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Internationally-Renowned Potter Doug Casebeer Aims To Put OU’s Ceramics Program On The Map

Internationally-renowned ceramic artist Doug Casebeer’s four-plus-decade career has led him across the world, but his love for clay began in Norman, where he took his first pottery class as a teenager in the ‘70s. Casebeer’s career came full-circle in 2018 when he returned to Norman as a resident artist at the University of Oklahoma’s ceramics program, which he and his colleagues are working to put on the map. 

 

As Casebeer sat hunched over the potter’s wheel, he proceeded to wet a clay ball andshape a cup with his hands. 

This is Casebeer’s “moment of bliss,” when the clay is soft and supple. Because at that point, it has the potential to be made into anything.  

He views this time he spends in the ceramics studio as a gift. 

“Our time on the planet is actually very short and the older you get, you begin to realize that,” Casebeer said. “‘How much longer do I really have to do this?’ It better be good. Everyday is a special day if you get to be with your art and work in the studio. Not everybody finds that in life.” 

Casebeer allowed himself to take a journey with the clay, keeping an eye out for a new flow or interruption in the material he hadn’t seen before. 

When Casebeer finished forming the cup, which had an organic, loose quality, he sat it in a line with the others he’d made. Although the cups looked the same at first glance, each had a uniquely distinct character 

“I feel like I'm a functionalist and that what I can do through ceramics and through pottery can bring some sense of joy or beauty into people's daily routine of life is really exciting for me,” Casebeer said. “That I can be present with you when you get up in the morning and have your tea or coffee. That's pretty special."

Casebeer’s focus on functional ceramics is influenced by his upbringing on the plains and the prairie between Oklahoma and Kansas, viewing vast landscapes punctuated with barns and silos no differently than dinner tables filled with pots and plates. 

His passion for clay began at Norman High School, where he took his first ceramics class in the 70s. 

Eventually Casebeer expanded beyond middle America, traveling to places like Jamaica,  where he worked as a pottery consultant for the United Nations, and Chile, where he helped establish an arts center. His artwork has also been featured in collections around the globe,  including countries like Japan and Taiwan. 

But he’s spent most of his career near Aspen, Colorado, where he served at Anderson Ranch Arts Center for 35 years as associate director and artistic director for ceramics. The non-profit, which offers workshops taught by renowned artists, is considered a mecca in the field of ceramics. 

But Casebeer views himself as more than a potter. 

“I'm just really a builder,” he said. “I build pots, I build equipment, I build programs and I build friendships.”

That’s what drew him to join OU’s ceramics program, which is under OU’s School of Visual Arts, as a resident artist in 2018, to build up the program to become one of the best in the nation. 

Casebeer is working toward this goal with his colleagues Stuart Asprey and Jamie Bates Slone. 

Asprey, an associate professor of ceramics, was at OU for a few years before helping bring on Bates Slone and Casebeer.  

“There's a lot of respect between the three of us, and it's a fascinating relationship because there's three levels of life or careers taking place,” Asprey said. 

In pursuit of becoming a top 10 ceramics program in the U.S., Bates Slone, an assistant professor of ceramics, said they’re aiming to create more workspace for students at OU’s John Frank Ceramics Studio. 

She said the studio's wide-open space allows there to be fewer barriers between students and faculty. 

“We care just as much about our students as we do about our own professional practices,” Bates Slone said. “All three of us work here and share our work with our students. And I think that’s helpful too because they can see how we handle our own professional practice and how we work in the studio. And they can pick and pull some tips from us whenever we're working.” 

To compliment what the professors are teaching, notable artists come into the studio throughout the semester to give demonstrations and work with students as part of the visiting artist program. 

Students also gain experiences that aren’t part of every ceramics program’s curriculum, such as how to fire and build kilns. This includes a wood kiln that Casebeer built with students his first semester at OU. 

During a wood kiln firing, students take shifts opening the firebox door and throwing pieces of wood in about every five minutes. It takes up 30 hours to complete the wood kiln firing, a slow, long progression until the kiln reaches the temperature needed to mature the pottery inside.

Students camp out at the studio’s outdoor kiln yard during the firings, an experience that has helped create a tight knit community within the ceramics program. 

Casebeer often ties processes that go into making ceramics back to the human condition, comparing being patient with a wood kiln as it goes through different phases and cycles to relationships. 

In addition to gaining experience using kilns, Casebeer imparts lessons to his students that extend beyond ceramics. 

David Morrison, a post baccalaureate student in OU’s ceramics program, said Casebeer’s taught him that you learn from your failures more than you do successes. 

OU undergraduate student Rafael Anguiano said he’s learned from Casebeer to think about his voice and what he’s trying to say as an artist. 

Looking back at his career so far, Casebeer’s impact on student’s is something he takes great pride in.

"I would have to say that I'm most proud of my students who have gone on and made a difference in other people's lives,” Casebeer said. “And I think that's the power of art and that's the power of good teaching and mentoring is that when you can show people how to make a difference in other people's lives by doing good, by doing the right thing, I'm satisfied. I've done my job." 

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Katelyn discovered her love for radio as a student employee at KGOU, graduating from the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and then working as a reporter and producer in 2021-22. Katelyn has completed internships at SiriusXM in New York City and at local news organizations such as The Journal Record and The Poteau Daily News. Katelyn served as president of the OU chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists from 2017 to 2020. She grew up in Midland, Texas.
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