Naysan McIlhargey '97 - owner of Miami Valley Pottery in Yellow Springs, Ohio - is one of many successful potters to emerge from Earlham's art department. He takes great pride in being part of a tradition of functional pottery that stretches back thousands of years, and part of a lineage of American potters that he can trace to the beginning of the 20th century. Earlham has played an important role in this tradition, too, with many alumni who have honed their craft through apprenticeship and made their livings by creating and selling functional objects made of clay.
"Being a potter, there are skills you have to learn by doing, and you have to learn from someone who has done it before," says McIlhargey. "So even now, as I'm working on a problem with my work, I hear the voices of those mentors."
McIlhargey emphasizes the importance for him - and other art alumni - that the art department retains a focus on traditional crafts (like functional ceramics, fiber arts and metals). He credits Mike Thiedeman (a retired professor of art) for introducing him and his fellow students not only to technique, but also the history of ceramics, which has always included a focus on functionality.
"There are a lot of artists who want to make beautiful things that are meant to be used," says McIlhargey. "But there are not a lot of departments that have that focus."