Southern Miss has a thriving and vibrant sculpture program, and we were invited to take a tour of the 3-D studios by Allen Chen (Assistant Professor, Ceramics) and Jennifer Torres (Professor, Sculpture, Ceramics and Foundations).
Students begin with wire and paper sculptures, learning the fundamentals of design and composition.
The 3D building showroom has an abundance of natural light from the picture windows, as well as track lighting.
In this assignment, students recreate the textures of a shoe with masking tape.
Professor Torres talks with us about her students' recent sculpture projects.
Professor Chen shows us around the critique room, where students present their work to their classmates and professors for constructive criticism. The piece he's showing us here was made with nylon stretched over tie wire and coated with resin.
First-year ceramics students learn the basics of constructing objects with clay, using the pottery wheel, glazing and firing.
The 3D Building is available to all students currently enrolled in 3-D Art classes, giving them a chance to work independently outside of class.
Southern Miss has two electric kilns, one gas kiln and one woodburning kiln (with two more on the way) for firing pottery.
The glazes react differently with each type of kiln, giving each piece a unique personality. The electric kilns burn at around 1800º and take approximately 50 hours. The gas kiln gets up to around 2300º and allows for more control over air flow, which produces interesting oxidation effects on the glaze.
This beauty here is our woodburning kiln, which allows students to fire pottery the same way our ancient ancestors did. The wood kiln burns for 24 hours and requires constant stoking.
When it first gets going, it needs to be fed every 20-30 minutes. By the time it reaches 1500º, it needs more wood every 10 minutes. And at its peak temperature of 2000º, it must be fed every 3-4 minutes.
Students sign up for shifts and stay overnight in groups of 2-3 to keep the fire burning. Why do it, when the gas and electric kilns are so much easier?
"Fire is unpredictable, and this kiln gets so hot that the ash actually melts and becomes part of the glaze," said Professor Chen.
"The wood kiln is unpredictable, and one out of 10 pieces that come out it is absolutely spectacular. When students have been up half the night stoking the kiln, see their pieces come out for the first time and immediately want to sign up to do it again, we know those people will be potters for life."
When our old gas kiln—after many years of faithful service and thousands of pieces of student artwork—finally lost its will to fire pottery, the Art Department bought a new gas kiln, and that could have been the end of it if it hadn't been for Professor Chen.
Instead of sending the old kiln to the old kiln graveyard, he decided that the old kiln needed new life. He rescued the pipes and all the bricks that were still usable. He and one of his advanced ceramics students are building a new kiln, and in the process, learning about how kilns work and the stringent safety requirements that come with them.
Building an oven capable of maintaining a temperature of 2000° takes a lot of research, dedication, and hard work, and we're grateful to Professor Chen and his student for taking it on.
Professor Chen showed us his office, and we got a chance to see some of the art that he's been working on.
Check out allenchenart.com to see more of his work!
Interested in taking a pottery class but not an art major? ART 251 is an entry level ceramics class with no prerequisite, open to everyone!
Professor Torres gives us a tour of the metal studio. Students take introductory courses to learn how to use the equipment safely and effectively, and then take upper level classes where they are encouraged to work with whatever materials inspire them.
The giant contraption to the left is where Professor Torres and her students conduct "iron pours." Scrap metal is collected and melted down at staggering temperatures and then poured into molds the students have made from plaster, sand, or whatever materials they find that speak to them.
This is the inside of the metal shop again—the sand pit is where the molds for the molten metal are kept steady as the iron pours out.
Scrap metal eagerly awaiting its much more glorious future...
It takes a lot of equipment to make art, and a lot of money to maintain the equipment in good working order.
The Southern Miss Department of Art & Design is grateful to Structural Steel Services in Meridian, Miss., whose generous donations provide the department a much-needed yearly equipment budget. "They give money because they understand what we're doing here; they use the same kind of equipment that we do, just on a much larger scale," said Professor Torres.
College of Arts & Letters • The University of Southern Mississippi • 118 College Drive, Hattiesburg MS 39406