The Story Behind Cary Esser's 40-Year Passion For Clay | KCUR

The Story Behind Cary Esser's 40-Year Passion For Clay

Mar 21, 2016

Cary Esser, longtime chair of the ceramics department at the Kansas City Art Institute, credits a high school classmate in the 1970s for her introduction to ceramics. 

As Esser recalls, her best friend, Julie, was taking a class, and "truthfully, I didn't know what ceramics was." 

Esser visited the basement classroom and saw her friend throwing pottery on the wheel. "I really had one of those moments where I just looked at what she was doing, and I just said, 'That is the coolest thing. I'm going to do that.'"

When she sat at the wheel, she says, it just felt comfortable and right. 

Cary Esser, 'Untitled I,' (2010).
Credit courtesy Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art

"Ceramics is a medium that's really felt through the skin," Esser told Central Standard host Gina Kaufmann.

"It very much has to do with an intimate and tactile experience with the material. Not everybody who works with clay necessarily touches it in that kind of way, but a lot of people are drawn and seduced by the material."

Esser has chaired the ceramics department at the Kansas City Art Institute, where she was once a student, since 1995.

She says art engages the mind and the body, and that she enjoys what can be an immersive process — starting with the wet or liquid clay, molding it and then watching it dry, the first firing, the glaze application, and a second firing.

"Things change tremendously," she says, "that transformation that happens is very exciting for those of us who work with the material." 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter, @lauraspencer.