Ceramics Teacher Enters National Competition

Carolyn Kerecman

Ceramic mugs from Petke's collection.
Photo Courtesy of Cameron Petke
Ceramic mugs from Petke’s collection.

It is not uncommon to walk the hallways of Urbana and hear students talk of all their plans for when the school day ends. In fact, for many of us, it is all we talk about once the weekend comes around. However, did you ever think about what teachers do outside of school? For instance, Cameron Petke, ceramics teacher extraordinaire, competed in a national art competition just this fall.

Petke’s life outside of school has been quite exciting these past few months, with his ceramics business, Baked Clay Studio, nominated to compete in Martha Stewart’s “American Made” contest, a competition that supports and celebrates local businesses and handmade work. 5,000 artisans and craftsmen around the country are nominated to participate in this competition, with the ten finalists receiving prizes like an interview with Stewart herself, a magazine spread, $10,000 to support their business, and more. Petke competed in the ceramics and glassware division, and made it as far as the top 50 finalists.

Petke currently teaches all levels of Ceramics to students from training novices in Ceramics 1 to assisting students taking A.P. Studio Art in developing the 3-D portfolios that, for some, will determine their futures. He himself has an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) in Ceramics, though he initially entered college with the intention of studying architecture. Along with teaching full-time at Urbana, Petke also teaches classes at Loyola, and, of course, manages Baked Clay Studio. Despite his hectic schedule, Petke manages to keep up with his artistic production buy working on his pieces in every spare moment he has, whether it be in between classes, or in the late hours of the night.

His collection for the “American Made” competition is comprised of ceramic mugs and vases, along with a series of bells, each designed with their own distinct ringing. Petke has been making bells from the time his daughters were born. He explains that the bells are symbols not only for beginnings and endings, but also for moments of tranquility and contemplation, moments he considers to be quite essential in the age of social media and 24 hour schedules. He believes a studio should be a sort of refuge from the pressures of every-day life, and has even created his own studio in the basement of his home in which he- and sometimes his daughters- can simply sit and create.

Petke said that he is inspired by other artists, especially those with a strong work ethic and a willingness to put in maximum effort. His aesthetic, however, is inspired by the idea of combining the sleekness of modern ceramic design with the rough, raw surfaces of ancient Neolithic pottery. His artistic process is driven by the world around him, and he is constantly taking things around him in his daily life and using them as inspiration for new and innovative designs.

Petke has been running Baked Clay Studio from the time he was working on his 60 credit MFA- which he worked on while teaching. The purpose of his work is not to create an original and have it mass-produced, but rather to create unique and meaningful pieces that can be shared in people’s homes. His advice for aspiring artists is this: “Definitely have a little grit. You have to work, stick with things even if they aren’t going well, because they will get better. Keep working. If you are an artist, you have to be constantly working and learning. Being an artist also means being a lifelong student.”