Clay mesmerized Peter Beasecker when he was in high school, watching another student work in the school’s tiny ceramics studio. In exchange for staying after classes and witnessing the clay take shape, Beasecker would have to clean up after the student. As soon as he turned 17, he enrolled in the Toledo Museum of Art school.
Now, an artist and professor of ceramics, Beasecker is still fascinated by clay and endeavors to push the medium to its limit.
Beasecker is the second of the Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution guest lecturers, and will speak at 7 p.m. tonight in the Hultquist Center.
“I am just going to show the trajectory of my work and where I’ve been and what I’ve looked at and what I’m presently looking at and what I hope to look at more for inspiration,” Beasecker said. “And then just show how I develop an idea visually.”
Among the unique ideas Beasecker has developed are large slabs or dishes made of porcelain.
“[Porcelain] has a history of being very pure and fragile, and I like it being very dense and durable,” Beasecker said. “It’s obnoxiously thick; I don’t know too many other people who are working with porcelain to that thickness.”
His other distinctive pieces are carriers — large, heavy stoneware trays with slots for a number of cups.
“The most [number of cups], I think, had 46 cups, and the least had maybe a dozen or 15,” Beasecker said. “People come to it, and take out a cup, and in the best case scenario they have to really concentrate on taking out a cup, because it scrapes along the wall, and it’s kind of an annoying sound, so I like that awkwardness it provides. Also, when you come to a carrier and you see cups gone, that means that people are there. The absence of a cup implies presence.”
Besides his own work. Beasecker also works with students at Syracuse University and elsewhere. He has taught several classes for the art students at Chautauqua over the last week.
“When a student has a discovery, it’s an amazing thing to be a part of,” Beasecker said. “Sometimes, the discovery could be very minor, in terms of a technique, or the discovery can be very major, in terms of what they want to do with their life, or how to create a visual identity for themselves.”
One such epiphany he was able to organize was a way to introduce ceramics students to the end users of their products.
“When we do various things that are introducing pottery and the idea of utility to them, it still can be pretty abstract,” Beasecker said.
To counter this, Beasecker paired his students with a Japanese chef, who gave each student specifications for a particular kind of serving dish for a course in a traditional Japanese meal. Over the span of weeks, the students created samples, the chef critiqued them, and finally the students created enough of their dishes for everyone in the class. At the end, they brought all their work to the restaurant, and the chef made a meal for all of them, one course for every set of dishes.
“It’s just an exchange of gifts, there’s no money given,” Beasecker said. “And so we have this unbelievable feast that goes on for hours, and then we just leave and the restaurant chef keeps all the plates.”
While he may not be able to replicate this experience at Chautauqua, he said, the Institution has a unique benefit as a workshop setting.
“I had some familiar students in my class,” said Beasecker. “And it’s unusual to be able to come back to a workshop setting and see some of the same faces, and be able to pick up on the thread that was there two, three years ago.”