MU student brings passion to his ceramics

Monday, October 15, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:18 a.m. CDT, Monday, October 15, 2012
Bill Wilkey feeds the wood-fired kiln behind the Melvin H. Marx Building, which is located near the MU Reactor. Wilkey, a graduate assistant with the MU Art Department, uses the kiln as one of the final steps to finish his pottery pieces. Wood firing is a traditional method for hardening clay where temperatures reach up to 2,350 degrees Fahrenheit.

COLUMBIA – The first time he saw a pot being thrown on a wheel, Bill Wilkey said he felt mesmerized.

Twelve years later, Wilkey is a graduate teaching assistant in ceramics for the MU Art Department. He said he is still fascinated by ceramics and the process of making pottery. 

“I have my mother to thank for my love of art,” he said. “She instilled in me this way of expressing myself that I really couldn’t do any other way.”

The Art Department at MU was the deciding factor that brought Wilkey from Tennessee to Columbia in 2011. Wilkey met Bede Clarke, an MU ceramics professor, at an art workshop in Tennessee and decided to study under him at MU. 

Wilkey compares making pottery to “signing a contract.” 

“When I make those things, I can’t neglect them or leave them alone,” he said. “I have to baby-sit them and tend to where they are in order to work with them.”

The process of making ceramics is involved, Wilkey said, but “it pulls me in different directions to where I am never bored.” 

Wilkey finishes the pottery he creates using traditional wood firing, a process of baking clay in a brick oven, known as a kiln. The oven reaches temperatures up to 2,350 degrees Fahrenheit.

“This is when the piece is given a breath of life,” Wilkey said as he described the flames dancing around the pottery.

After the oven cools, he said it’s like opening up a Christmas present.

"Sometimes it’s a sweater from your grandmother, and sometimes it’s that cool toy your uncle got you.” 

The final step is one of  “digestion,” Wilkey said. “Only then can I really look at the work and understand it.” 

The process of making pottery is so much more than just the final product, he said. “There is a community aspect. Even after a short period of time, ceramics just grows communities.” 

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