elective classes than she did for her more traditional classes, Horam made the jump to Stony Brook, and made the art her focus. Her dream is to use her ceramics and sculpture skills to build the sets for theater productions.
Creating a good sculpture takes a strong a idea, good physical skills and critically, the helping hand of others.
The class is made up exclusively of girls, over 20 of them, and they all riff off each other when building their projects. Horam’s masterpiece, the Cyborg, has many features that started as suggestions from her classmates.
The Cyborg is the bust of cyborg women that’s been cropped just above the shoulders. The right eye is filled with mechanical looking lens as wires line the top of the head. Each carved wire is a about an inch in diameter and painted with light pink. According to Horam, the wires were originally going to be smaller, until her classmate pointed out an eye-opening revelation.
“They would have looked like spaghetti,” said Horam while grinning.
But the art world isn’t always filled with laughs and triumphs. From conception to completion, the typical ceramics piece can take weeks to create.
The beginning always starts with an idea that students sketch out several times before using clay. And then the real work begins.
“The first two weeks of the project are always the most frustrating,” said Horam. “That’s when you realize you actually have to make this thing you thought of.”
From there, students build their foundation and gradually refine their work.
That effort isn’t always appreciated, even from loved ones.
A graduating senior, Horam latest work was showcased at the senior art show and she invited her friends and family to attend. Her boyfriend was among them.
“He was not interested in looking at any of my stuff,” said Horam with sullen eyes.
According to Horam, the worst part about being an artist is when their work is overlooked, especially by those closest to them.
The commitment to success isn’t lost on Buonagurio, who shares in her students’ successes and failures.
“They’re pouring everything into their work and I treat their work as my own,” said Buonagurio.