Bending the culture of clay

Olivia Benda ‘19, who has been making ceramics for five years, describes how she uses pottery as an outlet to express her creativity.

Olivia+Benda+%E2%80%9819+stands+in+front+of+her+flower+vase+surrounded+by+materials+used+to+make+it+in+the+ceramics+room+on+May+1.
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Bending the culture of clay

Olivia Benda ‘19 stands in front of her flower vase surrounded by materials used to make it in the ceramics room on May 1.

Olivia Benda ‘19 stands in front of her flower vase surrounded by materials used to make it in the ceramics room on May 1.

Owen Aanestad

Olivia Benda ‘19 stands in front of her flower vase surrounded by materials used to make it in the ceramics room on May 1.

Owen Aanestad

Owen Aanestad

Olivia Benda ‘19 stands in front of her flower vase surrounded by materials used to make it in the ceramics room on May 1.

Tosh Klever

Frances Blount, WSS Intern

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If you walked beyond the door of room 158 and into the ceramics room, the first thing you would see would be the two-foot-tall, unfinished ceramic vase that is perched on the clay splattered counter. Made with 25 pounds of clay and decorated with whimsical flowers, this remains one of the largest pieces that Olivia Benda ’19 has ever made. Benda, one of West High’s resident ceramicists, has been creating both functional and decorative pottery pieces since she was in eighth grade.
Even at the beginning, Benda felt a special connection to ceramics. After being exposed to pottery by her art teacher at North Central middle school who offered to teach her how to throw on the wheel, she decided to continue creating throughout high school and even plans to maintain her hobby in college. Although she is going to veterinary school at Iowa State, Benda says, “I’ve been having a midlife crisis thing where I’m like, man, I just really want to be doing ceramics for the next 30 years.”
Since eighth grade, a lot has changed for Benda. Over the past five years, her commitment to ceramics has grown and her technique has steadily improved, but her interests are always changing, as she is constantly inspired by new styles, textures, and designs. One of Benda’s art teachers at West High, Margaret Yocius, has been working with her for over two years and has been able to watch Benda improve. “She began coming in after school and making pretty simple cups, but she has started doing massively large sculptures. She took 25 pound bags of clay and she was throwing it [on the wheel]. That’s a lot of clay to try to maneuver and move around and try to control. But she did it,” says Yocius.

“She’s not afraid at all to experiment with technique, and size, and different forms. She pushes the limits.”

— Maggie Yocius, Art Teacher

Benda has also had her fair share of experimentation with different methods such as sculptural and handbuilding, but she always comes back to throwing pieces on the wheel, especially vases, which are her favorite thing to make at the moment. According to Benda,“There’s something really satisfying about them and you have more room to put anything cool on it. Like if you want to do a really cool glaze or if you want to do some carving on it.”
Over the years, Benda’s room has become overrun with ceramic pieces, so, one of her goals is to sell ceramics, not only to clean up the house, but also to make a little money before she goes to college. She has sold some ceramic pieces to family friends and relatives, but, after being accepted into the Emerging Artists Pavilion at the Summer of the Arts Festival, Benda plans to sell more items and exhibit her art at her booth on June 1-2.. Benda is also hoping to sell more pieces off of her Instagram account, where she showcases videos and pictures of certain pieces to her followers.
Not only is having social media a financial asset, it is also where Benda finds most of her inspiration. “A lot of the stuff she does is self taught through Instagram videos that she sees or youtube videos that she watches,” Yocius said. Benda typically uses new techniques and ideas she finds on Pinterest and Instagram as a foundation to build off of and make her own.
However, she doesn’t always succeed in making what she wants. “I’ll see something on Instagram and think that’s really cool and I will try my best to create that, but working with clay, sometimes, as much as you want to make something, the clay’s just not having it that day and what you want to make isn’t going to happen,” Benda said.
Along with classes, Benda spends almost five hours every day in the ceramics room, wearing her clay spattered smock, and sitting at her wheel. In just one class period, she can make eight to ten small mugs. However, making so many mugs and bowls can get extremely repetitive. Benda says, “Sometimes I get in a rut. Earlier this year for this thing called the Super Bowl, I threw 15 bowls which isn’t that much, but I kind of got burned out after a while.”
Although Benda occasionally gets tired of making pottery, she finds that life without ceramics is dull. “I have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and in January I had to get surgery on it because it was getting to the point where it was really painful to make pottery. That was a really really rough spot because it was like two weeks where I couldn’t really do anything and I remember just having to glaze a bunch of things and it was the most boring thing I’ve ever done for two weeks,” says Benda.
Making ceramics hasn’t always been a walk in the park, but Benda always finds herself coming back to it. “I don’t have to throw ceramics every day but it’s really nice to have this kind of outlet where I can just come in here and listen to a podcast or a youtube video or just some music and make whatever I want to make,” Benda said.

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