CCC’s Clay College: Thriving with Clay

Jackie Sandro, Clay College Director, works in studio with CCC student.

Jackie Sandro, Clay College Director, works in studio with CCC student.

By: Liz Green

Photo Courtesy: CCC’s Public Relations Dept.

Editor: Kelly Plummer

I found myself in the middle of Millville, 7 o’clock at night and nothing made me want to turn around and drive home more than the prospect of art. It was something I had never been good at before nor enjoyed, simply because of countless times I had made a fool of myself over my horrible and uncompleted projects. Even though I contemplated whether or not to go into a place that symbolized my own inadequacy, I decided to take a leap of faith and walk through the big glass doors of Clay College.

Upon entering, Clay College opened my mind and gave me new perspective. I stared in awe at the long wooden tables caked with clay dust and sinks on each side of the walls. Stacks of pottery, sponges, and buckets lined the tables. Music crooned from invisible speakers, filling the room with a melodious beat. I immediately felt at home and at peace. I wanted to become knee deep in the clay that had once scared me away from ever taking another art class. I wanted to stay in that glorious and comfortable room for the rest of my life. This is when I met the woman responsible for my rebirth into the art world; Jackie Sandro.

Sandro, with her Master’s degree in Ceramics, adorned clay stained jeans, a pink apron, and dusty hands. She had been teaching classes all morning and was absolutely exhausted. Sandro runs the entire operation, doing everything from teaching classes to managing what goes on in the space, to training techs to become interns in the shop. She explained to me her “open studio” rule, which is to let anyone who is in any of her other classes come in during those times when she is open and work on their projects. She pointed out that only about six or seven of the students in the room were actually there for Ceramics 101. The other four were students of hers from the advanced class; free to work on whatever they wished. This created a much more independent vibe as I observed students; one in the corner glazing a pot, the other by the paints picking a color. Clay College is not a stuffy classroom where textbooks are required and agendas must be strictly followed. It is a place where students participate, create, and thrive.

Along with everything from credit to non-credit art classes, students see a real gallery outside the college. They get to experience what it is like to have art on display. Sandro has many of her own works displayed in the Riverfront Renaissance Center of the Arts District in Millville. On Saturdays, kids are invited to join 4-week programs, which include an Introduction to pottery class and Sandro’s own creation, “Club Mud”. The college features classes with live models and 3D designing for art majors and art lovers alike. There is always a tech on duty; someone to assist a student who is stuck or confused about a project. There is a real sense of community in the classroom.

Sandro commented that a textbook is required for certain classes, but often with limited use. “We have vocabulary tests usually every other week,” she said, “but it is only for students to become familiar with what I’m saying when I use a certain term or phrase. It is very important that they are aware of terms and reasons why or why not to do things because it could have a negative effect on the outcome of their project and the projects as a whole.” This makes for a more authentic and realistic setting when it comes to knowledge and the ability to maneuver around an art room without ignorance. To incorporate as much learning as a group as possible, apart from the independence one has while completing their separate pieces, Sandro gathers the class together and explains the proper way to “glaze” their clay objects. With this demonstration, she takes them step-by-step through the process, using her own art as an example.

Sandro feels the CCC and City of Millville partnership is vital and a positive influence on the community. It not only brings an eclectic group of people together, it also helps kids with behavioral problems as classes will sometimes meet there and feel a great sense of accomplishment. I saw this for myself when I, for the first time ever, sat down to “throw” clay and actually made a pot that I was proud of. It is truly a magical place, turning me into an art enthusiast. To learn more about Clay College or inquire about class schedules and prices contact Jackie Sandro at jsandro@cccnj.edu or call (856) 765-0988. To browse the actual classroom, plan a visit to 108 N. High St. in Millville, NJ. It may open your eyes to something exciting and new.

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