Novi High School receives grants, gift to enhance ceramics program

By: Charity Meier | Novi Note | Published April 25, 2024

 Novi High School senior Dagny Gulledge utilizes a new trimming bat for her ceramics project.

Novi High School senior Dagny Gulledge utilizes a new trimming bat for her ceramics project.

Photo provided by Erin Harbar


NOVI — The Novi High School Visual Arts Department was recently awarded two grants, and a financial gift, to further build its popular ceramics program, which attracts approximately 250 students annually.

The department received a $1,500 grant from the Michigan Arts and Culture Council, a $300 grant from the Novi Educational Foundation, and a $500 gift from alumnus Mitchell Wong for a total of $2,300.

“I think it is our biggest art elective with the most number of sections, so it just made sense to try to feed the one that’s got the most kids in it,” Novi High School art teacher Erin Harbar said of the reason that the department chose to go after grant funds for its ceramics program.

With the state funds, the department was able to purchase 17 large bottles of Amaco Potter’s Choice glazes in some of the students’ favorite colors.

“I told them with all of the glaze colors, that they are very spoiled, because if they take a college course, they’re going to get, like, three or four choices, and we have a lot of choices,” Harbar said. “We like them to really be able to make their ideas work, and when you only have a handful of colors, it is hard to do that. So that was really great that we’re able to continue to offer that with the grant funds.”

Harbar said the students go through glaze very quickly, as it is painted on every project, and the cost of glaze has gone up dramatically. Harber said that the 17 new glaze bottles could last the department up to five years, depending on the color.

She said the state grant also allowed the school the luxury of being able to acquire two trimming bats, which she said are a “neat” thing to have. When an artist is trimming ceramic work, the trimming bat automatically holds and centers the work.

In order to acquire the Michigan Arts and Culture Council grant, the school’s application was reviewed by professionals in the field from the state and nation, who evaluated the request, then scored and ranked it based on published criteria. The grant was won two years ago by Novi  Middle school.

“I wasn’t really sure how it was going to go. I was definitely delighted when they said ‘Congratulations. You’ve got it,’” Harbar said.

The Novi Educational Foundation grant allowed the department to purchase texture tools for the kids to use. This includes special stamps and rollers that embed texture into the clay. The school also purchased some slab molds that enabled the students to make dinnerware this year, which some chose to enhance with texture from the stamps and rollers.

“We bought some really fun tools with that one,” Harbar said. “They’re really cool.”

She said the students really are enjoying the new tools and that her more senior ceramic students said that it was one of the most enjoyable projects that they have done.

Senior Camille Wilson, who has taken ceramics classes for two years, said that the glazes are “really cool to use” and that the colors are “really nice and pretty.”  She said that she prefers a simple, smooth finish, but a lot of students really like the texture tools, as they ease the process  of having to make individual designs and patterns by hand.

“At Novi, I like that we have a lot of access to a lot of different kinds of tools and we’re able to do a lot of different assignments, because with all due respect, just the amount of funding that Novi has and the fact that they do give to their art department here is quite amazing, since we have a lot of access to different kinds of glazes and tools and the ceramic wheels and all of that kind of stuff that we’re able to do here, and it just gives you a lot of availability and freedom,” Wilson said. “Plus, being able to retake the class has allowed me to be able to explore personally with what I like to do and indulge in my hobbies that I really get to enjoy that cost money to do outside of the classroom. So, things of that nature are really fun.”

Harbar said the money from Wong allowed her to get replacement jewelry tools, called bench pins, which help with sawing, and some hammers. Harbar said she really needed the hammers because she hadn’t replaced any tools in 23 years.

“I thought it was probably time to replace some of them with thousands of students using them,” she said.  “So that was really, really nice.”

Wong, who works for Microsoft and now resides in Seattle, was once one of Harbar’s students before he graduated in 2011. She described him as a “great guy.” She said that he still does ceramics in his spare time and keeps in touch, often showing her his artwork.

“He’s really successful and I’m just really proud to have had someone like him as a student,” Harbar said.

“The end result watching these new artworks emerge that we’ve never done before kind of reinspired me as a teacher to say, OK, I’ve got this stuff. How can I make better opportunities for the kids? How can I make better programs?’ And it really worked out well, I think. As a teacher, not every lesson you do is going to be a huge success for the kids. I mean, sometimes things flop and this definitely was the opposite. It was a big success. So, I was really glad that it all kind of came around,” said Harbar.