The ceramic class uses modern manufacturing processes to connect with the past
A computer scientist builds a casting system that comfortably houses a ship he 3D printed while a physics student carefully pours plaster into its structure. Curiously, design, marketing, psychology and public relations students navigate the same multidisciplinary process, creating an enthusiastic energy in the studio.
A ceramics course for non-majors offered this semester represents the connective tissue between early forms of pottery and today’s contemporary practices. Twelve students from Rochester Institute of Technology majors are immersed in Josiah Wedgwood’s Legacy course, which exemplifies the university’s strategic focus on technology, arts, and design.
Taught by Assistant Professor Peter Pincus, the course explores the parallels between the innovative methodologies of ceramics and manufacturing in the 18th century and the role that modern manufacturing processes play in these fields today.
For the second assignment, “Revisionist Antiquities,” the students acquired a wealth of historical knowledge. They then, using computer-aided design (CAD), 3D printing and laser cutting, fabricated mold systems capable of quickly and efficiently creating replicas of 4th-century Etruscan ships.
Lindsey Bouthiette ’22 (psychology), who previously studied ceramics in high school, said she signed up for the course to re-immerse herself in the material, while learning new techniques and processes like 3D printing .
“The experience is very engaging and based on us working together as a class to get through it,” Bouthiette said of the Revisionist Antiquities project. “We have faced various challenges along the way and had to improvise in difficult times. What I take away most from this mission is to recognize the artists’ dedication to plaster mold making and ceramics. It takes a lot of hard work in every step to make a mold.
The inspiration for replicating the Etruscan style of pottery popularized in ancient Greece can be traced to the course’s namesake, Josiah Wedgwood, an 18th-century potter and social activist known for his pioneering manufacturing and marketing techniques.
His methods provided the middle class with unprecedented access to Etruscan ships that had traditionally been available only to the wealthiest people in Europe.
Wedgwood’s mission was supported by a relationship with British diplomat Sir William Hamilton, whose extensive collection of Etruscan ships has been documented in a catalogue. The Complete Collection of Antiquities from Sir William Hamilton’s Cabinet is a complete chronicle of each ship – plans, renderings and facades drawn in minute detail.
“He collectively showcased the breadth of Greek and Etruscan pottery,” Pincus said.
The book led to replicas of classical Greek pottery becoming more widely available through Wedgwood’s manufacturing company, Etruria.
“In many ways, Wedgwood should be considered the world’s first 3D printer,” Pincus said. “His creative use of technology, materials and process, coupled with his unequivocal craftsmanship, has enabled him to resurrect objects from antiquity.”
As were once Wedgwood’s mass production methods, RIT students harnessed the latest technology to craft historic Etruscan ships.
They each chose a pot from The complete collection of antiques, drew a computer-aided design (CAD) profile of it and cut out a quarter of the design to be 3D printed in RIT’s Fab Lab. They then assembled a working mold system by attaching the design inside precision laser-cut pieces of acrylic in the Fab Lab.
A. Sue Weisler
Once the models were created, the students poured plaster into their mold systems four times and clamped each quarter together to create a replica of their selected fourth-century vessel. This replica was then used as a plaster mold to quickly mass-produce more vessels to use as glaze tests and experiments.
Students in the class represented majors from the College of Art and Design, Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences, College of Liberal Arts, College of Science, National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Saunders College of Business and the School of Individualized Study. The College of Art and Design majors are 3D Digital Design, Industrial Design, and Studio Arts.
They were guided through the process by Pincus and other experts from the College of Art and Design. Fab Lab Manager Dan Gabber ’17 (Industrial Design), ’19 MFA (Ceramics) led a demonstration on building virtual vessels and coordinated 3D printing. Fabiano Sarra ’13 (Furniture Design), ’19 MFA (Furniture Design), educational support specialist for industrial design, helped students assemble molds.
Bouthiette designed an alabastro, the antique version of a perfume or oil bottle that has a long body with a round base and a lip at the top.
“I didn’t know I would be working with 3D printing or CAD during a ceramics class,” Bouthiette said. “It was such an exciting experience because it combines new technologies with old pottery techniques and practices. I like the idea of bringing an object back to life through all these different materials and processes.