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Not That Brandywine Tradition

If this area is artistically known for anything, it is the Brandywine School. I see and appreciate the clear mark of this tradition everywhere I go in Chester County. However, when I consider historical art from this area as a ceramics artist, I think of the rich earthenware tradition that happened many years earlier than the “official” Brandywine School. These early American earthenware potters were an influence to my early career as a potter and in the spring of 2020, I was reminded of them as I harvested clay in various spots in Chester County. Now two years later, it has become clear that this was an opportunity for me and my students to take a huge step back to see how potters historically got their raw materials. They did not go to the clay shop and buy a bag of clay - they hiked out into nature, found it, dug it, carried it and then processed it. It is an immense amount of work. While I understood the premise of harvesting clay, I did not appreciate it until I was knee deep in the Brandywine river in March of 2020. Harvesting clay from nature has been (and continues to be) a humbling experience and I look forward to continuing to be humbled.

Over the course of the pandemic, I was fortunate enough to discuss wild clay harvesting approaches with Gerald Brown, Sam Diamond, and Austin Jefferson. Each of them were insightful during that time for me and have brought their unique perspective with clay harvested from Brandywine River. These artists used many of the same processes as historical potters from the original artistic tradition of the Brandywine River Valley and this exhibition exemplifies their diverse approach to ceramics.

Andrew Snyder
Associate Professor
West Chester University of PA
October 2022

Free and in the Wild

It's March 2020
Guess I’m an online teacher now. I have a couple questions, though.
Q: Can my students go to the studio to pick up materials?
A: No.
Q: Can I go to the studi…
A: No.
Q: How do I teach ceramics remotely? How will my students learn about clay in front of a screen from their kitchens, bedrooms, basements, closets, etc. without any clay?
A: Figure it out.

If there is a silver lining from my remote teaching experience, it is the Wild Clay Harvesting Project.

Rather than have my students write papers about ceramics, I wanted them to be creative problem solvers. I challenged them to prospect, harvest, and prepare their own clay using only the things around their home. Since that project was the definition of experiential learning, I was not concerned if they found clay. It was the process that mattered. I assumed that most students would not find clay, but to my delight they ALL found clay. Since I was teaching remotely from lockdown, my students were all over - cities, towns, and rural in PA, NJ, NY, MD, and VA. I had never harvested my own clay, so I was just as much the student as my students. I learned a great deal with this project, but most importantly that I had (and still have) amazing students.


The students from the Spring 2020 semester are the catalyst for this show; they accepted the challenge. Then crushed it.

Now go dig a hole and find some clay!

Andrew Snyder
Associate Professor
West Chester University of PA

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