AAAS Conference Presentation

In October 2014, with the encouragement of Annie Duffy, a UAF Art Department faculty member and mentor, I presented my thesis work at the Arctic Regional Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Conference.  At the time I saw it as a great opportunity to not only practice presenting my thesis, but also present my research to a different and more diverse audience.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that this presentation would enable me to travel and present nationally!! I received the Larus Award which granted me full funding to attend and present at the National AAAS 2015 Conference in San Jose, CA.  What an honor!

The San Jose Convention Center, 2015.

The San Jose Convention Center, 2015.


The conference was six days of exciting lectures, symposia, presentations, and seminars on cutting edge research in the fields of physics, earth science, chemistry, math, and social sciences just to name a few.  As an artist/anthropologist attending the event, the topics and lectures were new and fascinating.  There were lectures about science and communication; how is science and scientific fact presented to the public, what is the dialogue between science and religion and how can they work together, what about science and the community, how can we get the community at large involved with and excited about "citizen science", how do we encourage young girls to become scientific leaders, and how can we integrate the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Program in school curriculums.  Other topics included cutting edge research and integration of GPS mapping to better understand, document, and map out endangered languages; isotopic analysis of remains in Anglo Saxon cemeteries to compare and contrast the written history of the time period to scientifically derived fact to paint a new and more accurate picture of the people; and state of the art visualization of classical masterworks of art, including face recognition, computational art history and conservation, and multiband imaging using infrared spectroscopy.  

I'm so grateful to the Annie, the University of Alaska, the Larus Award, and all the wonderful people I met at the conference.  It was a remarkable experience! I've learned a great deal more about art, science, and the potential collaborations that will further our knowledge of historic works of art, culture groups, and how we can participate in science every day!  I even learned a little bit about dark matter and our galaxy--now to incorporate that into my next body of work--now back to the studio!

MFA Thesis

My MFA experience has been quite the journey.  I've been able to work with and learn so much from the many amazing people involved with the UAF Art Department.  Jim Brashear has been a wonderful mentor and from him I've learned about firing atmospheric kilns, how to relate my anthropology degree to the history of ceramics, and how to be a mentor to my own students.  Working with Teresa Shannon has been a pleasure.  She's helped me through many technical debacles and seemed to always be on call for me.  Mike Nakoneczny has been my best critic and kept me on task making sure I was aware of many of the imminent deadlines, that otherwise would have made a nice whooshing sound as they passed by.   Mareca Guthrie, Art Curator for the UA Museum of the North, has also been a wonderful advocate and supported my ideas in clay.  To the many others; Angela Linn (UAMN Collections Manager for the Ethnology and History Collections) Carol Hoeffler, Zoe Jones, David Mollett, Annie Duffy, and the rest of the faculty in the art department, Robin Shoaps (UAF Anthropology faculty and outside committee member), and to my many amazing students, THANK YOU!! 

My thesis exhibition occurred in two parts; first an interactive exhibition, “An Artful Experience: Dining Out,” a catered event exhibited at the UA Museum of the North, then a gallery exhibition in the UA Fine Arts Gallery, of the ceramic ware, “Dining Out” An Artful Experience”.  I created sixteen place settings; each consisting of a dinner plate, salad plate, soup bowl, and tumbler, as well as serving ware for the dinner.  These, in addition to other utilitarian ceramic ware, were displayed for the exhibition. 



Photos of “An Artful Experience: Dining Out” by J.R. Ancheta. 2014

    Ceramics play an important role in our daily lives.  Our day is marked by situations that revolve around eating and drinking.  These moments create opportunies for social interactions, allowing us to share experiences and stories to create and strengthen relationships.  For my thesis, I wanted to create an event and environment in which my ceramic ware could foster sociality.  The dinner was held at the University of Alaska Museum of the North.  This particular museum, renowned for its rich natural history collection pertaining specifically to the North, was the perfect context for the event because it not only displays the objects that inspired me, including story knives and many other artifacts, but also reflected the intention and purpose of the anthropological inspiration for my work.   


Image of gallery exhibition at UAF Fine Arts Complex, “Dining Out: An Artful Experience”, 2014.

The gallery exhibition referenced the interactive exhibit as well as set the stage for my ceramic ware.  Individual pieces were put in the spotlight and seen for their form, color, and design without distraction of utility.  The sixteen place settings were centered on a table in the gallery and arranged as they were for the dinner.  Other ceramic pieces, bowls, pouring bowls, coffee pots, coffee drips, teapots, creamers, sugar jars, pitchers, and more, were all displayed on wall units surrounding the table.  These objects, while not directly used in the interactive exhibit, still conveyed the theme of use and shared experiences over meals or beverages.  Between the shelving units were five photos (taken by J.R. Ancheta) of the interactive exhibit.  The photos serve both as a reference to the interactive exhibit as well as a reminder of the utility and purpose of my ceramic ware – to serve, be shared, and create community.  

In anthropological history, ceramics has been predominantly used as a vessel. However I see the potential of ceramics to also contain not only liquids or other foods, but also to contain memories of events or histories.  During the interactive exhibit attendees had a chance to interact with the work and thus activate it. They were able to feel the feet on the plates and bowls, noticed the color of glaze, felt the form of the tumblers in their hand, and touched the rim to their lips as they drank.  The dinner allowed the work to come alive and created an opportunity for interaction and sharing, something not offered by an exhibit that solely displayed the vessels in a gallery setting.  

The beauty of utilitarian ceramics lies in its ability to create community through social interactions while nourishing the body.  The forms and line work of my ceramics reference the ethnographic material that has inspired me.  Handmade pottery serves as a reminder of the time-honored rituals, processes, and objects that embellish and enrich our daily lives.  Those who use the vessels will create and contain their own memories through their continued use.  


The Ultimate Kiln

Arguably, the most exciting part of the clay process is firing.  Partly because it's like Christmas every time the kiln is opened, and also because I think each of us is a closet pyromaniac that gets unreasonably excited when firing atmospheric kilns.  I, for one, love the complete involvement in the firing while simultaneously giving up a large part of control to the "kiln gods", crossing your fingers and hope you're pots are "the chosen ones", blessed with beautiful surfaces.  

I've been fortunate enough, in my relatively short ceramic career thus far, to be involved in many atmospheric kiln firings.  First, at Juniata College, I participated in firing the historic wood kiln built by Jack Troy, as well as our trusty soda kiln (which quickly became my favorite).  I spent a few weeks at Watershed Center for Ceramics Arts in Newcastle, Maine and had the opportunity with fellow Juniata students to fire their salt kiln.  

               The UAF Waste oil/Soda Kiln!

Now, as a student at UAF, I've been a part of many many more atmospheric firings, which contribute to the luscious surfaces of my work.  Here, as far as atmospheric kilns go, there a lot of options; we have two gas kilns, an anagama, a fast fire wood kiln, salt kiln, and my personal favorite and newest addition, the waste oil soda kiln! 

Waste oil stacked up in front of the salt kiln. awaiting it's destiny to fuel our soda kiln!  It takes about six gallons of waste oil to fire

This kiln is killer! Not only does it give the juicy and nubile surfaces typical of a soda kiln, it's fired sustainably with veggie oil donated by the Faribanks Princess Lodge Restaurant.  The kiln has a pretty ingenious design.  

The kiln itself is designed to fire from two primary fuel sources.  First wood, to get the kiln hot enough, and then converted to waste oil, mid-firing, to get to temperature (about 2400 degrees). 

Bringing new meaning to pumping oil in Alaska! 

First, we have to screen the oil and pump it into the large yellow barrel that's located behind the stack.  The barrel is double walled, for a few reasons; including the ability to install a heater so the oil doesn't solidify and can flow easily into the kiln in October..yes that's right things are freezing up as early as October!  

Since the oil doesn't combust until the temperature reaches 621 degrees F, we have to begin the firing with wood.  It's important to wait until we get to at least to about 1200 degrees F before we pull out the grates (of course, along with the grates comes a lot of ash!) so to prevent too much heat loss we need to go above and beyond!

Now we're cooking with oil! The oil is gravity fed from the barrel behind the stack, and comes down into tubes that are inserted into holes in the side of the kiln.  The tubes are angled so that they extend into the firebox.  The oil drips down onto the plates, and once they've heated up (about ten minutes or so) the oil combusts!

Christmas! Unloading the kiln, as always is the most exciting!

We change one fire box at a time and in about an hour, we will have successfully switched to solely firing with the waste oil! There are globe valves that control the rate of oil flow.  The key is to ensure that the flow is low, slow, and steady.  (Yes, we do get the occasional french fry or spice clump, but that's why we screen!) The firing takes anywhere from 8-12 hours, but with good company, and great pizza from the pizza oven next door, time flies by!