spotlight-category: Visual Arts

Alex Stewart ’17

Art Stewart working on pottery vase

GWU student relates crafting pottery to discipleship truths

“These have been incredible experiences and have matured my understanding of the pottery tradition and technical aspects of making.”

Alex Stewart (’17) of Gastonia, N.C., decided to attend Gardner-Webb University to pursue an education in discipleship. Then, his sophomore year he met a student who introduced him to the art of pottery. “I made a friend named Devan Vandenbark. He made some of the most beautiful mugs—perfectly poised and unique in character,” Stewart explained. “I realized then that handmade crafts are honest, personal forms—the products of divinely-endowed, creative minds at work. This simple beauty of life grasped my interest deeply, so I began to contribute to this tradition of beauty by learning the craft.”

Because of Stewart’s positive attitude and natural skill with clay, he received support from Doug Knotts, chair of the Department of Visual Arts. Knotts worked with Stewart to create a specific art minor with an emphasis in ceramics. “Professor Knotts equipped me with the technical skills I needed to make great pottery that I am proud of and that is of commercial quality,” Stewart assessed. Through Professor Knott’s connections, Stewart was able to study with two famous potters in the Southeast, Mark Hewitt and Ben Owen III. “These were incredible experiences and matured my understanding of the pottery tradition and technical aspects of making,” Stewart affirmed.

Stewart continued to major in discipleship, so that he could minister in less formal, everyday scenarios to the people he meets. He learned that his two interests share a common theme. “As pottery is a patient activity, so is discipleship. As pottery is an art of gentleness, so is discipleship,” he observed. “With gentle hands and the most positive of attitudes, you try to help the clay into a beautiful form. This is just like discipleship in which one person gently and lovingly attempts to help the other become what they were meant to be.”

While at Gardner-Webb, Stewart also participated in a GWU study abroad trip to Florence, Italy, where students learned art history and viewed famous works of art. Along with that, Stewart built his own kiln for his independent study class. He constructed a wood fired Anagama kiln (hole kiln), which is a type of kiln that has been developing in Japan for hundreds of years. This style of kiln is known to be extremely efficient and produce beautiful pottery. “Japanese pottery is considered some of the finest in the world and has a lengthy tradition of excellence,” expressed Stewart.

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