Friday, June 11, 2021

RISE • an open letter to my students


My Dear Students, June, 2020. •. Remote Learning 

When we rise to face a new day within the whirl of despairing global realities; working and learning within the confines of our house, our rooms, our narrow periphery—it may seem in some strange way that we are spinning in place. Amidst so much unexpected confusion, pain, and sadness, your education experience, for now, has unexpectedly become pixelated and splattered with emotional roller coasters. While you are learning, you are also trying to figure out what is going on in this world, how you fit into it, and what you can do about it. With such varied circumstances, it is certain that some are more directly and deeply affected than others. We wrestle with emotions that are cut deep from the wounds of our families, our friends, our histories. I meet you with as much pep as I can muster because it is difficult for me too—to see you waking these days with tasseled hair, bleary eyes, and with varying degrees of enthusiasm. 

Nevertheless, I try to teach you art—'sculpting' of all things using air-dry clay that we mix with mud found in our backyards. We make animals: frogs and chameleons to be exact. We talk about symbolism and how many cultures around the world consider them to be totems of renewal. I hope in some small way these experiences will bring you closer to nature and provide you with a brief moment of peace. We find, however, that woven between the solace and play of creating you must also face your mistakes, trial and error cycles, frustrations, smoothing out bumps, and repairing deep and superficial cracks. We pull in strategies not least of which is a sense of humor and a willingness to accept that we are all trying to do the best that we can. You notice that this process holds a mirror up to life. And, because of what I know about Art, I want you to believe, as I believe—in the magic of Art; in the power and language of aesthetics; and in the alchemy of materials. I want you to notice that turning a malleable blob of clay into something imaginative can open your heart to sensations that have nothing to do with pixels—yet, has everything to do with the nature of your Spirit, with touch, with experiencing the world and what it actually means to take an intelligent, heartfelt creative leap that translates your emotions into form. 

As your last pieces take shape and find their place in the Schoology Album, I am touched and proud to see that you have learned so much. I hope if not now, then sometime in the future when you look back on this historical time and talk about it with your families, friends, children, nieces, and nephews you will also think of some of these experiences and how our Land Art video moved so many people with your sentiments and our Once Upon a Time: in the Land of the Frogs video made people smile when we all needed that the most. I hope you also enjoy the culminating video I just finished for you called Rise: Ceramics I-IV, 2020! Art can heal. I know this from the depth of my soul. I appreciate sharing this time with you and I am so moved by your willingness to learn under these very surreal and horrendous circumstances. May you stay strong, healthy, and kind—and may you always remain open to learning new things. 

With much Love and Peace to you All, Ms. O.



Michele Ogilvie, MFA; Upper School Visual Art Faculty: Ceramics/Sculpture


A very long time ago, let’s say roughly 35,000 years the hands of a cave-dweller created the first known Zoomorphic sculpture that has been named Lion-Man of Hohlenstein-Stadel.  The 1939 discovery of this roughly twelve-inch-tall hand-carved mammoth-tusk ritual object, as wells as over 200 stone Venus figurines from various parts of the world allows us a glimpse into humankind’s earliest examples of creative, symbolic expression. Artifacts carved, sculpted, and painted by anonymous individuals throughout history not only hold the legacy of human life on Earth but also reveal our collective search for meaning, aesthetics, and utility. Art is the guardian of our heritage, our cultures, rituals, beliefs, and curiosities. It is the common language that escorts us through historic doorways to our present musings and future contemplation.

At the level of learning to make art in school, it is often thought of as an elective, an activity that is fun and a welcomed distraction from academics. It is of course all of these things. Yet, when an individual or group dedicates their life to self-expression such as the diversity of artists that students learn about in our K-12 Visual Art classes, it has reached a level of commitment that allows us to see the greater scope of what art is, how it reflects history and culture, and how a valued artist comes to be.  

On a philosophical level, I ask my students to consider the many ways in which we view the world around us and how these perceptions are shaped by our individual and collective experiences. We take note of the many things that shape a life and a personality including one’s family, culture, opportunities, economics, politics, religion, and social media.  It becomes clear that we are constantly and inescapably navigating the expectations and dynamics of both chosen and chance circumstances.  Our purpose calls on each of us to reach towards our greatest good; to allow for mistakes, to let go of perfection, to be kind to ourselves and others—to acknowledge that we are all here on this planet—to learn, and sometimes—to forgive.

We view art as we view life. Art in all of its various forms reflects life. Art brings us closer to the authentic expression of humankind’s survival, determination, and resilience. If you understand art—you understand connections and abstractions—as art is, at its highest—a manifestation of personalized thoughts and feelings into form. It is that way with music, poetry, painting, and sculpture—in all things that channel the heart through the hand or the voice. Art on a psychological level can also serve as a map to the subconscious—the subconscious of an individual, as well as that of a society.

When teaching about art and artists from around the world I ask my students to consider not only such things as form, surface, craftsmanship, and aesthetics—but also about each artist’s experiences, obstacles, and choices. We respectfully acknowledge the privilege of peeking into their stories, their shadows and their souls. To present one’s art can sometimes feel like sharing a secret. What does an artist’s creative work tell you about their life? How do you feel about their story? 

Monday, April 20, 2020

Land Art Project: Art meets Nature

Remote Learning: 9-12th Ceramics/Sculpture
by Michele Ogilvie, MFA. •  Visual Art Upper School Faculty

It’s surreal to sometimes think of how things go on this planet, within our world, our places that we call home. To go beyond the why of things can often send us into a whirl of confusion. It is sometimes easier to look for distractions. I am an artist and teacher of art. I am searching to strike a balance within the frame of education and the challenges we all face right now during this pandemic. I look up often these days to notice large billows of clouds that go from grey to pillow white against a backdrop of rolling hills behind my house. The rain has been generous this year and every branch holds tender new leaves. I am in awe of this beauty, this quiet that our neighborhoods have not seen for decades. I understand that there is a price for this rebirthing. People are suffering, businesses are closing, so many are losing their jobs, homes, and sometimes their lives. This confrontational paradox and social distancing have us spinning in place. Our physical periphery has grown smaller, while our confounding predicament expands to every nation on the globe. This crisis is existential and beyond that—lies the inevitable realization that our lives and our entire world is changing. There will be much repairing to do. Politically, educationally, economically, emotionally and spiritually. There are remnants of optimism—some scrounge for the hope that we will bear witness once again to humankind’s tenacity, and resilience. So many are saying, “History repeats.”
As I teach my remote art classes, I spend time with a generation of people that will no doubt eventually save this world. They are so strong, intelligent and earnest. They meet me on Zoom conferencing, which at first felt strange, but we are all quickly adapting to this way of connecting. We have been talking a lot about the creative correlations between art and nature. I encourage them to go outside and look for beautiful things: flowers, trees, sunsets, clouds. We share our snapshots with each other in albums on Schoology. We study land art artists such as Andy Goldsworthy (b.1956), Dietmar Voorvold (b.1957), Robert Smithson (1938-73), and Nancy Holt (1938-2014) and how they relied upon nature to construct sculptures that shed light on the transience and existential aspects of life on earth. We discuss how these artists developed an intimate understanding of how things in nature function: the ebb and flow of seasons; the acceptance of change and uncertainty; how the rush of rivers, the shifting tides, and erosion can alter or wipe out a constructed sculpture made from fragile, meticulously placed interconnected natural found objects such as twigs, vines, leaves, icicles, and stones—within an instant. We discuss how all of these things refer to the precarious function of balance and play a metaphorical role in representing the full cycle of life: birth; existence; and transitions that take us back to a beginning.
Observing and taking part in this trial and error process is a bridge that leads us towards creativity. We notice that this represents a willingness to take a leap of faith into the unknown and accept that outcomes can often be unpredictable. We acknowledge the subtleties of our own personal perceptions—what is it that we sense; how is that we feel; what is that we want to convey? Within this process, there is always something to be learned about ourselves and our relationships with each other and the world. Voorwold talks about aspiring to find a place of stillness with complex and simple shapes by setting them in serene environments while allowing the forces of nature to intervene. He describes that in the human condition there is a struggle, there is a breakthrough, and there is serenity. He explains, “Nature is full of truth, fully in the moment, nothing artificial about it.”
My 9-12 grade students have been creating their own land art sculptures. I am blown away by the depth and conceptual understanding that they have brought to this project. I am sincerely moved by their willingness to fully dive into this experience of exploring the connections between emotions, art, and nature and I believe that for many it has been a healing and comforting experience. We hope you take the time to notice how precious and profound these pieces are.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Transformative Magic of Art

By Michele Ogilvie
Starting at a young age, learning to appreciate and create art sets the frame of inspiration that can lead to discovering the magic of right brain creative potential. Everything that we see and touch was designed and created by someone; or as in nature — a force greater than our selves. Through the complex process of problem solving and making art, students ultimately gain a better understanding of themselves, and the world around them. Simply said, creating art is an essential and beautiful way to launch into self-discovery. 

One of the most important things that I enjoy about creating art and teaching Ceramics is the realization that Art can be so much more than just making stuff. At its' best it has the power to transform because it requires slowing down, and entering into a Zen-like frame of mind. Because clay is such a tactile material it can also physically and metaphorically connect us to the Earth while also offering a reprieve from academics and digital technologies. Making Art can be a gateway to learning and teaching about intangible things such as patience, intuition, insight and sensitivity. It can be a window into the deeper aspects of ourselves and connects us to the world in meaningful ways. I am always so grateful when students tell me that Ceramics class has given them a moment of peace in their hectic day. On the last day of the semester, I asked students to reflect on some of the most important things that they learned in the class. 
Following are a few of their comments:

In Ceramics I, I learned a lot, about clay and about life. When working with clay, I had to learn to be patient and not rush things. This also applies to life and school. In all cases, it is very important to be aware of what you are doing at all times so as to avoid mistakes. When you are in control of what you're doing, you can make good decisions and will get better results, both in ceramics and life. — EM 9th

This semester, I have not only grown as an artist, but as a person as well. Working with clay has taught me life lessons and lot about myself. I have learned the importance of patience. I leaned to not doubt myself, take risks and have trust that I can do anything I set my mind to. — JB, 9th

In Ceramics I, I learned many memorable skills about how to work with clay. These skills are meaningful because I now have the ability to sculpt my imagination into real life objects. The freedom in being able to transform a ball of clay into a functional piece is very valuable and does not compare to anything else. — WH, 9th

I thoroughly enjoyed ceramics this semester and I am so glad that I pushed myself to take the course at the level II. I saw myself develop skills on the wheel that I could never have fathomed. I enjoy the relaxation of allowing the clay to glide through my hands and the feeling that I can essentially do anything within grasp. It is so rewarding to struggle with something and overcome the struggle with frequent success. — AS, 12th

This semester of Ceramics I learned so much more than I thought I would. With patience I learned how to create things I never thought I could with just my hands. I really liked the turnout of all of my pieces, especially my Greek-style vase. — EJ, 10th

For me, ceramics was a very valuable course to take. It taught me not only about a new art form, but also about life. I have definitely loved my decision to take this course as I have had immeasurable fun over the past few months. I learned many practical techniques while engaged in this course. One huge one would have to be patience. — TL, 9th

My major takeaway from this class is realizing how much confidence I gained in my creative abilities by working through some challenging projects. Looking back at what I created I will always be reminded that with a little practice and a ton of patience anything is possible. — JG, 9th

I loved getting to know my classmates. I liked coming to class everyday because I found it relaxing. One of the most valuable things I leaned would be connecting your mind with the clay, if that makes sense. Ceramics really helped me to become focused on what I was doing. — TM, 10th

To know that you created something usable with your own hands gives you a sense of accomplishment. — AP, 9th

I enjoyed this class very much and I would highly recommend it to fellow classmates. I learned useful techniques and extensive knowledge about Ceramics. I was never stressed in this class. I had good experiences and hope to take it again. — EJ, 9th

To view creative work by some of these students, please be sure to check out the hand-built Greek inspired vases with personalized sgraffito carvings in the South Quad display case. Up through February 2018.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Zen in the Art of Ceramics

By Michele Ogilvie

The process of making art is a way to investigate and expand our perceptions of the world. If approached intuitively and authentically the creative process is an inspiration. The word ‘inspire’ essentially means to give life with breath. An inspiration is like an intentional inhale — a breath taken in, as one may experience during mediation and yoga. When a work of art inspires, it can move us to discover evidence of a universal and personal journey that contains the essence of life’s unexplainable, existential mysteries. Through the process of slowing down to observe the world, being introspective, and dreaming of possibilities that spring from the heart and the imagination, can we reach the healing potential of creative experience. It is through slowing down; practicing focused mindfulness; doing one thing at a time; and thinking about what is necessary that can make the act of creating a Zen experience. 

Ceramics in particular offers a window into this type of discovery because clay is a basic tactile material that physically and metaphorically connects us to the Earth in a timeless way. It is essentially a right brain activity that offers a holistic approach to learning about intangible things such as intuition, insight and sensitivity. In a beginning Ceramics class students will often declare how difficult it is because it requires a willingness to move their hands in ways that may seem quite awkward at first. It requires slowing down, focus, and a commitment to accepting that the process can be more important than the outcome. Any initial intimidation is overcome with practice, determination and patience. Once a student sees the alchemy that transpires between mud and maker, they are understandably amazed by their own handmade accomplishments. Along the way, they may have also learned some valuable things about Zen.  
© M.Ogilvie, All rights reserved.

Monday, June 1, 2015


I have learned that the process of making art is a way to investigate and expand our perceptions of the world and our relationship to it. If approached honestly and intuitively the creative experience becomes an inspiration—a breath taken in—like we experience on our mats. When a work of art moves us, it reveals evidence of a personal and universal journey that contains the essence of life's unexplainable existential mysteries. Through the process of creating, slowing down to observe the world, learning to breathe intelligently, moving towards introspection, dreaming of the possibility of peace and universal healing—Yoga mind and intention weaves it all together. It is the string that connects Spirit to Absolute Intelligence, Nature, Creativity, Love, and Potential.

As a teacher and practitioner of Art and Yoga I have consistently witnessed and experienced first hand the potential of these disciplines as opportunities towards healing and realization. I am certain that Yoga and Art complement each other as personal and collective gateways towards a greater understanding of the self, the world and our responsibility to these things. It is my hope that as we learn to experience the transformative qualities of Yoga, we also open to the potential of creative expression so that our journeys can extend into the fascinating depth of our subconscious and beyond. —©Michele Ogilvie, all rights reserved.