Since 1998, Assistant Professor Doug Jeppesen has been overseeing the ceramics program at Waubonsee’s Sugar Grove Campus – and he loves it. "I have my dream job," he said. A renowned educator, dedicated mentor, and prolific studio artist, Jeppesen’s work has appeared in numerous national exhibitions. He's also presented at the International Wood Fire Conference and worked extensively with a leading ceramics company to develop an exclusive clay formula. However, his true joy is teaching. "I love working with students, especially when you see them start to figure it out. They’ll start living in the studio – it’s incredibly rewarding."
One of the college’s most hands-on, comprehensive programs, Waubonsee’s ceramics courses offer collaborative, intensive training in every step of the process. "They make their clay. They make their glazes. They fire the kilns. They learn to do it all," Jeppesen says. "I’m always demonstrating, so students learn because they see things happen. We’re constantly working."
"For every civilization that’s been discovered, how did we learn about their culture? We didn’t look at their business philosophy. We looked at their art to tell us who they were.” – Doug Jeppesen, Assistant Professor of Art/Ceramics
The program has a wide cross-section of students. "Our students range from the 18-year old traditional student to professionals in their 60s. The variety is really nice." Jeppesen encourages his advanced artists to partner with beginning and intermediate students, walking them through the whole process, from wet clay to a finished, fired piece. "We want students to understand the complexities of the material and the chemistry behind it."
Perhaps the key feature of the program is its extensive, 10,000-square foot studio, equipped with everything a ceramic artist could need: work tables, two types of potter’s wheels, a slab roller, an extruder, a glaze room, spray booths, and a variety of kilns constructed on-campus by Jeppesen and his students. "The kiln yard was non-existent when I got here," he says. "It’s been great having my students involved in the construction. It’s grown with the college."
To focus on the rich history and development of the ceramic trade, and to introduce a new firing technique, Jeppesen embarked on the construction of an 5th century-style Japanese Anagama kiln in the fall of 2006. "There was nothing like it around. There are only two others in the entire state." His team hand-built the 110-cubic foot structure, which holds up to 500 pieces and attracts visiting artists from around the world. Loading this unique kiln requires true dedication. "It takes about 68 hours, but everyone helps – even the beginning students. We have people signing up for five-hour shifts at 3 a.m.!"
Waubonsee’s ceramics program has been a catalyst for countless success stories. Many of Jeppesen’s students transfer to top universities to continue their work, some travel overseas, and one former student recently took home the top prize for an undergraduate at the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts annual conference. "Here’s a guy competing with students from the country’s top art schools, and he wins!" Jeppesen says he likes to remind students that this can be a career. "I talk about marketing, getting their work seen. Be dedicated, smart and business-minded, and you can make a living."
Jeppesen believes there are no limits to his students’ potential. "If you want to do it in ceramics, you can do it here."