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Central Standard

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

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courtesy Kansas City Art Institute
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Cary Esser's connection to the Kansas City Art Institute dates to the 1970s, when she was a student (pictured here in 1978, in the back row, far left). She's now the chair of the ceramics department.

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. 

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

"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.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.