Ceramics as a profession
Ceramics is more than 10,000 years old – pieces of fired clay have survived until our time as carriers of information. Ceramics are not destroyed by fire or severe cold; they do not rot, and are not destroyed by moisture. Their glazed surfaces are hygienic and strong, and do not react to other substances. These extraordinary properties make ceramic items something that is still irreplaceable in many fields, due to its characteristics and possibilities for use.
Clay is a natural resource that is found plentifully around the world, and it can also be found here in Estonia. Clay is an ecological material. In today’s information-rich and hurried world, it provides a secure footing, and through meditative activity provides peace and self-confidence.
More and more hobby groups are being formed because “desk-bound” people are feeling the need to escape their daily routines, and to do something with their hands. The virtual world evokes a desire to do something that is permanent and enduring. However, this, in turn, creates a responsibility for the things we leave behind in this world.
Whether conclusions will be drawn about our development and living standards based on random pieces of pottery, or the products designed by experienced designers, depends on technology and the intellectual level of the creators. The Department of Ceramics at the Estonian Academy of Arts is a corner of this great world where contemporary knowledge and skills in the ceramics field can be acquired in Estonian – ninety years of professional instruction guarantees this.
Close international relations, the interest of foreign students, and appearances of our ceramic artists at exhibitions, as well as the prizes they have won, indicate the interest in our distinctive specialised education.
Nature of the department, its mentality and philosophy
Currently, many Estonian workers in the ceramics industry have been made redundant, production has been reduced and factories have even been closed. Although, even previously, only a few graduates found jobs as designers and decorators in the factories, and this has forced us to make some adjustments in the programme.
Currently, we are focused on developing individual skills and knowledge, so that the graduates can acquire the motivation, individuality and sense of security that will enable them to find their future place in the ceramics world. Therefore, it is extremely important for students to be open to new ideas, and to be familiar with the artistic tools of self-expression and manual skills. But it is also vital that they acquire technological knowledge, along with the skills to realise their ideas in ceramics.
The Academy provides many opportunities for collaboration between various specialities, and is home to brilliant personalities, philosophers, artists and designers who are interesting in sharing their ideas and knowledge, even outside of their specialities. However, only the Department of Ceramics can provide an introduction to specialised knowledge. It can also provide the necessary tools and equipment, technological tips, firing facilities, ceramics-related literature and contacts with people involved in ceramics abroad. Being very aware of this, we are willing to share all our knowledge and skills with the students that come here to study.
• Flexibility. In a ceramics world filled with possibilities, we are focused on design and sculptural fine arts. But, we’re capable of re-orienting, and OPEN to the various interests and technologies that ceramics offers.
• Individual knowledge and skills. The development of the individual and individuality, of personal abilities. The idea is that all the students should find their place in the world of ceramics – the activity that is best suited, agreeable, feasible and motivating for them.
• Relationships. International contacts and collaborative projects, as well as our wide-ranging support, enable students to participate in international exchange programmes, help them to avoid the marginalisation of a small speciality, and to expand their opportunities.
What are the studies like?
In the curriculum, an important place is reserved for specialised instruction. The theoretical and practical skills related to the speciality include the following: the generation and development of ideas, composition, requirements for consumer goods, knowledge about material technology, firing technologies, artisanal techniques, design techniques, plasterwork, etc. However, the students also have access to academy-wide theoretical courses, and can learn about painting, drawing, sculpture, general composition, computer skills, photography, etc.
• Freedom. The freedom to choose between the fine arts or design orientation in most specialised assignments.
• Creativity. Relationships – individual, personal instruction.
• Practical training. The opportunity to “put your hands in clay”; the opportunity to use various technologies to implement your ideas.
For more about the curriculum and class schedule
Ceramics at the Estonian Academy of Arts
4000 to 3700 BC — The earliest finds of comb ceramics on the territory of Estonia.
1923 – Hungarian Gèza Jakó established a ceramics workshop at the State Industrial Arts School
1934 – His student, Valli Eller, is chosen as the director of the workshop and remains in this position until 1950. In 1952, Associate Professor Helene Kuma follows Eugen Vaino as the head of the Chair of Ceramics. In 1955, the ceramics and glass art departments are merged into a joint Chair of Ceramics and Decorative Glass Art, which is headed by Prof. Arseni Mölder. Between 1968 and 1974, the joint chair is headed by Prof. Helena Kuma; between 1974 and 1984, by Assoc. Prof. Leo Rohlin; and between 1984 and 1993, by Assoc. Prof. Maie-Ann Raun. Thereafter the specialties are separated, and the chairs become departments. In 1996, Assoc. Prof. Ingrid Allik is chosen to head up the Ceramics Department. Between 2000 and 2005, Prof. Leo Rohlin occupied this position; and since 2005, Prof. Urmas Puhkan has headed up the department.
Several traditions have helped to maintain the continuity of the department, and the relations between the personnel and the students. In February of every year, an award named for Ilmar Palm, the former master of the workshop, is awarded to the department’s most outstanding ceramics student. For several years, the Kerako Company has supported the most diligent students with 100 kg of clay. Excitement is created by turning competitions, freshmen’s initiation rituals and collective Christmas parties. The following undertakings have become traditions: large excursions (to Finland, Latvia, Hungary, Russia, Denmark and the U.S.); collaborative projects with friendship schools; exhibitions; participation in the park design competition at the Tallinn Flower Show; collective firings and clean-ups at Tohisoo.