Mentor Spotlight: A Ceramic Star

Mentor Spotlight: A Ceramic Star

Students, teachers and mentors fill the Engineering Academy with smart, and creative people who volunteer their time and expertise to the DPEA.

One such mentor is Suzanne McKenzie, a renowned artist, who is currently working on the DPEA art committee. Ms. Mckenzie spoke to PenguiNews about her background and her work with DPEA.

When did you discover your passion for art?

“Since I can remember I have always wanted to be an artist. As a child I discovered ceramics at a local business where seniors could paint on China. At the age of seven I joined a group of women and began painting on ceramic casts of tropical birds. I have always loved pottery and putting my hands on exotic clays and watching the effects of the kiln fired glaze ware. I grew up in Pasadena, where there is quite a history of tile and Ceramics such as Catalina Ware and Batchelder. I was greatly influenced by the Craftsman Style of the early 1900's. In high school I joined the Art Club and created a mural for my graduating class.“

Where and when did you begin to study art in more depth?

“I studied art and ceramics under Gary Brown, Bonnie Blau and Sheldon Kaganoff. In 1978 I was hired by a small Ceramics Company at Haley and Olive in downtown Santa Barbara. In this warehouse there were a handful of very talented artists and potters who were creating hand thrown and hand painted vases and functional works of art. The company was called Santa Barbara Ceramic Design. SBCD was unique in that it was a small Art Pottery studio similar to turn-of-the-century pottery studios such as Weller, Rookwood, and Roseville. These are classic studios that came and went but whose influence greatly impressed the American Arts and Crafts movement. These studios define American Art Pottery and they are rooted in Classic American art through decades if not the past few centuries.”

We heard your ceramics are in the Smithsonian is this true?

“The Smithsonian in Washington D. C. recognizes Santa Barbara Ceramic Design as a Classical  American Art Pottery Studio. Since my designs were selected and duplicated by SBCD, they are indeed found at the Smithsonian. My signature is considered collectable by historical art appraisers of American Art Pottery. Since the 1970's and 1980's I have continued teaching art and ceramics in Santa Barbara. I have developed my own line of hand thrown and hand painted pottery under the name Waterlight Pottery.”

How do you think art relates to science, and engineering?

“In order for a project in clay to be successful it is essential to understand the chemistry of clay and glazes and the the science and physics of throwing clay on a potters wheel. It is not purely creative. When I was at UCSB I took a upper-division class in advanced glazes.It was pure chemistry and I learned how certain minerals and compounds react together in a kiln of 2,000 degrees and higher. With a solid understanding of basic scientific chemistry as in chemical engineering, I had a different approach to glazing techniques and could experiment with a variety of clay bodies and glazes. It has been very fun to explore a range of possibilities with ceramics. Engineering and science and art and creativity are very interrelated. They consistently require experimentation.

How does your experience with art shape your teaching style?

My teaching approach is similar. I believe in a classic art education. While I was in High School I was given a scholarship to study at the Art Center of Design in Pasadena. My education was very classical. I studied figure drawing, rendering, oil painting and sculpture. I have shared with my students the importance of the basics in art and not just creativity. My favorite artists include Leonardo Da Vinci and Paul Gauguin. I think every artist and scientist should read about the lives of both of these artists.They were brilliant men who sought knowledge and expressed their ideas through their creativity and logic.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I have been most influenced by nature. My hand painted pottery depicts images of nature including the ocean, the mountains and the sky. I have been near the ocean in California and Hawaii my entire life and when I am near tide pools and the seaside I have peace and serenity. These feelings are reflected in my designs and I share them with my family all of the time. My desire to celebrate the ocean and God and nature has made me who I am and all along the way it has been an amazing adventure and most of all lots of fun.