It’s not uncommon to walk into the main studio of the Ceramic Arts Building of the Lamar Dodd School of Art on East Campus and see Ted Saupe, professor of art, cutting avocados and slicing Independent Bakery bread for his students and serving them on something created in the studio. It’s one of many reasons why the ceramic arts program is so special.
Saupe embodies the spirit that fosters a community of ceramic artists. Together with fellow ceramicist and professor of art Sunkoo Yuh, they have built a program where students work side-by-side loading kilns, working with clay (either sculpturally or making functional pots), eating meals together and learning from one another. And it’s not just students learning from their instructors. Saupe gets inspiration from his students every day for his own work.
“I have a job where I love to come to work every single day,” said Saupe.
Although Saupe has taught full time at UGA since 1992, his first introduction to UGA and Athens came after graduate school. As a recipient of an artist in residency program at UGA, he was teaching, making, researching and basking in the music and art scene of the ’80s. His mentors were pivotal, too; learning, working and exploring his art alongside lifelong friends, artists and mentors Ron Meyers, Andy Nasisse and the late Michael Simon.
“It was an amazing program. After my residency, I was hired and worked in Tennessee for 10 years before coming back to Athens to work full time,” he said.
As a professor, instructor, artist and one who explores his own art daily, Saupe’s work is autobiographical. “It is always about history and always tells a story,” Saupe said.
He credits his children for giving him the courage to draw on his pots. “My work changed a lot because of my kids’ influence on me,” he said. Before his children, Saupe never painted or drew on his pots. Sitting side-by-side drawing next to his children, he started to test the possibility of using his vessels as forms to tell a story with imagery.
“My kids would ask me how to draw a horse, so I would do this terrible drawing of a horse, but it got me thinking. It made me realize that it might be fun to paint on a pot,” he said.
In spring 2022, Saupe will officially retire from the University of Georgia, though the Lamar Dodd School of Art will be close enough to allow him come back to class and guest lecture like all mentors before him. For Saupe’s former students, the magic of his demonstration is not the new technique or form learned, but the conversations and dialogue that happen organically around the pottery wheel when students congregate, relax and focus on the process of making. They learn to tune into one another’s voices and the rhythmic hum of the pottery wheel. Life lessons, concerns and solutions to world problems are all fair game and topics that are often discussed, hashed out, shared and encouraged.