Faculty Perspective: Patsy Cox

September 14, 2021

By: Patsy Cox

Fired ceramic bowls, fresh from the kiln (image courtesy of Patsy Cox)

As we slowly transition to navigating an unknown evolution of pandemic restrictions and protocols in pursuit of the increasingly elusive explosion of enthusiasm for transitioning back to the classroom, the words of some students from last semester have remained in my thought bubble and I find myself full of passion and excitement to have the opportunity to provide a safe environment for the return to the fall 2021 semester. 

As we unloaded the last of the projects from the last kiln fired in the studio, some students looked at their work in confusion and then delight. They learn about glaze and firing and they almost never really sense what an object will look like after it has been fired to 2300 degrees. Even though it’s not what they thought it was going to be, there is a visible moment of acceptance and embrace for the object. It’s what we in the field call a "happy accident." Last semester, on the last day and in the last 30 minutes of a COS section of Beginning Ceramics, a masked student stood six feet away from me holding one of her "happy accidents" and asked if this was the last time she’d be able to come to the studio. I said yes, and with tears in her eyes she said, “Well, I just want to tell you this class changed my life.” As I turned and walked into another room I was approached by another student, a junior, who said to me that the class had also changed his life and that he was changing his major. Dismayed, I turned yet again to another room where a third student, a senior, confessed that he was graduating and would probably never touch clay again but that the class had changed his life, too. That same last day of class, in the last five minutes of our meeting time, I had a freshman approach me to tell me he had been enrolled at CSUN for a year and before our shared time together he had never stepped foot on campus and that the class had come to define his university experience. Now, in any pre-Covid semester I would have taken this as an indication of the caliber of my curriculum or the connection between art and emotion, but this was not THAT. THIS was a result of the bonds formed through a shared experience of making and camaraderie that is only accomplished with seeing each other make and move through physical space and time.

One of the first questions I have asked my classes during the pandemic is what possessed them to enroll in an online ceramics course. Some cite aspirations to learn more about the process and material; a few harken back to their high school ceramics class; there are even those that have always wanted to make utilitarian objects. But they never say they’re looking for an experience that will change their life. "Happy accidents" happen all the time.