Rivers of Clay

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Winter 2018 and Spring 2018 quarters

Taught by

ceramic art, sculpture, visual studies
freshwater ecology, quantitative biology, environmental education

This program, co-taught by a ceramic artist and a river scientist, gives students the opportunity to explore the similarities between artistic and scientific processes of inquiry while learning about the practical applications of ceramic art and stream ecology. We will explore the complicated relationships between rivers and clay, and how each can help to create and shape the other. We will learn about how rivers work, how to measure them to better understand them, and about the diverse organisms that call rivers home. We will learn about the physical and chemical structure of clay, glazes, and their mineral elements. In both quarters, students will discuss assigned readings in seminars. They will engage in active writing exercises and rigorous two-dimensional and three-dimensional visual art work in ceramics, mixed-media sculpture, and drawing. Students will also research experiences in stream ecology.

In the winter quarter, students will gain experience in the studio and the laboratory, learning the fundamentals of working with clay and the fundamentals of working with microscopes and other lab and field equipment. Students will take several day trips to local environments to examine and collect sources of clay and to implement a variety of field methods in stream ecology. 

In the spring quarter, we will continue to master concepts in ceramics and ecology. Students will formulate research questions that will be addressed using group research projects in both stream ecology and ceramics. Students will have the opportunity to apply their learning to individual projects; utilizing knowledge and skills gained over winter.  There will also be an opportunity to attend two multi-day field trips in Eastern Washington and the Pacific Coast to visit river sties and areas of clay and artwork production.

This program is ideal for students who have some visual art experience in any medium and would like to apply their previous experience to making 2- and 3-D ceramics functional and sculptural clay pieces. It is designed for students who have a strong work ethic, self-discipline, and who are willing to work long hours on campus in the ceramics studio and science labs.  Students who fully engage in the theory and practice of this program can expect to leave the program prepared for more intermediate to advanced studies in the visual arts and further study in the sciences.  This program does not provide prerequisites for upper division science programs nor provide opportunities to earn upper division science credits.

Program Details

Fields of Study

art history biology ecology environmental studies visual arts

Preparatory For

art history, biology, ecology, environmental studies, and visual arts


Winter Open Spring Signature

Location and Schedule

Final Schedule and Room Assignment

Campus Location


Time Offered


Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning


$30 in winter for studio supplies; $250 in spring for overnight field trips, museum entrance fees, and studio supplies.


2017-11-16Fees reduced (winter fee from $175 to $30 and spring from $600 to $250). Description updated.