Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Sunday, March 18, 2012
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Hot stuff the rage at college
Pottery guru hosts popular glass-blowing class at FKCC

In Key West, master potter Jay Gogin is known for the tile and ceramic fountains he has built for a local women's homeless shelter, the city's public safety building, and on the campus of Florida Keys Community College.

Gogin, who has been spinning and throwing clay for decades, has also been billed as the Keys' original "Hairy Potter," an endearing reference to his long, straight beard, which makes reading the slogans on the front of his T-shirts impossible.

"Nice beard," is how a pint-sized boy on a field trip to the college greeted Gogin on Friday.

But the art of glass-blowing is not Gogin's thing.

He will readily admit this, adding that he is so used to the pottery wheel that when working with the molten glass he often has the urge to reach out and grab it.

So for the past five years, Gogin has invited artist Wes Hunting down from his studio in Princeton, Wis., to teach a continuing education class at the college nicknamed "Super Hot Stuff."

The class is full, with 27 students, and the subject rare for a small community college.

At about 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, the molten glass is pliable enough to make a teardrop-type roll at the end of a pipe.

"Let gravity do most of the work; it's one of the most important tools," said Hunting, while demonstrating the super hot glass-making technique. Blowing air through a pipe lets the liquid glass take the shape of what will become a flower vase.

"I studied in Italy for two years in the 1970s," said Hunting, standing in front of the cauldronlike furnace housed just outside the ceramics department. "Glass blowing goes back to Egyptian times. It's only been around in the United States for 40 years."

Hunting, who works with his namesake son, Wesley Hunting, 24, donated to the college the heavy equipment -- such as the furnaces and cooling chamber -- rather than haul it back up north.

Gogin, a native of Pewaukee, Wis., and the elder Hunting met 35 years ago at a small art fair in Chicago and have remained friends since.

The pair on Friday were still excited from the week's visit of master potters from Kyoto, Japan, when a bus filled with Sigsbee Charter School kids pulled up outside the pottery wheel room. They prepared to demonstrate both crafts.

"These guys are wonderful to work with," said Bud Gruber, a snowbird from Oxford , Md., who is taking the glass-blowing class.

Gruber pointed to a multicolored fish Hunting created the day before to show some visiting schoolchildren.

"He did that in about a half-hour," said Gruber, whose own work included a blue bowl that was only slightly lopsided.

"It's only the second piece I've made," he confessed.

"They go hand in hand as cousins in the art world," said Gogin, who has taught ceramics at Florida Keys Community College for 22 years. "It's all about the vessel, form, shape and symmetry."

The ceramics department, which has 118 students enrolled, exudes a do-it-yourself attitude combined with artistic sensitivities. Students make colorants from scratch, and Gogin sees that practically nothing goes to waste.

Warm and affable, Gogin still feels a little bad over a "Hairy Potter" billing at a local gallery that drew lots of children confused by the pun who expected an event tied to the acclaimed book series.

"I'm sitting in the gallery throwing and telling kids it's a different kind of Harry Potter."

Even with his international street cred in the art world, he never takes offense at being called a potter.

"I'm proud of it," said Gogin, who finds the humble nature of the art similar to that of glass-blowing.

"Originally both of us were created to make cups and bowls," said Gogin. "It's been elevated to great status in recent years."

Gogin, the oldest of four children, grew up on a small Wisconsin farm with some cows, horses and pigs on the property. His mother taught second-grade art.

Gogin and his wife, Robin, have made Key West home, where they live with "plenty of cats," and a cracker-requesting macaw named Bamboo.

Pottery just inexplicably took hold of his life, he said.

"It's a consuming passion, and no real reason as to why," he said. "My mother said the pottery wheel is too difficult, and my father said, 'Get a haircut and a shave.' So here I am."

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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