A Ceramic Love Affair
Virginia Scotchie continues to contribute to the local and international art community
By ABE DANAHER
As Virginia Scotchie steps into her office, she is instantly greeted by two shelves brimming with the colors, shapes and product of her most recent ceramic work. Emerald green sculptures glint in the soft light of the room, and a jet black vessel adorned with rectangular clay seems to stand out from the rest.
But Scotchie’s worn hands slide past them, searching for one of the few works that she was able to bring back from a symposium she attended in Hungary this past summer. On the bottom shelf she finds it: a deep, bronze-colored sculpture with cylindrical tubes standing like pillars along its surface.
That piece, she says, shows a new style of ceramic art that she has recently been experimenting with, where she uses an extruder to shape the clay into hollow pipes. But it is also emblematic of an illustrious career that she has built off a simple love for making.
This love has made Scotchie the renowned ceramics artist she is today. Her work has been shown at exhibits across the world – from Columbia, South Carolina, to Taipai, Taiwan, to Sydney, Australia – and has received some of the field’s most prestigious international awards, such as the Sidney Myer Fund Premier Award in 2003.
She is also the head of the University of South Carolina’s ceramics department, where she has brought a wealth of knowledge and a passion for art to her classroom for the last 27 years.
“The reason I like being in the university atmosphere is because we do teach each other,” she says. “My students teach me things. It’s not a one way thing.”
In her time at USC, Scotchie has overseen major growth in the ceramics department. She has seen it grow from a program with one dough mixer and a few pedal-powered spinning wheels to the robust, six room, 21 kiln program that it is today. Now, she finds herself teaching students of all skill levels, from beginners to graduate students.
Her hope is that every student leaves her class knowing the great things clay can produce, and that they appreciate the process of how art is made.
“As one famous artist said, art just doesn’t jump out of the head of Zeus,” she says with a smile. “You have to work. I think that the students leave knowing that this is what it is like to make something. This is the different stages that you have to go through to have a completed piece in ceramics.”
It is this idea of “making” that Scotchie has been in love with since she was little. Her mother first realized this as she watched her oldest of six children dig clay from the backyard and design art out of sticks. It led her to bring Virginia to a paper maché class – a class that to this day still sticks in Virginia’s head as the moment she realized her love for art.
As she grew older, this love never faded. Her first two years of college were spent at the University of North Carolina Asheville, where she took ceramics, sculpting and textile classes. But for the last two years of her undergraduate degree she attended the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, where she double majored in sociology and religion.
“I didn’t even know you could major in art, even though I loved making art and I was always drawing or doing something with art,” Scotchie says. “You know, I just think it was in me.”
Upon graduating from Chapel Hill in 1977, she began an apprenticeship with a local potter and went to his studio every day to both help him and to create her own work.
“That apprenticeship was really good. That was it. I was like, ‘I’m doing this,’” she says now.
For the next five years Scotchie worked with local artists before entering a Master of Fine Arts program at Alfred University. She graduated from the program in 1985, was an assistant professor at West Virginia University and Indiana University for six years, and then in 1992 reached the final destination on her teaching track – the University of South Carolina.
Twenty-seven years have now passed since she joined USC’s faculty, and she is aware that her time teaching may be coming to a close. But she is not ready to think about the end of her teaching days yet. She is staying focused on her current students, her current art exhibit at Hidell Brooks Gallery in Charlotte during March, and the symposium she plans to attend this summer in Denmark.
In her heart of hearts, she knows that she still has a lot to offer her students and the world. As she clutches the bronze sculpture in front of her, its new style proof that she’s still growing as an artist, Scotchie mentions a memory from many years ago. She was in New York City watching Viola Frey, one of the country’s most renowned artists at the time, complete her last piece of work.
“Even in her wheelchair, she kept making work,” she remembers. “And so I was able to see the last piece she made. You could tell it was different, this woman was old and she was sick, but she was able to create this piece. She just never stopped.”
That’s Scotchie’s hope: to never stop making. Her teaching days may be winding down, but her days as an artist are still young.
“Artists never retire,” she says. “We don’t ever get to retire. We just keep making art and hopefully it keeps getting better.”