We took some time to speak with ceramic artist, assistant preparator, and doctoral student in Art Education Rachel Gu.
KAM: We wonder, when did you first become interested in being an artist?
RG: When I started attending weekend art classes when I was six, I had to draw two to three drawings every day. In the class, I practiced watercolor, sketching, and design, and I continued sketching assignments every day until I entered college, the China Academy of Art. My early education always involved art practice, and so naturally, being an artist became my dream.
KAM: What experiences helped to spark your interest in teaching art to others?
RG: I had a great art teacher for seven years, starting in middle school. His name was Sheng Zhong. He encouraged students to enjoy art, not just practice skills. He was always kind, knowledgeable, and patient.
I got a BFA in ceramics in China and an MFA in ceramics in the US, and I was surprised by the art education perspectives in two different cultural environments and how artists express their concepts and philosophy. With this experience, I wanted to understand the two cultures in a more theoretical way.
KAM: Since you’re teaching both undergraduates and elementary students at Stratton Academy for the Arts, what aspects of teaching are the same or different across both age groups?
RG: Teaching undergraduate students and children are totally different, even though they all use clay as the medium to create art. Many of the undergraduates in my class are Art + Design majors, so they learn craft skills very fast. I created a syllabus to fit their academic needs, and each project lasts one to two months.
At Stratton, my students are from first to fifth grade. For young children, the main goal is to encourage them to enjoy this material and have fun. But as a teacher, I need to design simple projects and show them one step at a time. I also offer a certain amount of clay for each student and cut cardboard as samples to help them control the size and thickness of their projects. The two teaching perspectives deeply enrich my own pedagogy.
KAM: Do you have a favorite gallery or work of art at the museum?
RG: Because of my ceramic background, I am interested in three-dimensional works, like sculptures and ancient pots. I like to observe their forms and how they interact with the textures and patterns on the surfaces. Right now, there is an exhibition of earthenware vessels from the Pueblo communities.
When I was looking at the pots, they reminded me of ancient Chinese pots. I could imagine how Pueblo people make and use them in their daily lives.
KAM: Finally, how has your work at Krannert Art Museum inspired you?
RG: I have worked at Krannert Art Museum for a while, but I feel I still have a lot to learn. I like to hear curators talking about how they gather different artworks in one exhibition, and how they arrange the whole space to exhibit them. I also hope to continue to learn more about the installation process for different kinds of artworks.
Finally, I like to collect artworks from different artists and display them. I hope one day I will run my own gallery so that I will be able to show my collection to the public and keep collecting more fascinating art from around the world. I also hope to invite artists to have exhibitions in my gallery and build up a lovely and artistic community to contribute to the local cultural environment.