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Throwing pots isn't Greek to student

High school student's ceramics work becomes a trophy for Air Force Academy sporting event.

October 20, 2006|By Candice Baker

Bill Darnall's ceramics class at Laguna Beach High School has a history of producing talented artists.

He's taught people who have gone on to become fellow Sawdust exhibitors, such as Robert Jones and raku potter Mike Brennan.

And several of his up-and-coming student artists work at the Sawdust during the summer, including Spencer Wu, who recently received special recognition by the Air Force for his work.

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Laguna resident Bruce Hopping, of the Kalos Kagathos Foundation, was asked by the U.S. Air Force Academy to conceive, design and commission an honor vase in the ancient Greek style, to be used in the academy's water polo competition versus the Naval Academy.

Hopping contacted Darnall to find someone to make the sculpture.

"He wanted to know who had the skills to pull it off," Darnall said; he recommended Wu.

"I told him, if he had the time, I had the clay and the firings," he added.

Darnall kept the keys to the classroom over the summer, so Wu could have the chance to work on the vase.

He created a classical Greek red-figure design featuring a charging Navy bull, Air Force logo and water polo players. The background of the vase is a glossy black; the figures and other decorative elements are in a red terra cotta.

When it was done, Wu and his mother traveled to the competition in Colorado to present the award to the winning Navy team.

Since then, Wu has become somewhat of a celebrity in his fifth-period ceramics class.

His classmates threw him good-natured gibes Tuesday about what appeared to be natural skills.

"I'm only good 'cause I try the hardest," Wu told one of them. Later that period, he offered advice as the boy threw a pot, teaching him technique.

"He's good enough, he could definitely go on with it," Darnall said.

"I know I'm gonna do ceramics, but I don't know what," Wu said.

There are many more boys than girls in his class; all nine students throwing pots were male. Most of the girls present congregated at one of the wide worktables, chatting while they worked.

One corner of the classroom held a massive collection of glazes with names like "Fruit of the Vine" and "Leapin' Lizard."

Racks filled with drying designs lined the walls.

One student sculpted an alligator head; another, a horseshoe. A pi symbol dried in a corner of the room.

Dinosaurs and butterflies are perennially popular, but Darnall has noticed a new trend.

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