Yixing, China is known in many parts of the world for its teapots, made from a unique clay found in the region. Growing up in Yixing, making clay teapots came naturally to Junya Shao.
“Most people in (the) town make pots. My mom makes pots, too,” Shao said. “When we are children, (we) play along the working table.”
Shao and her husband, Luo Xiaoping, spent the past week working with students at Gilbert High School and teaching them how to make clay teapots.
Shao and Xiaoping live half the year in Gilbert and the other half in Yixing. Shao said they have had gallery exhibits in various places around the country, including Philadelphia and Santa Fe, N.M., and sell their pieces at auctions.
They do public art, too, including a large sculpture of hands Xiaoping created for Mesa Community College. Shao said her work is more focused on functional teapots, while her husband does more sculpture.
At Gilbert High, they worked with about 200 clay students over seven class periods each school day.
Erik Schiesser, a 15-year-old sophomore and vice president of the Clay Club, watched a demonstration by Shao and Xiaoping and learned how to texture clay.
“It’s amazing,” Schiesser said. “I’ve never seen anything like it ... all the stuff they’ve done. It’s all clay, no glaze or anything. I didn’t even know you could do that.”
On Thursday, Leilani Ili, an 18-year-old senior, used a toothbrush to texturize her teapot and make it look like wood.
Before texturizing, Ili said they pounded out the clay, shaped it, then cut the pieces and assembled the pots.
“You have to make the spout first. After you shape it, (then you) put a hole in it and slip and score it,” she said, explaining that means adding really wet clay so it sticks together.
Ili said having the visiting artists was “cool.”
“He’s really good,” she said of Xiaoping. “It’s good to learn from him.”
Ida Gaumitz, a visual arts teacher, said the school was able to host the artists through a learning project grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts and school tax-credit donations.
Every year, Gaumitz said, she tries to find a big project for the students to do that teaches them “gainful learning techniques” and “promotes world unity at the same time.”