F. Carlton Ball lives.
When Ball joined the Puget Sound faculty in
beginning and advanced ceramics classes had been taught at the col-
lege as far back as 1951. But Professor Ball vaulted the program to a whole
new level. He’d taught ceramics at the University of Wisconsin and the
University of Southern California. His pottery had been exhibited in shows
and museums around the world. He’d written technical articles and books.
And yet he was anything but a distant or stuffy presence on the campus.
Quite the contrary.
Rick Mahaffey M.F.A.’74 told us his story about looking for a graduate
program in ceramics in 1971. A native of San Francisco, Rick teamed up
with a friend to take a trip up the coast to check out schools. They stopped
at a few in Oregon, and at one in particular a professor told them, don’t
bother to apply. He made it clear Californians were not welcome, said Rick.
They drove on, and at Portland State a professor named Ray Grimm
advised them to, in essence, go north, young men. To Tacoma. “You’ve got
to see Carlton Ball,” Grimm told them.
They knew who Ball was. In ceramics, “everybody who paid attention
knew who he was,” said Rick. But when they got to campus, Ball wasn’t
around. They wound up talking to a grad student in the program who said
he’d phone Ball and ask him to meet with the California visitors.
We were stunned,” said Rick. “You don’t call a professor,” especially
one as famous as Ball. But call him the student did, and Ball said, “Tell
them to hang tight and I’ll be there,” remembered Rick.
Ball came. They talked. And Rick’s mind was made up. It was Puget
Sound for him.
He finished his undergraduate degree at San Jose State and enrolled in
the Master of Fine Arts program at Puget Sound. There, Ball lived up to
Rick’s expectations.
He was playful,” said Rick. “He liked to rock the ground under us a
little bit and see what came out. He thrived on that. He would take us out
of our comfort zone.”
John Benn ’78 met the woman who would become his wife, Colleen
Gallagher M.F.A.’78, in a UPS ceramics class. He was a junior and she was
in the graduate program, but they hit it off quickly. Both remember the
atmosphere of the department as very exciting. Everyone in the program
spent so much time in the campus ceramics studio it was almost as though
they lived there. It was Ball who set the tone in those days.
From Carlton you learned, if you have the will and desire to do some-
thing, you can make it happen,” said Colleen.
He’d just say, ‘Try it, and see what happens,’” said John.
John calls Ball “a Pied Piper, luring kids from other disciplines.”
One of those kids was Reid Ozaki ’73. Reid came to Puget Sound from
Hawai‘i to study biology. When he enrolled, he had never heard of Carlton
Ball. He didn’t even know the ceramics program existed. But after a couple
of years on campus he made friends with students who told him they’d
been sneaking through a window in the ceramics studio to work on pots
after hours. He was curious, and sneaked in with them a few times. “I got
my hands dirty there,” he recalled.
And just like that, the bug bit.
I fell in love with the material, the medium,” said Reid. “I’d never re-
ally been exposed to art much before I came to UPS, so the idea of creat-
ing something was very attractive.” He signed up for a ceramics class in his
junior year. And Ball’s enthusiasm for his art and for his teaching deeply
impressed him.
I think he probably felt he could teach just about anybody how to do
it,” said Reid.
At first, Reid wasn’t so sure about that. “I wasn’t particularly good. It
took almost my first full semester before I had much skill at all.”
But eventually he got good at making pots. Very good.
John Benn vividly remembers the first time he met Reid. “I heard this
tremendous crash and breaking of stuff at the other end of the kiln patio
in the ceramics studio].” It was Reid, “smashing pots that weren’t accept-
able.” As the shards flew, undergraduate John stared and thought to him-
self that he would have loved to have been good enough to make the pots
Reid rejected.
Reid had become a perfectionist and remains one to this day. He fin-
ished his B.A. in biology in 1973 and then enrolled in the master’s ceram-
ics program. He left Puget Sound in 1975, having finished his class work
but before completing his thesis. Later, he and classmate Rick Mahaffey
and several other artists shared a studio in Tacoma’s Stadium District
e were intrigued when we heard there’d be a couple
of Puget Sound grads exhibiting at the annual Mingei
Pottery Show in Seattle, so inNovember we drove north
to take a look. A
of Loggers? Of the 18 invited artists from
all over the West, five were Puget Sound alumni. Which set us to
wondering: There are a
of really good working ceramists out
there who attended Puget Sound. How did that happen? When we
asked the artists we should have guessed their answer: Blame it on
the teachers.
by Soren Andersen