The Person Behind: Ceramics Class with Sarah Haze

Art sometimes gets a bad rep for being intentionally hard to understand, expensive to own, and difficult to learn. The Albany Public Library works to introduce art to everyone through programs like Art at APL (a juried fine arts exhibition), as well as art instruction classes like Art Class with Dana  and Saturday Art Club, which all take place at Pine Hills branch. The Ceramics Class with Sarah Haze is a new addition to the art programs offered by APL, and will focus on teaching ceramic techniques in a fun way at the Arbor Hill Branch. The workshops will be led by local artist Sarah Haze, who has a natural ability to encourage anyone and everyone to enjoy the process of creating art.

A Quick History of Ceramic Art

Ceramics are one of the oldest art forms, and can be found in practically every corner of the globe. Ceramic art is both decorative and functional: Pieces are often designed with a purpose in mind (such as something to drink or eat out of), yet human nature seems to demand it still hold some kind of visual embellishment. Types of ceramic art include tiles, figurines, tableware, and vases, and materials range from earthenware to fine bone china.

             Some of Sarah Haze’s work

The Person Behind the Program

At the APL Foundation we like nothing more than hearing about how the funds from our Annual Appeal have made a difference. Through the Internal Grant Program, we’ve been able to connect directly with numerous local librarians and listen to their thoughts on what programs they think would be beneficial to their branch. One librarian who did just that is John Edvalson, and we were lucky enough to sit down with him so he could tell us more….

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

Sure, I started out my professional career working in academia as an anthropologist. I wanted to do something more applied, and thought working in a library was a good way to be engaged with people on a day-to-day basis. I’ve been in Albany for the last 10 years and enjoy the way libraries here integrate into the community in different ways. We see the same people everyday and it’s enjoyable to have that relationship with the neighborhood and the larger community; it’s like working in a bar in the best way possible. Then there’s the anthropological aspect. Libraries are a really neat places to see how neighborhoods change. 

What is it you enjoy most about your job?

The thing I enjoy most is making different types of connections, specifically connecting people with useful books or information. You get to help someone, and in an even broader sense you’re contributing to the general good of the city overall. I’ve had people come and buy me a coffee to say thanks for helping them get through a job application. When things like that happen, you realize the massive benefit a library has. 

The other part of my job I’ve found very rewarding is the creative aspect… doing different  art projects with the kids, getting them to do something outside of their comfort zone. I also like bringing in community collaborators – it’s nice to connect people with others in their community who they didn’t even know about.

The program we’re talking about today is the Ceramics Class with Sarah Haze. Is this the first time that Arbor Hill has offered this program

This is the first one focusing specifically on ceramics. We’ve worked with Sarah numerous times and she’s always professional and patient with people, wherever they’re at in their artistic journey. The great thing about these types of programs is the bridges you’re creating. You see mothers and daughters and fathers and sons coming in and doing something outside of their ordinary routine. Sarah’s really good at encouraging people to just enjoy creating art, so when the internal grant was announced she was the first person I thought of. 

What inspired you to come up with the ceramics program?

Just by observing people’s interests, and as Sarah specializes in ceramics I felt it would work with her strengths too. The medium is very mindful, and she had a lot of creative ideas about how she was going to do it. It’s also something a little outside of the norm – I don’t know of many people who have access to a kiln and go to the store to buy clay. It gives people the chance to try something they might not have had the opportunity to before.

“The medium is very mindful, and Sarah had a lot of creative ideas about how she was going to do it”

The other aspect I wanted the program to focus on was the encouragement of adults to rediscover art. It seems as though there’s a period in our development as children where we’re all artists. We have a natural curiosity to want to create things, then many of us abandon it. Not because we want to, but because the world around us says “you’re not a good artist, you can’t make things look like they do in real life”, so people give it up. What’s nice about trying art when you’re older is you get to engage with this creative process again, which might be something you haven’t done in a long time.

The program is taught by Sarah Haze can you tell us more about her background?

She’s a local artist who specializes in ceramics and does a lot of art education camps and programs. She also holds art classes over in Troy at the Arts Center of the Capital Region. She was recommend to me by another artist, and I’ve been very happy with her programs since then. Her stuff tends to be on the colorful, whimsical side, which makes her art more accessible. Sometimes it’s a gamble to see if a program or a person is going to ‘work’ with the library, but  with Sarah I always know it’ll be a fruitful collaboration. 

Why do you think it’s important to have local artists involved in projects like this?

I suppose in a world where we have difficulty building connections and community, it helps. When we say ‘local’ it means a lot of things; its a push against standardization and franchise uniformity. ‘Local’ brings more diversity and human connection. Sarah is bringing what she has to bear, and the people coming do the same. It’s refreshing to have programs which show art not as a separate entity that only exists in elite circles, but as something more about people. Here in Albany we have an art scene, but we need more programs like this to bridge art into everyday life.

Sarah’s ceramics, available for purchase on her website
What can participants expect from this program?

To get an introduction to a set of ceramic techniques (how to coil, pinch etc.) as well as an understanding of the history. Initially the whole point of ceramics was that we needed a functional object, but then there became an artistic element to it too. When people create something they themselves are represented in it – the resulting piece reflects where they’re at in a certain time in their lives. It also gives people a sense of doing something with their hands, which I feel we’re losing track of in the digital age. Lastly they’re creating connections with the people around them. The classes encourage participants to interact with people they wouldn’t necessarily talk or communicate with normally. 

Do participants have to have any previous knowledge or is it open to everyone?

Oh anyone can come, that’s the spirit of all our programs. Whatever your skill level is and wherever you’re at, we’ll take you and see if it’s something you like. Even if you only do that one four week session, it’s still a positive experience.  

“It can be nerve-racking to try your hand at something you’re never done before, but this is a supportive and encouraging environment”

What would you like people to gain from the program?

Just a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment – hopefully they’ll learn something they didn’t know how to do before. One of my favorite patrons is in her 80s and I’m really inspired by her because she’s always trying new things. It can be nerve-racking to try your hand at something you’re never done before, but this is a supportive and reassuring environment. Even though we’re not kids, it’s still nice to get affirmation and encouragement. I don’t think we get enough of that type of thing.

If you could sum up the program in three words what would they be?

Creativity, community, and care.

Do you have any upcoming programs you want to tell us about?

For Thanksgiving we’re creating centerpieces on the 21st. We also have an upcoming program with the Cornell Cooperative Extension, which will focus on showing kids and teens how to make healthy snacks. It’s creative and they get to eat the final product too! The other program I’m really excited about is the Martin Luther King Community Mural we’re doing in January. Everyone is going to get a piece of the picture to complete and then we will fill the entire wall, creating a single mural. 

How do you come up with ideas for programs?

I look at what other libraries do around the country to see what types of activities they have – sometimes I’ll just see a book cover and think of something related that’s fun. The calendar naturally provides a framework, and then there’s certain days that randomly provide inspiration. Recently it was National Taco Day, so the kids to made their own tacos. Whenever I ask the kids what they want to do, it usually tends to involve food! 

UPDATE 11/20:

This class is now full, however you can still sign up to be placed on the waiting list.

Donate to the APL Foundation to make more programs like this possible!