On a hillside near Green Bluff, there is round-the-clock activity; people are splitting and stacking wood, and stoking the fire of the anagama (Japanese term meaning “cave kiln”). There aren’t many of those around, what with the modern convenience of gas and electricity, but the people who tend to it are there to learn the ancient ways of firing clay.
Denise Jamieson volunteers at the anagama, taking 6- to 8-hour shifts beside the brick structure that was built by Gonzaga University students. For the last 10 years or so, Jamieson has been volunteering at the clay studio at GU, assisting with various tasks and learning along the way. Her perks include the use of the school’s facilities and the chance to create.
“The soothing motion of working the clay through my hands as the wheel turns allows me to calm my mind and be in the moment,” she said, adding that beating the clay is also very therapeutic.
Jamieson, 55, only started her artistic endeavors in early 2001 when she took a clay course at Spokane Art School. Business was her forte – she and her husband own two – and while she always appreciated art, her mind tended to work best with numbers and science.
“Art is all around us whether derived from humans or in nature’s presentations,” she said, “Even before I started exploring mediums of art myself, I collected those pieces that spoke to me.”
She went on to take a class in material science at GU that included matching clay to glazes; she began volunteering at the university shortly after. She has since sat through dozens of lectures, slideshows and guest artists’ demonstrations at the school while creating her own body of work – earthy and aesthetically pleasing vessels and decorative pieces reminiscent of the days when handmade was the only way.
Jamieson, who is still learning, growing and “working toward her ideal creations,” does not show or sell her work yet, but she does give pieces to others, such as a recent donation to East Farms’ STEAM Magnet School auction . Her donation to the auction is a fitting one because Jamieson knows firsthand how working with clay includes scientific and mathematical equations and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) creates art projects that integrate math, science, social studies, technology and engineering.
“We make sure our students are using both sides of their brain because at East Farms STEAM Magnet School we believe that a half a brain is terrible thing to waste,” said STEAM resident artist Sami Perry. Jamieson agrees.
“I’m very supportive of students learning outside of the box.” This includes lessons on a hillside.