Queen of Clay

The ceramics studio was my paradise at Babson: It offered a creative hub where all talk of bottom lines, Powerpoints and analysis melted away. This article features Stephanie Osser, the studio’s manager and sheds light on the challenge of getting more business ugrad students to play with art.

 

Feb 25, 2010

“What for?” Stephanie Osser asked, as she awkwardly balanced an orange plate containing Trim’s special of the day.  The question was in response to my request for an interview, a request casually posed between the ice cream and vegan stations at the school’s dining hall.  She waited patiently as I constructed my answer.

 “Because I want more people to know about you,” I replied.  Grinning her characteristic smile, part smirk and part grin, she couldn’t veil her excitement: “Maybe that will help the studio!” 

The Ceramics Studio resides in the back hallway of Trim Dining Hall, carefully shielded from the clink of falling silverware and the fragrance of greasy fries.   Its walls enclose bottles of dazzling glazes, heaps of clay, rows of throwing wheels, and a personal kiln.  Its shelves are bloated with pots, bowls, cups, and figurines waiting anxiously for someone to lay claim. 

It’s an artist’s paradise.  The only thing missing are the artists.

I arrive at the studio for the interview on a slow Friday afternoon.  Osser has not yet come.  Savoring the few minutes of solitude, I survey the vacant studio. 

Posters proposing project ideas line the wall.  Tables coated with a thin layer of dried clay fill the floor.  A clay-clad boom box, one of the vintage types that is cassette, radio, and compact disc-compatible, is tethered near the entrance.  This is Osser’s meager kingdom.

Moments later, Osser rushes in, offering me a big hug.  About five-feet-five inches, with shoulder-length, curly black hair, searching green eyes, and an eager smile, Osser is the embodiment of amiability.  She is just as bubbly and friendly as the day I met her three years ago. 

Then a fresh-faced freshman, I found refuge in her kindness: Osser treats every visitor to the studio as a guest to her home.  I suspect she even has a hot plate of cookies stowed away somewhere.

But don’t equate her benevolence with weakness.  Her hands are scepters wielded to rule the ceramics world.  Osser is a highly-talented artist.  Her namesake website also offers a powerful testament to her talent.  The best art is a collection entitled “Stars in the Heavens.” 

The collection consists of seven sculptures of famous people that she created for the 2007 Watershed Gala in Maine: Dizzy Gillespie, Judy Garland, Marcelle Marceau, and Albert Einstein are among those depicted.  Every detail relays Osser’s incredible skill and diligence as her works’ recognition in ClayTimes and Ceramic Monthly concurs. 

Today is her day off.  Yet she is coming in to check on the kiln’s latest batch of fired goodies.  Like a child eagerly shaking the gifts beneath the Christmas tree in anticipation, Osser couldn’t wait to see the freshly baked art.  Her passion is riveting.  Carefully transferring the freshly glazed pieces from the kiln to a neighboring shelf, she asks if she can work as she talks. 

For the first 25 years of her career, she was a professional illustrator.  She captured objects—both inanimate and not—with her trusty pen, serving as a staff illustrator for the New England Aquarium and a food illustrator for several New York Publishers. 

One notable project is her illustration for Jim Henson’s Big Book of Muppet Crafts

Osser received her graphics and ceramics education at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and Vermont’s Bennington College.  She attended graduate school in Ceramics at the University of Montana.  There she formed some of her fondest memories. 

With a smile on her face, she recalls the receiving the encouragement and support of talented artist/teacher Rudy Autio, singing folk songs with a guitar, and eating her fill of Finnish pastries.

These precious graduate school memories prompted Osser’s ceramic return. 

Staring into space, Osser pauses for a second, recounting her disappointment with Babson’s lack of student interest when she arrived in 2006; that was before she became acquainted with the oft-empty stools and wheels.

You “can’t make people be creative,” she states matter-of-factly.  Neither bitter nor angry, Osser simply wishes that more of the Babson community realized the value of the arts.  “Art and music enrich life. . .they make life worth living.” 

Osser recognizes that Babson students are strapped for time.  In response, she has altered the operating schedule: Now, as long as the doors of Trim are open so are the doors of the studio. 

On Sundays, access to the studio and all of its goodies are free; the five-dollar fee is waived.  She has also enlisted the help of Joy Aginsky and Samantha Stanley to teach weekly evening classes. 

It’s working. 

These days, the studio buzzes with life.  The number of Babson visitors has increased dramatically.  And thanks to a little marketing, students from Olin and Wellesley now flock to the studio.  Neither neighboring campus has a ceramics studio of its own.  These students and the others like them are why Osser stays.  They motivate her to continue a benevolent reign over the studio.  And they strengthen her commitment to making the kingdom a welcome escape for everyone who ventures inside.

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