Jeff Greenham, a ceramicist who worked at Chautauqua’s School of Art for more than 30 years, has returned to deliver a talk as part of Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution’s Lecture Series.
Don Kimes, artistic director of Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution, brought Greenham to the grounds in 1994. He worked as head of the School of Art’s ceramics department and served as vice president of the Visual Arts Advisory Board for the Chautauqua Center for the Visual Arts.
“Chautauqua has been a tremendous experience for me, and in many ways, it changed the direction of my life,” Greenham said.
Teaching at the School of Art, Greenham said, was instrumental in entering education administration later in his career.
“Artistically, spending so much time with so many creative people in both the visual arts and the performing arts is just a wonderful experience,” Greenham said.
Although Greenham, like most artists, has “dabbled” in other mediums, he said he has always been a ceramicist.
“It’s got its own complexities and technical side,” Gerenham said. “And it requires a full focus.”
Growing up, Greenham attended kids’ ceramics classes on Saturdays in Rochester, New York. When he considered colleges, it was important to him to find one with a strong ceramics program, and Greenham decided on the Rochester Institute of Technology. Later, he received a master’s of fine arts from West Virginia University.
After leaving Chautauqua, Greenham began working at Fairmont State University as its art department coordinator and the School of Fine Arts’ associate dean. He’s also worked independently out of his own studio and as a consultant for art departments and individual artists.
“I would say I set goals and parameters that I work with to be elegant, and that gives me a pretty broad area to do artistic investigations,” Greenham said.
Greenham said he has always prioritized elegance in all of his pieces, and works mostly with hand-thrown porcelain and stoneware. He’s also interested in exploring new techniques and glaze chemistry, and different forms and lighting, according to his bio on the Tamarack Foundation for the Arts website, which named him a West Virginia Master Artist in 2017.
“I’m hoping it got better,” Greenham said of how his work has changed over the years. “The ultimate goal is just to try to get better at it. … It’s changed in so many ways over the years.”
Greenham and his wife, an art historian, travel often. On these trips, Greenham said, he’s “always investigating ceramics wherever” he is. Most recently, the couple explored Burgundy in central France.
Greenham considers a trip to southern China, or the “porcelain capital of the world,” during graduate school as one of the biggest influences on his work.
“That really opened up the avenue to focus on wanting the work to try and achieve a consistent elegance,” Greenham said.
There isn’t one specific aspect of ceramics history that interests Greenham — he finds all of it fascinating.
“People have been working in clay for 30,000 years. And certainly, I think, like any artist, (ceramicists) are always looking back as well as forward.”
-Jeff Greenham, Ceramicist