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Ohio Northern alumnus: “The ceramic tradition grounds me.”

By Darlene Bowers, Ada Icon
“It’s meditative,” says Andrew Steingass about working at the potter’s wheel. Andrew (Andy) recalls seeing other art students at Ada High with clay on their jeans and clothes.

“Why would they want that clay all over them?” was Andy’s thought back then. Andy did take art classes in high school, drawing and painting, but didn’t take ceramics class. It was during an art appreciation course at Ohio Northern University that Andy began to feel the pull of the wheel.

Bruce Chesser took Andy’s class for a demonstration of throwing clay at the wheel. Andy immediately thought, “That looks terribly fun!” Starting ONU as a computer science major, Andy changed direction to immerse himself in study toward a degree in fine arts which he achieved in 2009.

“I like the culture of ceramics” says Andy, “The tradition grounds me. Clay has a deep and long history to work from but also breadth in what the material can do. I can quickly make things that look like other media.”

An example of making things look like other media is carving a clay piece to look like a shell. Andy works in stoneware and also porcelain. Andy’s finishes are mostly wood-fired, and he uses glazes sparingly so the focus is on the piece and not specifically on the glaze.

Andy strives for balance; creating harmony with a complex form and simple finish or with a simple form and complex finish.  As Andy explains the importance of this concept, it is easy to see the extensive thought and development Andy gives his art.

“I have tomes,” Andy says of his drawings and sketches in which he strives to capture and record his thoughts and ideas. Andy has high praise for the art department at ONU. He praises their generosity and says they are very giving of their research and recipes and have served as vital resources for him.

Andy asserts that finding a benefactor in something you wish to pursue is the best avenue.  “It’s best when someone in it can share with you, and you can then learn what you want to do before fully immersing in it or sinking great amounts of money into it. Discover what it’s all about in a group environment with excellent resources. Familiarize yourself first; get grounded in the history and background of the art so you have a frame of reference,” recommends Andy.

“There are different expectations with art,” says Andy, “You may not have the same sort of context with ceramics that you have with music, for example. Possibly you weren’t given the knowledge or don’t have the background to be familiar with ceramics in the way you are with a favorite singer or composer or piece of music.”

Andy’s frame of reference comes partly from his admiration for working class potters such as Cary Hulin of Holmes Country Pottery. Bill Brouillard of the Cleveland Institute of Art also captures Andy’s interest in his freedom of multi-media.

“Not only will he create a table, but he will then create the pieces to put on that table,” explains Andy. Andy summarizes it as art “being of life, not just about life.” Andy’s vision for his own work is to balance traditional with new in functional pieces. Andy has plans to incorporate his printmaking skills to make the familiar or traditional British balance with new by the application of new designs.

“The greatest compliment for me is when someone takes one of my pieces and uses it. Using it to decorate or as an aesthetic piece is fine,” explains Andy, but he wants his pieces to be functional and to be used, “to be part of daily life.”

Andy is a lifelong Ada resident, having ventured elsewhere briefly. His studio, County Line Studio, is another of his works in development. Andy and a buddy built the studio from the ground up with barn timbers on site, again, focusing on traditional and new. “We finished in the fall and got the electric in,” he states and goes on to share his vision of a loft, multiple wheels, kilns, space for teaching and, ultimately, gallery space.

Andy and his wife of four years, Melissa, share a love of gardening. Other interests include music. Andy plays guitar and is into fitness and exercise. He enjoys camping and credits that spirit of adventure to his mom. Andy credits his maternal grandfather as well and recalls his weaving and loom skills. Artistry and tradition run deep. Remember that major change in college? Andy’s father made the same change at ONU many years earlier. 

Andy’s obsession with traditional and new is evident.

Andrew Steingass can be contacted at Andy’s pottery is available at the Artists Boutique on Main in Ada, and a collection of teapots created by Andy will be on display at The Amos Memorial Public Library in Sidney, Ohio, in April.