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Laura Kukkee Artwork

Laura Kukkee comes full circle as the new head of Sheridan's ceramics program

April 22, 2016

When professor and studio head of Ceramics Laura Kukkee started working with clay in her first year as a Sheridan student, she felt immediately connected to how clearly the medium captured the maker’s moment in time, throughout time. “Clay lasts forever unless you break it or grind it down — once it’s fired, it’s permanent. And you can record fingerprints and those moments where the clay is soft and liquid and fluid and freeze it in time,” she says. “Ceramics travel, but they also carry information and I like being part of that continuum.”

Originally enrolled in the furniture studio program, Kukkee’s connection to clay started from her first coil pot, with a focus on simplicity and learning the form, rather than surface ornamentation. After her graduation from Sheridan in 1999, Kukkee spent three years as a resident artist at Harbourfront Centre, challenging herself to expand her skill set by drawing on pots, using historical ceramics as her inspiration. It was at Harbourfront that Kukkee began changing an element of her work every time she moved studios, leading to a progression in form and focus on her future career.

Kukkee found another catalyst for change during graduate school at Kent State University where she studied with ceramicist Kirk Mangus. She developed a technique for printing on thin slabs of clay which could be used to build three-dimensional forms. This allowed her to project drawings, pattern and decoration into the space around a vessel.

Kukkee’s graduate work also gave her a love of teaching, leading her to take a full-time position as a “one woman ceramics program” at Northwest Missouri State University in 2004. “I had a lot of freedom in my program, but I did everything,” says Kukkee. “Apart from the teaching and being gallery director and developing the curriculum, I was the technician for my studio, so I learned how to clean clay traps, build kilns, manage the inventory and fix equipment. For the students to see me doing these things was great for them and many of my students who continued in ceramics became very resourceful, because I was always pulling them in and I had them learning with me.”

After leaving Missouri in 2013, Kukkee moved to Pittsburgh, PA to focus on studio practice and family life, paring down her teaching activities to part-time. “It was a really important time for me as a maker,” she says. “The whole idea of stripping away the ornament was all about getting back into the studio and getting back to basics, which is what I had done to my life in a way.”

This concept of re-education coincides with Kukkee’s return to where her ceramics career began. Coming back to Sheridan as the head of Ceramics, working with a faculty team that she knew personally was a dream job for Kukkee. “I owe this program so much because this is where I really found myself. I’ve made this huge circle and I’ve come back here.”

To this day, Kukkee is still in touch with Winn Burke and Bruce Cochrane, the studio heads when she was a student. Every Friday this semester, she could be found sitting in on Cochrane’s class, watching the part-time professor emeritus teach a new generation the lessons she learned 20 years ago. “I learn about teaching from my teachers,” she says.

Laura Kukkee Artwork
Laurakukkee.com

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